Thursday, 17 November 2011

November fungi

Our walk took us up the Adur valley today (left). After some distance we branched off along a path through the Foxhall area where there was an unusual amount of fungi to be seen.

Most of the pictures below are of unidentified specimens but the last ones are known as lawyers' wigs or shaggy ink-caps. There were considerable numbers of these in the field alongside the path.

The lawyers' wigs

        There are several groups like this in the field.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bees are still there

About October 20th I looked into the wild bee nest and I had a surprise. It was empty of bees! The combs were hanging clearly with no bees in attendance. So I went back two days later to get a picture and this is what I found.

There are still plenty of bees in the nest and they still appeared to be working actively, though none were flying in and out.

I looked in again yesterday (October 26th) and it looked deserted again! Do the bees have a hiding place further into the hole, behind the combs? Do they huddle together for warmth? I don't know the answers so I'll keep watching.

For the earlier parts of the story see Bees! and More bees!

October odds and ends

In early October Petra took a new route - across the maize fields from Maudlin Lane to Annington.

In the rough ground at the edge of the field were a few plants which I now know are field madder.

Along the road outside of Annington commercial centre I came across this group of fungi. I have not been able to identify them yet.

On another day (October 6th) I came across this late flowering black knapweed near the bypass. I think it should be linked to my page of "thistly things". The flowers are just like the creeping thistle flowers but the stems and leaves have no prickles. Like the thistles, these flowers are a good source of nectar for the late butterflies which are still flying in the area.

Friday, 7 October 2011

More bees!

I pictured this wild bees' nest in an earlier post back in June.

The bees have been active all summer, flying in and out every time I pass the nest. In the unseasonal hot weather we had earlier this week I looked closer and the nest seemed more active than ever, with a constant stream of bees flying in and out.

Today was much cooler and I visited about 5.30. Everything was quiet, with no sign of activity. But a picture taken through the entrance again shows that the nest has grown and is even more crowded. The bees were all still, waiting for a warmer time, I imagine. Have they stored enough honey to last them through the winter?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

September story

All the pictures here were taken on 1st September. The fruits were heavy on the trees at that time.

There was a good crop of elderberries this year. I picked a few pounds in August and my gallon of elderberry wine has now finished its strong initial fermentation and is quietly maturing.

But, in contrast to the elderberries above, the pretty berries shown here are not for consumption. Starting green, turning through red to black, the fruits of the wayfaring tree are described in an interesting way as "mildly toxic".

As is often the case with berries, they seem to be harmless to birds and provide them with a useful autumn meal.

There were still wild plums on the trees on that day (left), but the trees are quite tall and there were easier pickings on the pathway through the wood walk. (right)

Further along the wood walk I noticed the berries (left) of black bryony hanging in a tree from the dry stems of the vine. The bryony leaves are all dry and shrivelled before the berries have ripened.

In contrast the bright red fruits (right) of the nearby hawthorn have been shining out for some time while  the leaves of the tree are still fresh and green.

The bryony berries are poisonous whereas the hawthorn are just unpalatable. The young hawthorn leaves in spring though are quite pleasant to eat.

Near the bypass there were still some interesting flowers to note.

On the left are flowers of wild basil, not closely related to the culinary herb, it seems. I couldn't detect any aromatic qualities in the leaves.

On the right is a stem of slender St John's wort. There are some good clumps of it amongst the long grasses.

Surprisingly spectacular are its red seedheads shown below left.

My final plant for September(right) is a particularly interesting one. It does not stand out strongly amongst the grasses but is quite common in the area. It is red bartsia, known as a "semi-parasitic" plant. Its roots invade the tissues of the roots of the surrounding grasses and steal nutrients from them.

Although it does not show well in the picture, the leaves have a reddish tinge (hence the name?). This is because they have less need for green chlorophyll to synthesize their own nutrients.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The last of August

My only picture left from August is this one of hemp agrimony. It grows in the damp ditch of the stream next to the footbridge.

The herbals seem to indicate that it's another superplant! A selection of the ailments it is reputed to help include anemia, indigestion, ulcers, diarrhea, sore thoats, coughs, conjunctivitis, headaches, blemishes and sores, aching joints and muscles. (And I left out a lot of problems which are too personal to mention!)

Who needs a pharmacist when a walk in the fields can provide such a wealth of cures?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Picnic or poison?

