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.
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!
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!
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!
Although we are surrounded by gloom and doom at the moment nature seems to be trying very hard to turn our attention away from this and remind us of the beauty and energy of spring. Everywhere the colours and smells of renewal are all around giving us a welcome antidote and the promise of better times ahead.
Take the Lesser Celandine flower for example. This ubiquitous little plant seems to arrive with not much warning.
Often found in shaded areas of gardens and woodlands, it’s habit is to carpet the ground in abundance. The heart shaped leaves grow on long stalks, the solitary flowers are bright yellow and have between 8 -12 petals. After flowering the fruit heads remain, each tiny fruit has a comical little beak at the top of it. To add to the magic the flower has a endearing habitat of closing up when the sun goes in.
Why not try to spot this plant on your next visit to your local Cambridge nature reserve. We took these pictures at Bramblefields, in Chesterton? Count the petals and find the fruit heads? You will never NOT notice this plant again!
William Wordsworth agrees:
There is a flower, the lesser Celandine
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain
And, the first moment that the sun may shine
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
Unfortunately the car park at Byron’s Pool reserve has been temporarily closed. There have been complaints about people congregating near the entrance.
The reserve is still open for exercise by local people arriving by foot or bicycle. This decision will be regularly reviewed.
Thank you for your understanding and do remember to social distance when out on the reserves. It’s all for the greater good!
March is nearly over and it’s been quite a month!
In the natural world it’s still business as usual. Or should that be bees-ness as usual?!
It would be hard to not spot our beautiful queen bees, freshly emerging, out foraging and looking for a good nesting site.
On the reserves an impressive species count has been clocking up. So far 7 different species of bumblebee have been recorded. See these great pics. If you’re looking for a good home school project, bee spotting could bee one!
Early Bumblebee (B.pratorum)
Red-tailed Bumblebee (B.lapidarus)
Vestal Cuckoo Bee (B.vestalis)
Tree Bumblebee (B.hyporum)
All photos supplied by Clare Wallace and taken at Bramblefields Nature Reserve.