|Crown Daisies, Mustard and Bumble Bee
The solstice has passed, the festive season is upon us and so I thought that as we
couldn’t get down into the valley from the west side last week we’d have a short, exploratory walk today and see if we can get in from the east. The sun is shining and the crown daisies, corn marigolds and mustards are blooming. After our unexpected encounter with a highly venomous scorpion last time I fancy something a little more peaceful this week. And almost immediately we have a lovely lady on hand in the shape of a humble bumblebee. We know them as bumblebees now and have done since the sixteenth century but before that they were humblebees and before that dumbledor(e)s although that tended to be used for any large, slow, buzzing insect. The buzzing has a practical purpose other than letting you know that they are there; it shakes the pollen from the flowers, a technique called sonication. The frequency has to be just right which means that the large bumblebees can sonicate but the smaller honey bees cannot.
Now this is interesting, what’s going on here? This patch of lichen on the rocks appears to have tiny cup mushrooms growing out of it. I do believe that we are privileged voyeurs on the sex life of a lichen. As you know lichens are algae or cyanobacteria and fungi which live together (see A Kingdom in the Pine Woods). Many lichens reproduce simply by bits breaking off and starting a new patch where they land but some, like this one, reproduce sexually. What we’re looking at here are the reproductive parts of the fungal bit of the lichen (called apothecia). These will produce spores and these spores have a bit of a quest on their hands. They have to float about in the wind until they chance upon a compatible partner before they can form new lichen. Although we know that plants have their own Internet (see The Misty Thripti Mountains), as far as I know lichens have yet to develop an Internet dating app - although most things that we humans think that we have invented generally tend to have been in use by other organisms for millions of years so I wouldn’t be surprised if some equivalent exists.
Has anybody got a bit of a cough at the moment? Well get your size nines off that plant you’re treading on and we’ll grab some leaves if you haven’t trampled on them too much. Although it’s not in flower at the moment it’s easily recognisable by its ribbed leaves. It’s called Ribwort Plantain and occurs pretty much worldwide on tracks and roadsides, hence its old Anglo-Saxon name of Weybroed, one of the nine sacred herbs of mediaeval times. I’ll collect a small bag of leaves whilst you nip up the hill and get an equal amount of thyme. Later we’ll dry and chop them, mix them together and make a pot of tea with them. The thyme is a well known cough relief medicine and the ribwort plantain contains acteoside which is effective against Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of respiratory infections. Together they are highly effective and part of nature’s pharmacy.
The track seems to be progressing in a satisfactory downward direction but I think we’re about to reach the end. It will be cross-country from here on down but the gradient looks fairly friendly. A fair few rocks for flipping so let’s take a break here and spend fifteen minutes or so investigating the creatures beneath. Always turn the rocks from the side and never put your fingers where you can’t see them – remember last week’s scorpion. The usual assortment of snails, centipedes and millipedes but a rather finely marked woodlouse. Does he roll into a ball when disturbed? No? That narrows identification down a bit. One of the Porcellio species I think, quite common, but a lovely specimen.
Well, there’s our valley ahead but once again the gradient has steepened to a dangerous degree. But have no fear; I will find a way down into the central section (but not if it kills me). Meanwhile who have we here in the right place at the wrong time? It’s one of our Longhorn Beetle friends, Arhopalus. The reason I say right place is that the female lays her eggs under pine bark and there are plenty of pines around. Wrong time because it’s late morning and Arhopalus is nocturnal. They have a life span of two to three years and I get the feeling that this one is coming to the end of that period which may account for why it’s laying out in the sun. But that’s nature: a continuous cycle of life, death and regeneration which is what makes this planet such a wonderful place to live.
Now, as the festive season is upon us, I think we’ll give ourselves a week off as running up and down hills when full of festive fodder is a sure fire way of inducing a coronary. We’ll meet up again on Wednesday week when a brand new year will be waiting for us to explore. Until then I wish you all a Merry Christmas (or whatever else you may be celebrating at this time of year) and a Happy New Year.
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