Monday, 19 July 2010

Haggerston Hawkmoth

During a visit to Haggerston Castle's Italian Walled Garden, a hidden garden which is currently being restored, I spotted a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, feeding itself on lavender and scabious. It was quite flighty and did not stay long before zooming away over the wall. But it made a visit to Haggerston worth while. A bit of calm amongst the frantic holidaymakers!

Not sure who to credit the pic for but GREAT job!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Majestic Tree gets a Trim

I am pleased to report that the Black Poplar (yet to be confirmed) at Acklington has recently had some gentle pruning of the main problem branch. This may have removed the major threat at present and it is worth noting that the tree fully retains its majesty.

Meanwhile another cut means that the DNA testing may not be undertaken this year as the funding to do this has become a victim of the current public spending restrictions. Other avenues are being pursued - after all we have used DNA to track down Pine Marten this year, and to confirm that all NE water voles are from Scotland, so its proven its value and with a bit of luck we can squeeze a little it more out for this importnat tree.

As a footnote - all my cuttings have failed. They were doing great but appear t have succumbed to fungal disease.

Many thanks to John Davison for the update and photo.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Chemical Sites Hosts Poor Mans Perfume?

During a recent visit to the Shasun Wetland site, we noted an impressive plant which was nearly 6 foot tall. Not quite in flower, it posed a bit of problem until I was able to key it out as Ploughman’s Spikenard (Inula conyza).

This herb is usually found on dry banks and in copses, principally on limestone or chalky soil, although its distribution –s principally southern England. In Northumberland it is very restricted and it is listed in Swan’s Flora as a “limited colonist” but the only records listed are over 100 years old from Ballast Hills in Willington (Flora of Northumberland).

It has upright stems, rising from a biennial root, generally only a foot or two in height, often purplish in colour and downy, are branched and terminated by numerous small flower-heads of a dingy yellow or dusky purple, only about two-thirds of an inch across, the ray florets inconspicuous and the leaf-like scales of the involucre rolled back. The leaves of the plant are narrow, of a dull green, egg-shaped and downy. Their margins are either entire, or toothed, the teeth ending in horny points.

The plant has a slight, but not unpleasant, aromatic odour, hence, perhaps, one of its local names of Cinnamon Root. True Nard is an expensive , spicy perume, prized amongst the ancient world and originating in the Himalayan region. Richard Mabey suggests that this is a more rustic version (!), sometimes used as a room freshener by hangin from ceilings (Flora Britannica).

The older herbalists considered Ploughman's Spikenard a good wound herb, and it was frequently taken in decoction for bruises, ruptures, inward wounds, pains in the side and difficulty of breathing. It also had a reputation as an emmenagogue (, and the juice of the plant was applied externally to cure the itch. It is not listed in Culpepper’s famous Herbal, although Spikenard is included – Spignel in this case, a plant with a close association to the whin grasslands of Northumberland, but not the same plant at all.

The very smell of the plant was said to destroy fleas, and the leaves have been recorded as being burnt as an insecticide. Great Fleabane is one of its popular names. Indeed, its specific name, Conyza, is derived from the Greek word for dust or powder, and refers to its power of killing noxious insects.

The leaves have sometimes been substituted for Digitalis, but may be readily distinguished by their entire margins to the leaves or, when toothed, by the horny points terminating the teeth.

The plant is also known as Cloron's Hard, Horse Heal (used along with Elecampane), Cinnamon Root & Great Fleabane.