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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Life In The Olive Grove



Last week we were prowling around an old olive mill and, somewhat unsurprisingly, this week’s stroll looks as if it is heading for an olive grove. We’ve covered olives and olive trees before (see Up The Olive Tree) so today I thought we’d take a closer look at what goes on in the olive groves themselves. But first there are a few fruit trees planted along the edge of the grove and, a somewhat unexpected find, an ornamental rose. Although unexpected it’s not totally out of place as I rather suspect that it was planted for its fruit rather than its flowers. The hips can be used for making jams, jellies, tea and are the central ingredient of the Slovakian national drink, cockta. That they have been used here in Crete since time immemorial can be implied by the appearance of them in the frescoes at Knossos which were painted some three and a half thousand years ago.

We’ve had some rain recently so let’s try and get down into the gully and see if the water has started to flow yet. It’s a bit thick and tangly down here so mind you don’t get your eye poked out by a branch. There are some more of those fungi that we found last week down there look. Success – a little drop of running water. I’ll take a sample from the pool and set up the field microscope. If you could take a sample from that decaying tree stump in amongst the Friar’s Cowl over there we’ll have a look and see if anything has started to stir. Not much in my sample but you seem to have caught a nice little protist. These used to be known as protozoans which implies first animal but this isn’t strictly true as protists are neither animal, plant nor fungus. This particular one of yours looks to be a ciliate, so named because it gets around by wafting its short hairs (called cilia) through the water. It also appears to be struggling to find a way out so we’ll put it back and let it get on with its life.

If we clamber up this bank here we should find ourselves in the olive grove. Really beautiful from ground level isn’t it? These trees look very old and just look at the lichens encrusting their branches. Those little cup shaped structures that you can see are apothecia, the fruiting bodies of the fungus which, as you know, combine with the algae and/or cyanobacteria to make up the lichen. (See A Kingdom In The Pine Woods and  East of Eden if you want a refresher course on lichens). Marvellous stuff rainwater for getting a bit of life going.








The flowering plants really appreciate it and the first of the Bermuda buttercups are coming out. These are the plants which are responsible for the green carpet that we’re walking on but, as you can guess from their name, they’re not native to the island. They’re not even from Bermuda, they’re indigenous to South Africa where they’re used to make water flower stew but you have to be a bit careful with them. Like rhubarb leaves they have a high oxalic acid content. This hoverfly seems to be enjoying them though.








So, the rain has brought the flowers out, the insects are buzzing around the olive grove enjoying the flowers, and the birds, such as this Sardinian Warbler, are enjoying the insects. Like most warblers he is primarily insectivorous but “Sardies” quite enjoy a bit of fruit as well, as my grapevine can testify after the hornets have burst the skins for them. Like the Bermuda Buttercup, just because it is called a Sardinian Warbler doesn’t necessarily mean that it is from Sardinia. Various subspecies can be found from the Canary Islands to the Near East and from the Mediterranean down to the Tropic of Cancer. Their scientific name, Sylvia melanocephala, meaning black headed woodland sprite would appear to be a much better name for them.

It looks as though we’ve got some interesting terrain to negotiate next week as we move towards midwinter in the upper midsection of our valley so wrap up warm and I’ll see you then.




 


The Extra Bit

If you’d like to be totally mesmerised here’s your little protist trying to find his way out of the labyrinth:  https://youtu.be/c5zGAF8Frj8

And a note on the fungi we’ve been seeing recently: I managed to find a few younger specimens a little later and they were Jack O’lanterns, Omphalotus olearius, (with thanks to Else at iNaturalist for the confirmation).



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LINKS:
Naturalists (the facebook page that accompanies this blog)
See detailed pictures at http://www.inaturalist.org/login  (search - people-stevedaniels-observations)
The Nature of Crete  (Flipboard Magazine)