30 October 2008

Burdock leaf mining fly

Along the path by the transmission lines at about TQ 8047 2040, there is a plant of greater burdock (Arctium majus) with its leaves heavily mined by larvae of the agromyzid fly Phytomyza lappae.

20081027 BHW Phytomyza lappae 011

The plant is not common in Brede High Woods but the seeds in their sticky burrs no doubt get stuck to the pelts of dogs and human nether garments from time to time and drop off by footpaths.

It is rather wonderful that the tiny black fly that these larvae will turn into is able to locate the greater burdock plants so efficiently, though who knows how many die searching.

29 October 2008

A sycamore leaf spot

The microfungus, a hyphomycete, that causes the spots on the sycamore leaf below is Cristulariella depraedens

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There are plenty of different species of microfungi to be seen in the woods all round the year and, while many are difficult to identify, those on plants can be relatively easy with the help of Microfungi on Land Plants by Ellis & Ellis (Richmond Publishing, 1997).

Many of these rusts, mildews and leaf spots are specific to a particular kind of plant and you can just run through those listed in the book as occurring on leaves (or whatever) and see which fits best.  There are some helpful line drawings in the back of the book for those with microscopes, but these days there are often many photographs on the web.

Very often one has the satisfaction of being able to claim a new species record for the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre - this is the first county record of our friend Cristulariella depraedens, for example, though I have no doubt that it is quite common, but not so common as the tar spot fungus Rhytisma acerinum that disfigures sycamore leaves with black patches almost everywhere outside polluted areas (see below):

Tar spot fungus on sycamore leaves BHW

The tar spot fungus cannot cope with air pollution.

28 October 2008

High-cut sweet chestnut

Just to the north of the public footpath at TQ 8047 2022 there is a coppiced chestnut (Castanea sativa) with a high-cut stool whereas all the others in the area are low-cut almost to ground level. Both are shown in this picture:

20081027 BHW Cpt 7a High-cut chestnut stool

George Peterken (1981) in his Woodland Conservation and Management cites many coppices in Britain where there is a haphazard and inexplicable mixture of low-cut and high-cut stools, though generally low-cut stools are reckoned to produce better poles.

He does say, however, that "some high-cut stools marked compartment boundaries in woods that were otherwise cut low." The example in the picture above is close enough to the footpath, which here follows the old track across the pond bay, for this to be a feasible explanation. It would be quite difficult, with a landmark like this, to lose the corner of the coupe (blocks of coppice are variously known as 'cants' or 'coupes' and by other local terms as well as 'compartments' and 'subcompartments'). The lower part of the high-cut stool (the trunk) is technically known as a 'bolling' (to rhyme with 'rolling').

22 October 2008

Chestnut coppice wildlife

Chestnut coppice is often rather poor in terms of wildlife.  After all, the tree is not a native and has rather few creatures that feed on it and the regimented alternation between open ground and densely shaded cover in the coppiced areas may give a periodic boost to spring flowers on the ground, but is not necessarily of as much value to wildlife as other kinds of woodland management.

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In Brede High Woods there is a suite of fungi that occurs sparingly in the sweet chestnut areas.  The oak mazegill bracket fungus (Daedalea quercina) below is growing on chestnut, but prefers oak.

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The fungus causes heart rot in timber, is very tough and totally inedible.  Among its few redeeming feature is that it was once used in North America as tinder.  The ForestHarvest web site also claims it can be used for making paper (so, maybe, can any fibrous vegetable substance) and, more cryptically "used to provide craft materials for personal use."

21 October 2008

Plant of the moment - broad buckler-fern

The broad buckler-fern (Dryopteris dilatata) is one of the commonest fern species in Brede High Woods. The stand below is particularly vigorous and grows on top of an old, mossy pile of logs just inside the Lone Barn Gate at OS map reference TQ 8069 1947.

20081019 BHW Dryopteris dilatata 1

The roots of this plant contain filicin, apparently a substance that helps to get rid of tapeworms, and both roots and fronds have been used in the treatment of dandruff.

However, the plant is mildly toxic so the remedy might be worse than the affliction - definitely not one to try at home.

This toxicity is, perhaps, reflected in the fact that deer seem to leave it alone as they do many ferns.

Talking of which the local deer are rutting at the moment and the air frequently reverberates with the growl of a lusty stag. One friend suggested they might being trying to compete with the buzz of chain saws where some alien rhododendron is being cleared.