A pipe was relaid alongside Kings Barn Lane recently causing a strip of disturbed ground. All along the strip has sprouted this plant - black nightshade, solanum nigrum.

The plant is a bit of a mystery. The white flowers should be followed by black berries - I'll look out for them.

Some books and websites warn that the berries and the whole plant are deadly poisonous.

Other references, mainly Asian, say that the berries make excellent eating and the greens are a tasty meal too. There are several recipes to be found on the web for using it.

A good account of the controversy is given at Forager's Harvest. Remember though, if you are an adventurous eater, not to rely on my identifications of any plant! I do not claim to be an expert.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Fleabane was a new plant to me this year.

Its name comes from the fact that it was burnt as an incense to drive away fleas and other insects. The scientific name pulicaria dysenterica is derived from the Latin pulex for flea and its reputed efficacy as a cure for dysentery.

The sap of fleabane is bitter, astringent and saltish, so animals apparently will not eat the plant. This is confirmed by the fact that the stand of plants shown left is thriving in a field containing cattle, where most of the grass is cropped short.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


There is a patch of marsh woundwort growing up through the vegetation by the footbridge at the end of the open field.

It grows in the damp ground of the riverbank.

You can compare it with my earlier picture of hedge woundwort

The woundworts seem to be amazingly useful herbs. The fresh crushed leaves can be used as a poultice for bad cuts. They are astringent and antiseptic. An infusion can be drunk to treat diarrhoea and also used as an eyewash for styes and conjunctivitis. The list is endless.

Besides the medical uses the tuberous roots are edible and said to have a pleasant nutty flavour, and the young shoots can be cooked like asparagus.

The plant also yields a yellow dye! What a collection of uses for a common wild plant.

Friday, 12 August 2011

More pairs

It's the pink and white theme again.

These are the bindweeds.

First, the white one. Hedge bindweed is the large flowering creeper which climbs up through the nettles, thistles and other sturdy plants.


Then there is the pink version.

This is field bindweed. It is a much more delicate plant than its white relative. The flowers are much smaller. The plant creeps over the ground and tends to hide among the long grasses in the open field.

Sorry - this one is only half of a pair!

There is a patch of white campion  near the end of the wood walk.

The other half of the pair is of course red campion. It was flowering a few weeks ago near the bypass but it was gone before I took a picture!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Some pictures taken in July that haven't made it onto the blog.

Meadowsweet (left) has been in flower throughout July. It lives on the sides of some of the drainage ditches alongside Kings Barns Lane and there is a large stand of them in the low lying wet land between the sewage farm and the wood walk.

I have only found this one specimen of tufted vetch (right). I came across it by chance amongst the long grasses in the open field.

There is another member of the pea family growing in stands alongside the bypass. (left) This is ribbed melilot. They make a colourful patch on the roadside verge and look to me as though they would make a good garden plant.

Also, nearby, on the bramble hedge I came across a ringlet butterfly (right). My sources tell me that the adult butterfly feeds on brambles, thistles and ragwort. There are plenty of all of these in this area so it should be happy. I have not been very successful at catching pictures of the many other butterflies I've seen on my walks but this one posed nicely.

And lastly, Petra's favourites. These little creatures keep her very interested on her walks.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thistly things

There is a great patch of teasels in the open field.

A close-up (left) shows the intricate spiral structure of their flowering heads. (Click on pictures for enlarged copies.)

The other end of the field contains a large stand of burdock (right). The flowers also have their own complex structure.

Both of these plants are members of the thistle family with their flowering heads consisting of a huge number of tiny florets, each containing all the parts found in larger flowers.

The spear thistle (left) is one of the more common members of the family. They usually grow as single specimens, as was this one, at the end of the footpath by the rams' field.

In contrast, the creeping thistle (right) grows in large thickets. They form a continuous clump all along the side of the same footpath.

But why this one is called a thistle I don't know. It's not prickly, has a completely different flower structure and makes quite a pretty picture. It's a blue sow thistle - an invading species from the Caucasus which has escaped from gardens. There's a lovely patch of them at the lower end of Market Field.

It doesn't even have the thistle-like rosettes of leaves at the base that our common British yellow sow thistles have.

I wonder who it was that decided on the name?

Where do I Walk?

Mainly in a fairly compact area on the north-east side of Steyning in West Sussex, UK.

For a map of this area see My Home Patch