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Rose of Sharon (Hypericum Calycinum), rear garden, Staffordshire, England. July 2017.
After flowers have run their course and have lost their petals I am always on the look out for what come next. Sometimes it can be equally or even more beautiful than what came before.
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Herb Bennet (Geum urbanum) seedhead. Front garden, Staffordshire, England. June 2017.
Also called ‘Holly Oak’ or ‘Evergreen Oak’, this oak is a dense evergreen tree with tough foliage which grows up to 20m (66ft) tall. The crown is dense, dark and broadly domed, often on a short trunk with several ascending large branches. The bark is dark grey with shallow fissures, and in time is cracked into fine, square plates. New leaves unfold silvery white in June, but soon turn a dark glossy green with whitish-grey felt-like undersides. In younger trees the leaves are broad and elliptical, and are spiny like those of Holly (Ilex aquifolium), perhaps to prevent animal grazing. In older trees the leaves become longer, lance-like and without spines. Trees of an intermediate age possess both leaf types. The male flowers appear in the spring, and turn from green to a golden-yellow. The female flowers are tiny green clusters. Mature acorns are on very short stems, and are held in a scaly, felt-like cup. They are much smaller compared to the acorns of the Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur).
Planted mainly in milder climes and a shelter-belt tree in coastal areas for its ability to cope well with sea spray, but it is also found in cemeteries, large Victorian gardens, parks and sea-fronts, and has naturalised occasionally. A native tree of the Mediterranean region, and originally part of the ancient evergreen forests once extensive there, the Holm Oak has been planted in Britain for over 400 years, and is the most common of our evergreen oaks.
Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Bournemouth seafront, Dorset, England. August 2012 and 2013.
The Primrose is a harbinger of spring with its pale yellow flowers and spoon-shaped basal leaves formed in rosettes. The leaves are evergreen in suitable environments, and are wrinkled with toothed margins.
It flowers February to May, or earlier. Found in deciduous woodland, woodland glades, embankments, meadows and roadside verges. Native to Britain, widespread and common.
The name Primrose derives from the Latin prima rosa which means ‘first rose’, although it is not a member of the rose family.
April 2013, woods, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013.
Also called ‘Dutch Clover’, it is a herbaceous perennial plant which spreads by means of rooting runners. The leaves are composed of three oval leaflets which have a whitish V-shaped band, which may not always be evident. The ball-shaped cluster flower head is composed of rounded peaflowers which are white or cream, with the lower flowers drooping down below and fanning out slightly.
It flowers June to September. Found in pastures, roadside verges, meadows, garden lawns and other grassy habitats. Abundant and widespread throughout.
White Clover is an important source of pollen for bees, butterflies and other insects.
June 2012, local field, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012.
Also called ‘Purple Foxglove’ or Lady’s Glove’, this is a most distinctive plant which can produce up to sixty or more pink to purple tubular flowers on tall spikes. Each flower has a dark ring of spots inside the lower lip which helps attract and guide insects such a bumblebees inside to gather nectar and in turn aid in the flower’s pollination. Sometimes white forms are found. The leaves are large and hairy, forming basal rosettes. The leaves appear in the first year, and in the second year it produces flowers. All parts of this plant are very poisonous to both humans and animals.
It flowers June to September, and is found on heaths, woodland clearings and margins, roadside verges, embankments, hedgerows and sea cliffs, thriving best in acid soils. It seeds and grows freely in gardens where allowed to. A common and widespread species throughout.
May 2012, rear garden, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012.
A very distinctive plant with blueish-green or greyish green waxy leaves, with sharp-toothed spines. It produces tiny blue flowers in a large dome.
It flowers June to September. Found along sandy coastlines, mainly on sand dunes. Common and widespread in England, Wales and Ireland, and absent from north and east Scotland.
June 2012, Llandudno, Wales. Nikon Coolpix P500. Pete Hillman 2012.
The Sea Campion is a loose, scrambling plant which produces distinct white flowers with conspicuously veined sepals joined into an inflated tube. The leaves are green, hairless and waxy, and some remain green throughout the winter.
It flowers March to October. Discovered in coastal habitats such as shingle banks, sand dunes and cliffs, and also inland on high mountains. Widespread and locally common, the Sea Campion varies its growth form according to its environment.
June 2012, Llandudno, Wales. Nikon Coolpix P500. © Pete Hillman 2012.
Also called ‘English Holly’ ‘Common Holly’, ‘European Holly’, or ‘Christmas Holly’, it is a shade tolerant evergreen tree or shrub where it may grow into a scraggly form, but in good light it is spire-shaped, then becoming irregularly upright and pendulous with age. It can grow up to 23m (76ft) in height. The bark is smooth and silvery-grey, becoming warty in older years. The leaves are a shiny dark green, tough and leathery with wavy, spiny margins, although leaves further up the tree may lose their spines. The white fragrant flowers open in May. Male and female flowers are on separate trees, and only the female trees bear the clusters of bright red berries which are ripe by October.
