Woodland Watch – Week 14 – 19/06/2013

It seems as fast as I get used to warm spring/summer weather everything turns around and its back to miserable grey again! This week wasn’t great weather for a walk in the woods, but me and the dog made it out anyway and here’s what we saw this week!

Despite the dreary looking sky and cold, blustery wind that felt more like early spring than early summer, the meadow approaching the woodland was still beautiful, covered in buttercups and a wide range of flora.

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

Stormier skies than in previous weeks as we approached the woodland

The buttercup family is comprised of about 2,252 species, including wildflowers and ornamentals, such as larkspur, marsh marigold and clematis. It used to be thought that the rich yellow of the buttercup made better butter from cows feeding in buttercup-rich meadows. This is a myth however, as we now know that the stem and leaf are actually toxic, especially to cattle, and the animals avoid eating it.

The meadow is full of a wide variety of flowers, herbs, grasses etc and I am the first to admit that my meadow species identification needs a lot of work, so please feel free to correct any mistakes!!! Species such as the common plantain and clover are widespread among the buttercups.

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Ground level vegetation in the meadow approaching the woodland

Inside the wood, the woodland floor has changed again. The green bluebell leaves from previous weeks have turned yellow and collapsed as they come to the end of their life for this year. The stems and seed pods are still upright, bare looking without their foliage.

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

Bluebell stems left after the leaves have wilted

While these areas of the woodland look bare now that the bluebells have died back, other areas are overrun with weeds. On entering the woodland area there are large patches of young brambles which will continue to dominate the vegetation where they can through the summer months.

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Young brambles taking over the area close to the entrance to the woods

Although generally considered a woody week and certainly difficult to eradicate once they become established, brambles are a very useful plant to a wide range of wildlife. Hundreds of creatures use brambles at different times of the year: Insects visit the flowers for pollen and nectar, including bumblebees, honey bees, hoverflies, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and lacewings.Spiders spin webs to catch the bounty of visiting insects. Moths such as buff arches, peach blossom and fox moths lay their eggs on bramble as it is their larval foodplant. Blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, starlings, robins, pheasants, foxes, mice and other small mammals eat the fruits. Robins, wrens, thrushes, blackbirds, warblers and finches will nest in bramble and small mammals use it for protection from predators.

A weed the bramble may be, but it is certainly a very valuable woodland plant as long as it is not allowed to out compete other valuable vegetation. The key to any habitat is variety.

That’s it for this week. Join us again next week for another walk in the woods.

http://www.tree-creeper.com

Woodland Watch – Week 10 – 22/05/2013

Another week and yet more unpredictable weather! We’re a few weeks away from summer and finally the woods are looking like they have come completely out of hibernation! This week, there was so much going on around the small area of woodland that I decided to focus on one species in particular that has been changing and developing on a week by week basis.

Common in woodland ecotones and hedgerows, this small tree of the rose family grows quickly and sends out many side shoots and branches which make a sturdy, impenetrable barrier to livestock. Unlike Blackthorn which sends out suckers, hawthorn does not have a large root system and is therefore not greedy with the soil’s nutrients. This encourages many forms of plant life to grow in its vicinity.

The hawthorn trees growing in the woodland are generally found around the borders of the wood within the woodland-meadow ecotone. Last week, the leaves were fully out and enjoying the late spring sunshine.

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland understorey

Young hawthorn leaves in woodland under storey

This week, there is a new development on the larger hawthorn trees in the hedgerows surrounding the woodland. Between May and June, the hermaphrodite flowers are produced in groups of 5-25 together. These can be seen developing now on the trees bordering the woodland. Like everything else this year, they are a little late developing!

Developing hawthorn flowers

Developing hawthorn flowers

Hawthorn blossoms along with its newly opened leaves and in a few weeks the flowers will have five snow white petals set around slender stamens with bright pink heads. Hawthorn blossoms contain both male and female reproductive parts and are fertilized by insects moving between them.

In the summer, the seeds will grow into small green berries which will turn red by autumn. We will watch the hawthorn trees in the wood over the coming months and see how they develop and change over time.

Join us next week for a walk in the woods as we approach the summer seasons.

