You know how, when you’re out in the middle of the ocean and your boats forgets that its main function is to float? Well, you jump onto your life raft and float off into the blue. After a bit, when you feel like a cup of tea and, perhaps, a biscuit or two – you suddenly realise that you left in such a hurry that you forgot to bring any food or water. You know – water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.
Indeed, although the ocean seems to be full of the stuff, you must not drink any seawater. You see the sea is salty. Yes, I knew you knew that already, but it needs emphasising. There is more salt in sea water than our bodies are designed to handle. So, they can’t – but they do their best and you become more and more dehydrated as you become more and more thirsty in the end you go mad and probably die.
Horses, peacefully grazing in their paddocks, have a similar problem with Ragwort – see today’s picture. They normally won’t touch the stuff – but if there is nothing else to eat, they have to – and they end up with kidney failure and all sorts of other nasties. Meanwhile, Ragwort is an environmentally desirable plant as it is the food source of a large number of butterfly and moth grubs – who would all disappear without it.
Nothing is straightforward, is it?
Here we are in October, at the back end of the year – the year is now tailing off some might say. All the cows we’ve been conversing with, over the last five or six months, are now stepping out on the next stage of their career path. You see around this time of the year, as those of you with lawns to mow can confirm, the grass stops growing and our cows must move on.
Once moss and ferns had done their act and cleared all their stage props out of the dressing rooms, the grass was able to take centre stage. However there’s always someone, isn’t there – and in grasses case that someone was trees. You see the woods are constantly doing their best to upstage the grass by shading the ground and collecting all that sunlight and applause for themselves. Luckily the grass had powerful, or at least large, friends with big feet. By the simple expedient of growing from the bottom of the leaf (instead of the top) they ensured that their act appealed to large browsers – who promptly trampled the woodland’s expansion attempts into the dust. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.
These tiny little flowers, almost too small to see amongst the leaves that surround them, have spent millions of years getting to this level of insignificance. This is a Euphorbia and probably, or at least – depending who you believe and who they believe – one of two thousand different varieties. Google and I are just not sure – there are so many that look similar and none that look exactly like ours – but we think this is a Petty Spurge.
In southern Africa, Euphorbia varieties vary from a huge tree all the way down to a small rock plant. They fill the niche that cacti (or cactuses – suit yourself) occupy. It is the way the flowers have adapted that sets them apart.
When you think of things that have been around for a million years or so, it is tempting to think that we are viewing something from the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. The amazing thing about the Euphorbia is that it is no archaic relic. It has been in continuous development for all this time and this specimen is a modern and as up to date as next years roses.
Last year we had large numbers of our acorns afflicted by the knopper oak gall wasp, this year we seem to have done better. This tiny insect is one of those that make you wonder if Mother Nature was tinkering around with the idea of having three, or maybe even four, sexes.
At some point in its life cycle the wasp lays an egg in the acorn bud. This develops into a grub. The grub then uses the material, designed by the oak tree to form the acorn and cup, and chemically alters it to build itself a nice little hidey-hole. Naturally, nature doesn’t just leave it at that – there are also wasps that lay eggs that hatch into grubs that eat the knopper wasp grub and move into the, now vacant, property – but I digress.
At a completely different time of the year and in a completely different type of oak tree, eggs are laid that produce only female wasps. Later in the year both male and female wasps hatch out somewhere else in the forest. The mind boggles! Two different types of oak trees and the odds of clement weather in two different seasons in order to produce one generation of minute wasps – it’s a wonderful world.
These are the seeds of the plant we call Honesty – Lunaria annua is its posh name, and as you can see it is indeed moon-like. It has plenty of other names – The Money Plant, Silver Dollars or Chinese Dollars among them. There is no doubt that the money on the plant in our picture definitely needs to be laundered.
Filthy lucre – ill-gotten gains – or more particularly these days, the delicious and illicit enjoyment that goes with the acquisition of the aforementioned – has a long and illustrious career. Some of Google’s friends mention that it is found in the King James Version of the Christian bible – first available around 1611 and our phrase possibly dates back to the English translation of the bible produced by William Tyndale around 1525 (for which he was executed as a heretic). However a different bunch of Google’s friends mention that it was used by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Prioress’s Tale (not quite true but pretty close) probably written just before 1400.
Then, there’s the other lot who think we pinched it from Latin – or French – or Dutch.
So, here today, once again, we can enjoy the pleasure of our ill-gotten gains.
The photo today is a sort of mint – it might be Water Mint as it was growing near water – but then all the other twenty varieties and over two hundred hybrids grow near water too – so it might not be. In fact, let’s be honest the odds are a little on the high side. Perhaps it might be better to have started with: The photo today is a sort of mint – it probably isn’t Water Mint. There, the stress and pressure of the whole post has diminished quite significantly, don’t you agree?
Well, don’t relax too much, this is where we get to the bad news. Mint, you’d think, well, it’s just mint, isn’t it? That’s what I thought, too. But I had a serious chat with Google – I think he was having a bad day, he isn’t usually like this. If you take that ordinary, just mint, and distil it and do other unimaginable stuff to it, you end up in a sorry state. A teaspoonful of your concoction can bring death and destruction to even a healthy adult. And babies and children can have paroxysms and stop breathing if they just smell it. Tell that to the lamb chops.
This is more than I can cope with – I think I’ll close Google and go and curl up in a fetal position on Facebook.
While we’re on the subject of nature’s whimsies, here we have a picture of Lady’s Thumb.
In the centre of the village we have an area of grass that we refer to as the green. It isn’t a huge area – certainly not big enough to have a cricket pitch in the middle, nor could we realistically fit a duck pond on it, it is however, kept neat, tidy and mown by Harold, who lives just opposite.
While the green itself is maintained in strict accordance to some gardener’s handbook or manual that permits nothing other than grass to occupy any area of lawn, in the gutter and between the kerb stones, nature, in the raw, runs rampant – and it’s here that many an interesting find can be made.
Earlier this year this gutter was sprinkled with these pale pink plants. Then they did their thing – flowered, produced seed, scattered them, etc., and went back indoors to become addicted to daytime television. Now, with this year’s mild winter and early spring, summer has been and gone and we are already seeing autumn all around us, but look – our Lady’s Thumb is back to have another go at spring.
Some people are gluttons for punishment.