It is a common under-storey in woods, especially oak and beech woods. Commonly planted in hedgerows, and widely planted in parks and gardens. A common and widespread native tree of Britain and Ireland.
There are many variants of Holly, and the golden-yellow variegated forms are quite popular with gardeners. The red Holly berries are a favourite food of many birds, especially thrushes like the Blackbird (Turdus merula). The Holly Blue ( Celastrina argiolus) butterfly larvae feeds on the buds and flowers of Holly. The leaves used to be an important winter fodder for livestock.
Bringing Holly into our homes at Christmas goes back to a pre-Christian time when Holly was regarded as a powerful fertility symbol, and was a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. The felling of a complete Holly tree was said to bring bad luck.
Photographs of Holly (Ilex aquifolium), taken October and November 2012, urban park, Staffordshiree. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.
Grasses dominate the English rural landscape, not just as meadows and pastures, but also as crops which feed man and animal alike. Grasses easily recolonise waste ground and cover waysides and embankments, and mixed meadow-grasses make for a most beautiful summer spectacle.
We all know what grasses are like, they are such a common sight, yet how many of us can identify a single species? Grasses are plants with long, narrow leaves, rounded hollow stems, with small flowers enclosed in a pair of scales called glumes. These flowers form spikelets, either singly, in pairs or more, enclosed by another pair of scales. Sedges, rushes and reedmaces are also similar to grasses, but have their own characteristics which make them differ so.
This is a dense growing, blue-green grass with broad leaves and tall flower spikes. The spikes consist of many overlapping, flattened spikelets. Perennial. Plant height 1.5m. Flower size 35cm long.
Flowers July to August. Found on the coast in sand dunes and upper beaches. It is a primary sand dune builder. Common and widespread on the east coast of Britain, scarce elsewhere.
Photographs of Lyme-grass (Leymus arenarius), taken June 2012, Llandudno, Wales. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
Ferns and horsetails are living fossils in that they are from the earliest forms of plant life on earth. They are vascular plants which prefer moist, shady environments, and reproduce via airborne spores or underground rhizomes. Ferns and horsetails are a monophyletic group, and the closest living relatives to seed bearing plants.
Class: Polypodiopsida (Ferns)
Ferns are a very ancient family of plants, and have been around for some 360 million years, since the Mesozoic Era.They existed on the planet some 200 million years before the evolution of flowering plants. Ferns are vascular plants which mainly grow in moist, shady environments under the protective canopy of trees, such as in woods and forests, or near streams or in ditches. They do not have seeds or flowers, but reproduce by spores, and go through an intermediate stage called a gametophyte.
Class: Equisetopsida (Horsetails)
The horsetails are now represented by only one genus Equisetum, and are amongst the oldest plants on earth. Fossils have been discovered in coal beds of tree-sized horsetails which grew in great and vast forests dating back to the Paleozoic Era, some hundreds of millions of years ago. It is from these ancient forests that coal was formed, and is mined today as fossil fuel.
Horsetails produce spores in cone-like structures. The spores develop into underground prothalli which produce new plants in the same manner as fern prothalli do. They also spread via tuber-like rhizomes beneath the earth.They are unwelcome in pastures due to their high levels of silica in their tissues, which are poisonous to cows and sheep, and other livestock.
They are called horsetails due to their branched structure which can resemble a horse’s tail.
The fronds of the Broad Buckler Fern are deep green, are ovate-triangular in shape, and are 3-times pinnately divided. The stalks have dark-centred scales. The fronds are broader and longer than the Narrow Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana). Frond length up to 1m.
Spore ripening time July to September. Found in hedgerows, scrub, damp woodland, heathland, shady rock ledges and amongst rocks. A native species which is common and widespread throughout Britain.
Photographs of Broad Buckler Fern (Dryopteris austriaca), taken May and December 2012, local river, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
A delicate little evergreen fern with blueish-green or olive-green, club-shaped leaflets with toothed margins. Brown spores can be seen beneath the bipinnate (twice divided) fronds. Frond length up to 12cm.
Found growing in the crevices of old walls or rocks, mainly where there is limestone. Widespread but commonest in W Britain and Ireland.
Photographs of Wall-rue Spleenwort (Asplenium ruta-muraria), taken December 2012, local canal bridge, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
This little fern grows in tufts and has dark brownish to blackish-stemmed, pinnate fronds with pairs of small, oval leaflets. Frond length up to 15cm.
Found growing in the crevices of old walls or rocks. A native species which is widespread but commonest in the west of Britain.
Photographs of Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), taken August 2015, Torquay, Devon. © Pete Hillman 2015. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
The thick, leathery fronds are pinnately divided into rounded lobes and form clumps. The back of the frond is covered in rusty-coloured scales. Frond length up to 20cm.
Found growing in the crevices of lime-rich stone walls or rocks, especially in the mortar of old walls. It can withstand drought and will curl itself up. A native species which is widespread but common only in the south-west of England, west Wales and Ireland.