Woodland Watch – Week 8 – 08/05/2013

Welcome to Woodland Watch week 8. The first thing I noticed on this walk through the woods is the bluebells. The first bluebells emerged several weeks ago now, but today the woodland floor is absolutely carpeted in them and I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of this beautiful, blue, floral carpet.

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Bluebells carpeting the woodland floor

Above ground level, other shrub and tree species are also coming into full leaf. This young hawthorn has progressed from initial bud burst a few weeks ago into its full leaf state now.

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

Young hawthorn tree in full leaf

In a primitive form of biological warfare, Hawthorn spines can infect animals with pathogenic bacteria – the same bacteria as that which causes gas gangrene. Britain’s hedgerows contain hawthorn for many reasons, including sustenance and protection. Hawthorn was also purposefully adapted into a hedging plant when the peasants were thrown off their inherited land by landowners following the general enclosures act of 1845. Thus the ‘peasants’ tree’ was turned into an instrument of division and derision by political and money minded barons, a barrier hedgerow to keep people off the land.

Another weed emerging all over the woodland floor is sticky weed (Galium aparine), otherwise known as cleavers or the velcro plant among other common names.

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Sticky weed among dock leaves

Most people who have been out in their gardens have come across this annual weed whose seeds germinate in the cool, wet weather of late winter and then grow rapidly into swirly, sticky stems of green that stick themselves to skin, clothing, pets and anything else they come into contact with.the plant is sometimes called bed straw because one of its sweeter smelling cousins (G. verum) was used to stuff mattresses in medieval times.

Join us next week for another walk in the woodland.

Woodland Watch – Week 5 – 17/04/2013

It’s all starting to happen in the woods now. With the warmer weather drifting in, albeit in fits and starts, everything seems to finally be trusting that it is safe to come out of hibernation. This week, everything seemed to be bursting into life, wherever I looked there were signs of spring and listening to the birds singing in the trees and hedgerows passed a beautiful half hour wandering around the woods.

One of the first new plants I noticed on entering the woods was self heal (Prunella vulgaris) starting to flower around the edges of the woodland in the grassy ecotone. Self-heals are low-growing plants, and thrive in moist wasteland and grass, spreading rapidly to cover the ground. They are members of the mint family and have the square stem common to mints. They flower from late spring through to autumn and add another touch of colour to the ground as you enter the woodland.

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Self heal growing on the grassy boundaries of the woodland edge

Up until today the majority of the trees and lower level canopy remained stubbornly in bud with only the young elder leaves brave enough to emerge. It was good to see the hazel buds bursting into life, showering the woodland at eye level with bright green emerging leaves.

Most of this woodland is comprised of coppiced hazel (Corylus avellana) and in the past hazel has been crucially important as a source of wood which grows into straight poles when cut at ground level (coppiced). Uses include thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles, furniture,  firewood and many many more. Hazel nuts were prized as a food source in the past, however grey squirrels often strip the trees before the nuts can ripen and be harvested.

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Bud burst on coppiced hazel

Also starting to come into leaf is the common English wild honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymentum). I was glad to see honeysuckle in the woodland as it is an important plant for dormouse habitat. Dormice shred honeysuckle bark and weave it into a ball to form their nests and although I have yet to spot signs of dormice in this coppice woodland, it is good that it has potential as dormouse habitat.

English wild honeysuckle

English wild honeysuckle

The elder (Sambucus nigra) is certainly the most advanced tree/shrub in the woodland in terms of leaf development now. Also part of the honeysuckle family, elder provides a wealth of flowers and fruit throughout the year feeding a wide range of birds, animals and insects.

Elder leaves are one of the most developed in the woodland so far

Elder leaves are some of the most developed in the woodland so far

And its not just the hazel and elder bursting into leaf, there are a lot of young hawthorn plants making up the shrub layer of the woodland and their bright young leaves are also starting to emerge.

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

Young hawthorn leaves emerging

That’s it for this week. Join us again for a walk in the woods and see what you see on your own walks. Let us know at http://www.tree-creeper.com or send us your photos on our Treecreeper Arborists facebook page.