20 October 2008

Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)

On a fallen beech tree in Greenden Wood towards the west of the Brede High Woods complex, while out walking with friends, we came across a fine display of the porcelain fungus growing from the dead sections of wood on a windthrown, but still living, beech tree.

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Although very thin and delicate, the species is edible if the sticky slime that covers the cap is washed off.  A French book on fungi (Le grand livre des champignons) describes is as a very mediocre food item and it is almost certainly not worth the bother both on quality and quantity grounds.  Much better just to enjoy the sight of it.

20081020 BHW Oudemansiella mucida 017a

19 October 2008

Autumn moves on

Despite forecasts of wind and rain, autumn moves on in fairly calm weather.  The hornbeam leaves seem very fine this year and the picture shows them carpeting the ground in an overstood coppice in Coneyburrow Wood.

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Not far away there is an extensive patch of hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) now with fluffy seed heads.  In summer the dusty pink flowers were alive with silver-washed fritillary and, sometimes, white admiral butterflies and they tend to look rather dull and dowdy at this end of the year.  However, they have their own autumnal beauty especially when caught by a slanting sunbeam.

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13 October 2008

Plant of the moment: great horsetail

In the far north eastern corner of Brede High Woods and along Goatham Lane on the clay soil there is an extensive colony of the great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia), one of two horsetail species so far recorded on the estate.

20081011 BHW Equisetum telmateia 001

The closely packed whorls of green branches can grow to 2 metres in height and have been described as looking like miniature coal forests.  Along the hedges they make one feel ones eyes are going somewhat out of focus.  The branches are quite harsh in texture and have been used as pot scourers.

The stems too are impressive with their alternate zones of ivory and dark brown.

20081011 BHW Equisetum telmateia 004

This and other horsetails have, like most British plants, been used medicinally for a variety of afflictions.  The herbalist Culpepper said that "it solders together the tops of green wounds"

12 October 2008

Autumn comes to Brede High Woods

The leaves are now changing rapidly and it promises to be a fine autumn for colour.

The woods have a misty quality and are rich with the earthy smells of decaying vegetation and fungi.

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The picture above shows a hornbeam colouring up behind a coup of sweet chestnut coppice with oak standards in Coneyburrow Wood on the eastern side of Brede High.

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Above are some hornbeam leaves in closer view and below the smoky reds and purples of a wild cherry (Prunus avium) on the edge of Twist Wood near Goatham Green.

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7 October 2008

Plant of the moment - tormentil (Potentilla erecta)

Tormentil is still in flower in mid-October along heathy rides where the soil is acid, often scrambling up into the grass and heather alongside the track.  An Irish author said "it is a small, miserable-looking plant which grows on barren soil and ditches."

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It is similar to cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) but this is larger and more characteristic of gardens and waste ground.  Tormentil has four, rather than five, petals and they are arranged rather like a Maltese cross.

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The flowers are visited by small hoverflies and other insects and there are also a few moth, fly and beetle species that live on the plant, but none is exclusive to it.

The name 'tormentil' is said to derive from the Latin tormentum, but this usually means a war catapult or a twisted rope.  However, the word tormentuosus means 'full of pain' and 'tormentil' perhaps refers to the stomach ache that the root is reputed to cure.  It is still offered for sale and is a constituent of some herbal medicines and full of tannin and other substances.  Tormentil root has also been used externally on cuts and abrasions and, like almost every other wild plant, has been reputed to have  magical powers.  The root burnt at midnight on Fridays was said to cause wayward partners to return to their lovers.

It was once important in tanning as a substitute for oak bark, especially in areas where trees were scarce.  Older country names included 'shepherd's knapperty' and 'English sarsaparilla'.

2 October 2008

A good year for fungi

This year has been particularly good for fungi and, a couple of days ago, I enjoyed a walk with two friends, one of whom is an expert mycologist.

Altogether we found some 70 different species in a few hours during which we were only able to cover a few areas of Brede High Wood.  The commonest was undoubtedly the sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) - see below.

20081002 BHW sulphur tuft 011

Another common species was the false death cap (Amanita citrina).  It is rather paler and yellower than the true death cap and has the distinctive patches on the cap.  The ring round the stipe and the cup or volva at the base show that it is an Amanita.

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The following day I found my first fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), just a baby but indicative that the species should soon be fairly common.

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All three species are poisonous, or at least inedible, though a wide range of invertebrates consume them with impunity.