Photographs of Rustyback (Asplenium ceterach), taken August 2015, Torquay, Devon. © Pete Hillman 2015. Camera used Nikon D3200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
The fronds are flat and oblong, with lobes fairly equal in size. They are dark green and are 1-pinnate. The sori are circular. Frond length 10 to 40cm.
Found on walls, rocks and trees. Also found in damp, shady places like woodland banks and gorges. Common and widespread throughout, although mostly found in Western Britain and Ireland.
Photographs of Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare), taken April 2013, Llandudno, Wales. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
Not long after making my garden pond earlier this year I planted Water Mint on the margin. It is a strong-smelling mint with large flowerheads comprising of two-lipped lilac-pink petals and crimson sepals. The stems are reddish and hairy with leaves which are oval and coarsely toothed, and often have a reddish tinge. The flowers can grow up to 6mm long, and the plant up to 1m tall.
It flowers July to September. In the wild it is found at the edge of ponds, pools, ditches and lakes, often growing in the water. It is also marshes, swamps, and similar freshwater habitats. A native species, widespread and common throughout.
The flowers are a good source of nectar for insects, and the leaves a good food source for caterpillars. The plant also has various medicinal properties and culinary uses.
Photograph of Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) taken August 2016, rear garden pond , Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2016. Camera used Nikon D7200, with Sigma 105mm macro lens.
This is a tall and robust perennial reed which often forms vast stands near freshwater margins. The spikelets are purplish-brown in colour, the green leaves being long and broad. It can grow up to 2m tall.
Flowers August to September, but turns brown and remains throughout the winter. Found in marshes, pools, and other freshwater habitats. A common and widespread species.
The Common Reed is an important plant in nature conservation for it supports a large amount of wildlife. It is also used to thatch roofs.
Photographs of Common Reed (Phragmites australis), taken August 2012, country park, and April 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2012 & 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
This is Britain’s largest horsetail, with pinkish-brown fertile stems, and the sterile stems are whitish with 20 to 40 fine grooves. The sterile stems are heavily branched with between 20 to 40 emerging from each node. It can grow up to 2m tall.
Fertile stems ripen in April, and sterile stems appear soon afterwards and remain throughout the summer until they die down in late autumn. Found in damp shady places, like pool edges, ditches and marshes in woodland. A native species, and fairly frequent and widespread in England and Wales, and less so in the north.
Photographs of Great Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia), taken June 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.
A tufted grass which produces unbranched, bristly flower spikes. The leaves are light green, flat and hairy. Annual. Plant height 30cm. Flower size 9 to 10cm.
Flowers May to July. It is found on bare ground, waste ground, roadside verges, field and wood margins, and coastal areas. Common and widespread in central, southern and eastern England, and scarcer elsewhere.
Photographs taken June 2012, local woodland margin, Staffordshire.
Also called ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’, ‘Hedge Parsley’, ‘Wild Parsley’ and ‘Wild Chervil’, this is one of the earliest flowering umbellifers in spring. This is a fast-growing, tall plant with hollow, unspotted stems. It usually grows in great numbers and produces white frothy umbrellas made up of small white flowers. The leaves are large and fern-like, and when crushed they produce a strong, aniseed-like scent. Plant height 60 to 150cm. Umbels 6 to 12mm wide.
Flowers April to June. It prefers moist soil and grows in masses along roadsides, riverbanks, near streams and pools, woodland margins, hedgerows, meadows and pastures. Native, common and widespread throughout Britain.
Cow Parsley is a rich source of nectar for hoverflies, bees and other insects.
Photographs taken May 2014, local field, Staffordshire.
Also called the ‘Common Horsetail’, the first to be seen of this plant is the pinkish-brown fertile stems, resembling small asparagus sprouts, followed by the green sterile stems with jointed segments and whorls of side shoots forming spreading patches where they grow. Plant height 75cm.
Spore-bearing stems appear in March from tuber-bearing rhizomes, and spores ripen March to June. The sterile stems appear when the fertile stems die back, and are present throughout the summer months into late autumn when the first frosts arrive. Found commonly in damp fields, waste ground, roadsides and in gardens where it may become a troublesome weed. The rhizomes may grow down up to 2m into the ground where they are difficult to remove, and where they may spread into neighbouring properties. Britain’s commonest horsetail, native and widespread throughout.
The Field Horsetail is from a very ancient group of plants which has survived from the Carboniferous age, more than 230 million years ago. This plant, like all horsetails, contains high levels of silica which makes it toxic to livestock.
Photographs taken April 2009 and May 2013, local field near river, Staffordshire, and June 2013, nature reserve, Staffordshire.
Also called the ‘Lawndaisy’, this is a familiar small daisy. The solitary flower has a yellow central disc surrounded by white petals which are tinged pink on the undersides. The spoon-shaped leaves are hairy and are often crowded into a tight rosette. Plant height 5 to 10cm. Flower size 1.5 to 2.5cm wide
It flowers all year round, and is found almost anywhere, in lawns, embankments, pastures, meadows and roadsides. A common and widespread species throughout.
Photographs taken 2014 and 2015, front verge, Staffordshire.