Tag Archives: flowers

Let your dandelions and other flowering ‘weeds’ be

This last couple of weeks parts of my daily walks have been accompanied by, the to me, unwelcome din of motor lawnmowers as lots of my fellow villagers strive to turn their lawns into ecological deserts. One of my neighbours has, to my knowledge, cut his lawn five times since the beginning of March, me I’ve done my spring cut and that’s it until autumn.

An ecological desert 😦

This mania for close-cropped lawns, sometimes ‘artistically’ striped, is, I think, the fault of my grandparent’s generation, which took a municipal park attitude to gardens, especially the bit that the neighbours could see; close-cropped, weed-free grass with regimented flower beds, also equally weed-frees. Out of sight, back gardens could be less manicured, and depending on the space available, might include a vegetable garden (also scrupulously weed-free), and a patch of lawn to be used by children for ball games and other activities. Unfortunately they drummed this philosophy into their children, who in their turn, with only a few exceptions (me for one), passed this fetish on to my generation. Sadly, my father, a keen gardener, also espoused this view as did the parents of all my friends. I spent many a grumpy hour removing dandelions and thistles from our front lawn and flower beds at my father’s behest!

So what are these weeds that so many people seem to hate? To those growing crops of economic value, be they agricultural, horticultural or silvicultural, then I guess the following definitions are very reasonable and relatable.

Plants that threaten human welfare either by competing with other plants that have food, timber of amenity value, or by spoiling and thus diminishing the value of a product

Weeds arise out of the mismatch between the habitats we create and the plants we choose to grow in them

Begon, Harper & Townsend (1996)

A plant that originated under a natural environment and, in response to imposed and natural environments, evolved and continues to do so as an interfering associate with our desired plants and activities” Aldrich & Kremer (1997)

There are more tolerant descriptions of weeds available, which are much more in accord with my views:

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” (Emerson, 1878)

, “A weed is but an unloved flower!” (Wilcox, 1911)

A plant condemned without a fair trial” (de Wet & Harlan, 1975)

I have, as I have mentioned several times already, been doing a lot of walking during the covid pandemic, or should it now be referred to as the Covid Pandemic? At this time of year, Spring, the early flowers of the hedgerows and roadside verges are alreday out; cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spimosa) and closer to the ground, but as equally pretty, daisies (Bellis perennis), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), Lesser Celandines ( Ficaria verna (although some of you may know it as Ranunculus ficaria), and Wood Anemones (Anemonoides nemorosa). The latter two species, although relatively common, are unlikely to be found in the average garden, as they have fairly specific habitat requirements.  Daisies and dandelions on the other hand, are pretty much ubiquitous, although the former do not attract as much opprobrium from the traditional gardener as dandelions do. This is a great shame, as ecologically speaking dandelions are an extremely important resource for pollen and nectar feeding insects.

Given the concerns about the decline of insects in general over the last forty years, we should be celebrating the dandelion, not trying to eradicate it from our lawns. Just feast your eyes on some of the beauties that I have seen over the last few days.

Pollen beetles March 20th 2021

Male tawny mining bee Andrena fulva – Sutton March 25th 2021

Bumble bee, Sutton March 30th 2021

Seven spot lady bird, too early for aphids, Oulton Road March 30th 2021


Peacock butterfly in a very striking pose, Guild Lane, Sutton, April 3rd 2021.

I’m not alone in my love of dandelions 🙂

We shouldn’t forget the humble daisy either. It provides nectar to many butterfly species, including among others, the Green Hairstreak, the Grizzled Skipper, the Small Copper and the Small White. They are also important resources for honey bees (Raquier et al., 2015), bumblebees and hoverflies (Blackmore & Goulson, 2014).

A nice patch of daisies.

Domestic gardens, if managed correctly, have tremendous potential as reservoirs of insects and other invertebrates of ecological importance (Davies et al, 2009). The easiest thing that you can do to help the insects is to reduce the frequency at which you mow your lawn and grass verges. To sum it up in a nutshell, the less you move, the more flowers you get and the more flowers you get the more nectar and pollen feeding insects you make happy, some of which can be rare and endangered (Wastian et al., 2016).  

The less frequently you mow, the more flowers you get. The more flowers you get, the more bumblebees you get (George, 2008).

It is not just flower feeding insects that benefit from reducing your lawn mowing activities; grass feeding insects also benefit from longer grass ( Helden & Leather, 2005) and if, for some strange reason, you are not a great fan of bugs, just remember that the more bugs you have the more birds you will attract (Heden et al.,  2012). So do your bit to save the planet, be like me, only mow your lawn twice a year.

References

Aldrich, R.J. & Kremer, R.J. (1997) Principles in Weed Management. Panima Publishing Corporation.

Begon, M., Harper, J,L. & Townsend, C.R. ( 1996) Ecology, 3rd Edition, Blackwell Science, oxford.

