16 June 2009

Birch sawfly (Cimbex femoratus)

While leading a group round Brede High Woods the other day a nice surprise was the discovery, by one member of the party of a birch sawfly in the grass along one of the rides.

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This impressive insect is the size of a bumblebee and has bright yellow antennae and tarsi as well as an area that looks much like the filling in a mint chocolate immediately behind the thorax.

Though sometimes said to be common and widespread, the species does not seem to be well-represented in Sussex with records only from Hargate Forest in East Sussex (1995) and Rewell Wood (before 1982) in West Sussex.

The literature on this species seems curiously silent, maybe because sawflies are not a popular collecting group.

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11 June 2009

Another speedwell - brooklime (Veronica beccabunga)

Brooklime is not uncommon in wet places in Brede High Woods, often growing in marshy ruts along the rides.

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Once quite popular in country medicine for supposedly curing a variety of ailments, brooklime was also eaten like watercress, with which it was sometimes mixed.  It is quite a healthy addition to the diet but not, according to the literature, very palatable.

A famous 18th century Irish herbalist, Elizabeth Pearson, apparently made a fortune with a cure for scrofula (a tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck area) based on brooklime.

The suffix -lime is said to derive from Anglo-Saxon hleomoce and there may well be a relationship with this word.  Lime and its cognates, however, have ancient watery roots.   W. H. F Nicolaisen (1976) in Scottish Place Names. Their study and significance (Batsford, London) proposed, for example,  a pre-Celtic British word limona from limo meaning ‘flood'. He cites the river Lyon in Perthshire as deriving from this root as well as the rivers Lyme in Devon and Dorset. To this one might add the Limene, the Roman term for the East Sussex Rother (still preserved in its tributary the river Limden at Etchingham and, perhaps, Lympne on Romney Marsh) and the river Line, the name of the upper section of the East Sussex river Brede.

Perhaps brooklime simply means 'brook brook' as the river Avon means 'river river'.

3 June 2009

Heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis)

There are several different species of speedwell in Brede High Woods and this one, heath speedwell, is common in dry, open places on acid soil.

The specific name officinalis means that the plant was used  medicinally and, in the case of this speedwell as with many other plants, an infusion made from the leaves was used as cough mixture and as a lotion for rubbing on wounds and itchy places.  It was, according to the herbal of Mrs Grieve, popular as a medicine among the Welsh.

The word 'speedwell' means 'speed to good health' or 'get well soon'.

Looking through the various web sites, it appears that some herbalists are none too clear on what V. officinalis actually looks like and some seem to believe that any speedwell, or maybe any blue flower, will do.

In Brede High Woods V. officinalis is the food plant of the very rare flea beetle Longitarsus longiseta, an insect no doubt that does not suffer from coughs.

Longitarsus longiseta a