Wednesday 1 April 2015

The Chamomile Lawn

We had a nice little relaxing stroll last week along the banks of the Milonas stream but a bit more effort will be required this week as we’re heading further up into the valley where the stream shows a totally different side to its character. We’ve got a lovely day for scrabbling around the hills, about twenty degrees C with a little cloud cover and with the rain we’ve had over the past week the flowers and insects should really be bursting into life.

Orange Blossom Bugs on Yellow Asphodel
At the beginning of the year we were looking for the first Yellow Asphodels and now they are dying off but they are not without their attractions, especially to these bugs. Smell is very important in the natural world and plants produce various aromatic chemicals to attract different insects. As their name suggests these bugs, (Horistus infuscatus to give them their scientific name) are attracted to sweet smelling orange blossom. However they have also been documented as being attracted to certain Arum lilies that smell of dung. As far as I know no-one has documented their relationship with dying Yellow Asphodels. Stick your nose in one and tell me how it smells will you? It’s a bit like marketing, each plant uses a different slogan as it were to attract a particular demographic. 

Crag Martins and a Buzzard over the ravine
We seem to have reached a point where the valley below us narrows considerably and just look at the cliff face opposite us. These are sedimentary rocks and you can see quite clearly how they have been formed layer by layer. We’re looking at slices through time here, an ancient sea bed laid down over millennia. The flying black dots you can see flitting around the face are Crag Martins, dusky relatives of the more familiar House Martin. And look, there’s our old friend the Buzzard patrolling the skies above. We’ve climbed to about 200 metres now so let us push on through this rocky terrain as it slopes down towards the edge of the ravine.

Orchids galore and a Malthodes Soldier Beetle
I expected to see a few flowers today but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Orchids as we have up here, you can hardly put your foot down without treading on one. Some of these, the so called Bee Orchids, use another marketing strategy to attract pollinators. They’ve evolved to look like the backs of female bees which attracts male bees like, well, bees round a honey pot to coin a phrase. We all know that sex sells but orchids knew that long before Madison Avenue. Cast your mind back a fortnight to when we came off The Hidden Plateau. Do you remember we found a Malthodes Soldier Beetle of which nine species have so far been discovered on the island (and there may be others waiting to be discovered)? Just look up in the top right of that Butterfly Orchid, I do believe we’ve found another one. We’re right off the beaten track here in a relatively unexplored part of the island so just maybe, we’re the first people ever to see this particular species of beetle. That’s an exciting thought.

A Wall Butterfly on the Chamomile lawn
Now doesn’t that look inviting? After all that clambering over rocks and pushing our way through bushes we can stretch out and relax on a chamomile lawn a la Mary Wesley (although she left the ‘h’ out). There are many of these daisy like plants that are commonly called something Chamomile but only Matricaria chamomilla (German Chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman Chamomile) are generally used for making Chamomile tea. Even my inadequate nose tells me that it is not either of those and I rather suspect that it’s one of the Field Chamomiles of the closely related Anthemis species. Nevertheless it’s very pleasant to lay down in for a bit and watch the butterflies.

Fritillary and Valerian
Come on, if we stay here much longer I shall be lulled to sleep by the drone of the insects in the warm sun. Let’s see if we can get to the lip of the ravine. Now that is what I call a dramatic view. I don’t suffer from vertigo as such but I have a healthy respect for heights and the distant ground below and have no wish to fill the intervening space between with something me shaped so I suggest we watch our footing very carefully here. And what a bonus, a plant I haven’t come across before. It’s a Fritillary which derives from the Latin for dice box although I believe the Americans call them Mission Bells which seems an even more apt name. Although many species contain poisonous (even deadly) alkaloids, extracts are combined with loquat in traditional Chinese cough medicines. The other plant which seems particularly abundant up here is Valerian. Now this plant, who’s name derives from the Latin valere meaning to be healthy, has been used since Hippocrates time particularly to relieve insomnia and the jury is still out as to whether it is an efficacious substitute for anxiety relieving drugs such as benzodiazepines. Whichever, if you suffer in this regard and are currently a benzo-addict, there are few known side effects and it may be worth looking into as an alternative to (but not in conjunction with) such drugs. Check it out with your doctor first though. Personally I find that our best cure for stress is to do just what we’re doing today – get out in the open air and marvel at the fascinating world around us.

Until next week – happy hunting.


Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)


Recent Posts