buttercup flowers

While it’s still lock down how about teaching yourself a vital piece of british botany??

Did you know there is more than one species of Buttercup? If you didn’t, read on and learn!

To keep it simple let’s just stick to learning the most common three; Creeping buttercup, Meadow buttercup and Bulbous buttercup. (Ranunculus repens, acris and bulbosus)

At this time of year if you’re lucky you can find all three in flower on the same common or park. Hot spots at the moment are Stourbridge Common and Coldhams Common. To tell them apart is easy once you have a closer look.

Creeping buttercup, as the name suggests has a creeping growth habit, it spreads out runners in every direction, every few inches putting down roots and developing clusters of leaves. The leaves are hairy with three lobes, the middle lobe is on a long stalk and the flower stalk is grooved. You may need a magnifying glass to spot this detail.buttercup leaves bottercup flowers buttercups

Meadow buttercup is the most majestic of the three, often reaching ninety cms in height, this one is hairy too but not creeping in appearance, upright with branched stems. The leaves are much more toothed than the creeping buttercup leaves, finer and more delicate looking. The flower stalk is not grooved for the Meadow buttercup.

meadow buttercup

Bulbous buttercup flowers early (March- June) which can help with identification is you are looking at in March, otherwise you need to be looking at the flowers themselves. The main give away is under the flower itself, here you will see the sepals, rather than spreading with the flower they are bent backwards down the stem. (Sepals look like little leaves under a flower but which were the original covering of the bud, they usually act as support for the petals but not in this case!) The base of the plant is swollen or bulbous, hence the helpful name.

Sepals down buttercup Try and see if you can spot the difference, good luck!

Spider's web in grass

Nature seems to be more obvious to people since lock down, there seems to be a growing awareness of all things green or tweety, people convinced the birds are louder and the spring blossom more brilliant than previous years.

This new found appreciation means more natural phenomenons are being noticed, like for example the horizontal spiders webs seen in the grass in the morning, often covered in droplets of dew.  Sheet webs as they are known are the work of the Linyphiidae family of spiders, this is a huge family of spiders which make up 40% of our native British spiders. The well known Money spiders are part of this family.

spiders web in grass

The spiders make horizontal webs in the grass with guide threads above and below the web. These guide threads deflect their prey into the web where the spider waits patiently.

It’s also this group of spiders which do the ‘ballooning’ method of dispersal. The spider lets out a strand of silk into the air, wind currents lift the spider and it ‘flies’ up and off to find new territories. These spiders have been detected in atmospheric data as high up as 3 miles!

Pictures taken at Barnwell West Nature Resereve



hedgehog hole in gateway

It’s National Hedgehog week and it does feels right to be highlighting these endearing and charismatic creatures. Have you had the honour of a prickly visitor in your garden recently? Many people in Cambridge have, especially the residents of Gwydir street who recently pledged to make their street the first official Hedgehog highway in Cambridge. Please see their website for their latest local sightings http://gwydirstreet.co.uk/hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are declining rapidly, studies reveal that their numbers have fallen by half in the last 2 decades. This is mainly due to habitat loss, increased use of pesticides and habitat fragmentation. This fragmentation is something that we can easily help with by connecting up our gardens, if we are luckily enough to have one. A simple hole in the fence, no more than 13cm x 13cm can allow a hedgehog vital access to a wider range. Therefore giving them more space to roam, forage, nest and breed.

How about being even more ambitious and consider taking out the fence and planting a hedge?

Other ways you can help are by leaving wild areas in your garden especially brambles, creating log piles, planting wildflower areas, or putting a pond in.

All will bring in more species and help not only hedgehogs but many other species too.

The success of the Gwydir street hedgehog highway was celebrated on Cambridge 105.

Neil Whiteside: Gwydir Street Hedgehog Highway

large leaved lime nail gall

Have you noticed these bright red nail like protrusions growing on tree leaves recently? Ever wondered what they are?

These could be spotted on a walk around your local Cambridge Nature reserve: Eriophyes tiliae, or more commonly known, nail galls occur on the leaves of our Large-leaved lime and hybrid common lime from now onward. They are caused by a leaf mite feeding on the sap of the leaves, this action causes chemicals to be secreted into the plant tissue and this causes the leaves to develop galls. The mite stays safe within the gall all summer growing and feeding from the plant cells which line the gall.

large-leaved lime mite gall       Large-leaved lime gall mite

As the leaves die off in the autumn the mites exit the leaves from the underside and over-winter in the crevices of the bark or under bud scales from where they can easily access the new leaves in the following spring. Although the nail gall mite may disfigure the foliage it has little or no effect on tree growth.

Disfigure may be a strong word, adding interest and wonder may be better ones! Look out for these and other leaf galls as summer advances.

So the next time you wonder: what are the small red tubes growing a leaf called? You’ll know it’s caused by a leaf mite!

Lords and ladies flower

A common woodland plant with a not so common life cycle. Although the leaves have been up since February it is only now that the unusual ‘flowers’ become visible. If you are having a walk in a local woodland look down at ground level and spot these striking pale green sheath-like leaves wrapping round a purple or sometimes yellow needle-like structure or spadix as it is known. The sheath-like leaf or spathe is not the flower it is actually a modified leaf which curls around the spadix and then hidden from view, at the base of the spadix, are finally the tiny flowers, first the male flowers then many clusters of female flowers. The role of the spadix is to give off a smell of decay but also amazingly it gives off heat which together attracts pollinators. If you gently touch the spadix you can feel this warmth!

The preferred pollinators are midges, usually female and visiting at night. Before the midges can reach the flowers they pass through a ring of hairs which then trap them in the base of the structure and keep them in there for several hours while they pollinate the flowers and enjoy the warmth! This ability for some plants to regulate heat is known as thermogenesis and has been fascinating scientists for years. For example Arum Maculatum can raise it’s temperature if covered in snow to melt it which then allows the leaves to come through. An intriguing capability!

lords and ladies flower

The plant also contains oxalate crystals which are released if the plant is damaged. They act as an irritant to skin, the sensation has been described as feeling like ‘many small needles being broken into the skin’, therefore this plant in not recommended as natural toilet paper if you are ever caught short!

By the autumn the flower spike has transformed into the familiar stalk of red berries you might spot on the woodland floor. This total transformation is another captivating quality of this plant. There is another variegated version of this plant ( Arum italicum or Italian Lords and Ladies)which you might see along side the more common Arum maculatum. See if you can spot both species and the differences in the spathe and spadix!

lords and ladies leaves

lord and ladies flower

Lord and ladies flower spike