Blackmore, L.M. & Goulson, D. (2014) Evaluating the effectiveness of wildflower seed mixes for boosting floral diversity and bumblebee and hoverfly abundance in urban areas. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 7, 480-484.

Davies, Z.G., Fuller, R.A., Loram, A., Irvine, K.N., Sims, V. & Gaston, K.J. (2009) A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens. Biological Conservation, 142, 761-771.

De Wet, J.M.J., Harlan, J.R.  (1975) Weeds and domesticates: Evolution in the man-made habitat. Economic Botany, 29, 99–108.

Emerson, R.W.(1878) The Fortunes of the Republic. The Riverside Press, Boston, USA.

Garbuzov, M., Fensome, K.A. & Ratnieks, F.L.W.  (2015)   Public approval plus more wildlife: twin benefits of reduced mowing of amenity grass in a suburban public park in Saltdean, UK. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 8, 107-119.

George, W. (2008) The Birds and the Bees: Factors Affecting Birds, Bumblebees and Butterflies in Urban Green Spaces, MSc Thesis, Imperial College, London.

Helden, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2005) The Hemiptera of Bracknell as an example of biodiversity within an urban environment. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History, 18, 233-252.

Helden, A.J., Stamp, G.C. & Leather, S.R. (2012) Urban biodiversity: comparison of insect assemblages on native and non-native trees. Urban Ecosystems, 15, 611-624.

Lerman, S.B., Contostac, A.R., Milamb, J. & Bang, C. (2018) To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards. Biological Conservation, 221, 160-174.

Requier, F., Odoux, J., Tamic, T.,Moreau, N., Henry, M., Decourtye, A. & Bretagnolle, V. (2015)  Honey bee diet in intensive farmland habitats reveals an unexpectedly high flower richness and a major role of weedsEcological Applications, 25, 881–890.  

Wastian, L., Unterweger, P.A.& Betz, O. (2016) Influence of the reduction of urban lawn mowing on wild bee diversity (Hymenoptera, Apoidea). Journal of Hymenoptera Research, 49, 51–63.

Wilcox, E.W. (1911) Poems of Progress and New Thought Pastels. London: Gay & Hancock, 1911.

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The Natural World in Haiku Form – volume 4

Thanks to covid and cancer, I spent most of last year (2020) away from the campus.  Luckily, I live in a very rural area so I was able to do a lot of walking and interacting with Nature.  This year’s collection of haikus are thus geographically constrained.  I hope that some of them will strike a chord with some of you.

Memories

Oak, standing alone

Hoarding Nature’s memories,

Safe, beneath her bark.

February 6th 2020 Sutton

Nature prevails

Stalwart oak still stands.

Despite lightning’s flashing bolt

Nature will prevail

15 April 2020 Forton

Sentry duty

Oaken sentinels;

marking the perimeter

of the farmer’s field

Sutton 18th May 2020

Inner strength

Pointing at the sky

Twin stags, hoarding resources

Not ready to die

1st June 2020 Sutton

Fresh air

Busy buzzing bees
Old hedgerow oaks in a row
Loud Lapwings mewing

25th March 2020 Sutton

Covid-19

Together apart,

Socially distancing pines,

A sign of our times

24th March 2020 Sutton

Insect Heaven

Yellow furze crowned slope

basking in April’s warm sun.

Heaven for insects

22nd April 2020 Oulton by Sutton

Dandelions

Spherical fluffy

timely seed distributing,

dandelion clocks

4th May 2020 Sutton

Welcome trespassers

A part but apart,

encroaching the wheat desert;

delightful colour

16th August 2020 Sutton

Spring flush

Spring, pinkly blushing,

but soon to be clipped and hacked

By the groundsman’s shears.

Harper Adams 16th March 2020

Farmscape

Green ivy, brown thorn
frame the farmer’s verdant fields;
awaiting spring’s warmth

Sutton 28th March 2020

Sloe gin beckons

Blackthorn, lustrous white

brightening up our spring hedges;

later on, sloe gin

Sutton 10th April 2020

Wrekin view

Bird, high in the sky

Soars above the farmer’s fields;

Views Hazy Wrekin

Sutton April 3rd 2020

Grey

Sultry leaden sky.

Oh for a clap of thunder

To bring the rain down

May 26th 2020 Sutton

Wonder

Blue, glimpsed behind

the cloud rippled firmament.

A wondrous beauty

March 31st 2020 Sutton

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A rose by any other name – In praise of the Rosaceae

I’ll start with a question. What do Lady’s Mantle, Great Burnet, Agrimony, Mountain Avens, Cotoneaster, cinquefolil (Potentilla), strawberries, raspberries, cherries, sloes, apples, rowans and almonds all have in common? The answer may come as a surprise to many; they are all members of the Rose family. This may shcok some of you, but I don’t have a great deal of time for the domesticate hybrid tea roses so common in many gardens.

Hybrid tea rose – looking nothing like the real roses

I think they’re vastly overrated and as many varieties do not produce pollen or nectar as far as insects are concerned they are a waste of space. My experience of working on members of the Rosaceae arose as a by-product of working on the bird cherry-oat aphid, the primary host of which is the bird cherry, Prunus padus (Leather & Dixon, 1981), and the bird cherry ermine moth, Ypomeuta evonymellus which specialises on the bird cherry (Leather & Lehti, 1982). Strangely, it was my interest in island biogeography, in particular the species-area relationship, that got me hooked on the Rosaceae.  I had noticed while sampling bird cherry trees that relatively few insects attacked them, and so wondered if they were special in some way compared with other species of Prunus, and sure enough using host plant records, they did seem to be less insect friendly than their congeners (Leather, 1985). Having got hooked on counting dots on plant distribution maps and realising that the Rosaceae would be a great plant family to test the idea that the species-area relationship would be improved by confining it to a single family (Kennedy & Southwood, 1984), I embarked on a marathon dot counting and host plant record seeking quest (Leather, 1986).

For the paper, I restricted my analysis to the 59 species that Perrings & Walter (1962) listed as native or naturalised to the British Isles, but there are of course many more members of the Rosaceae than that to be found in Britain. They are an extremely important plant family both economically and horticulturally speaking, with over 2500 species in 90 genera to choose from (Sytsma, 2016). The Rose family is divided into four subfamilies based primarily on their fruit. The Amygdaloideae, those species characterised by the possession of fleshy stone fruits, almonds, cherries, peaches, plums etc. The Maloideae, trees with pomes, fruits in which the floral hypanthium becomes fleshy, e.g apples and pears. The Rosoideae, which includes species such as roses, and burnets, with dry fruits that do not open (achenes), and the brambles, raspberries and strawberries, which have drupelets, small, aggregated drupes, and finally the Spiraeoideae, species with dry fruits that open on one side (follicles) e.g Spirea, Physocarpus).

Rosaceous fruit

To me, however, the thing that makes a rose a rose, is the flower. Typically, rose flowers have five sepals which are easier to see before the flowers open and five petals, although there are always some exceptions; for example, Mountain

Sepals for the uninitiated; luckily I have a rose bush that seems to be able to flower all the year round (this picture taken October 28th)

Avens, Dryas octopetala, which as the name tells us, has eight petals but still manages to have that rose ‘look’.

Dryas octopetala an exception that proves the rule J By Jörg Hempel, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28317727

As you might expect from a family that has produced the much loved (but not by me) hybrid tea roses, not all the flowers are white, even within the same species, brambles for example, range from the ‘normal’ white to rich

Pink hedgerow brambles, Sutton, Shropshire September 2020.

pinks, and many of the herbaceous members have bright yellow (e.g. Agrimony and Wood Avens) or orange (e.g Water Avens) flowers.

Delicate herbaceous plants with white and yellow flowers.

White flowers do, however, seem to be the rule in the woodier members of

Shrubby bushes with white flowers.

the family, although pink shading is not uncommon.


Tall fruity trees with white flowers some with pink hints.

The ways in which the flowers are presented can also vary between species, single flowers being the exception rather than the rule.

Cloudbursts (corymbiform panicle),  racemes and compound cymes, but still roses. Fun fact, Meadowseet, Filipendulal ulmaria, is rich in salicylic acid and can be used to cure headaches.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this ramble through the roses as much as me, but finally, as an entomologist, it would be remiss of me not to point you at one or two spectacular examples of insect-rose interactions.

References

Kennedy, C.E.J. & Southwood, T.R.E. (1984) The number of species of insects associated with British trees: a re-analysis. Journal of Animal Ecology, 53, 455-478.

Leather, S.R. (1985) Does the bird cherry have its ‘fair share’ of insect pests ? An appraisal of the species-area relationships of the phytophagous insects associated with British Prunus species. Ecological Entomology, 10, 43-56.

Leather, S.R. (1986) Insect species richness of the British Rosaceae: the importance of host range, plant architecture, age of establishment, taxonomic isolation and species-area relationships. Journal of Animal Ecology, 55, 841-860.

Leather, S.R. (1991) Feeding specialisation and host distribution of British and Finnish Prunus feeding macrolepidoptera. Oikos, 60, 40-48.

Leather, S.R. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1981) Growth, survival and reproduction of the bird-cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi, on it’s primary host. Annals of Applied Biology, 99, 115-118.

Leather, S.R. & Lehti, J.P. (1982) Abundance and distribution of Yponomeuta evonymellus (Lepidoptera,Yponomeutidae) in Finland. Notulae Entomologicae, 62, 93-96.

Perring, F.J. & Walters, S.M. (1962) Atlas of the British Flora. BSBI Nelson, London & Edinburgh.

Sytsma, K.J. (2016) Rosaceae, Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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