The Orange Tip

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Popping Vetch

Some of the earlier flowering meadow species are beginning to set seed as their seasons are winding down. Of the more dominant players in the mix the most apparent are currently the ox-eyes (top), yellow rattle and the common vetch (above). All three began their blooms back in May and have more or less dictated the meadow colour scheme since.

With the sun low over the bottom meadow this evening Charlie and I made the most of the warm and went out to collect the vetch seeds, now ripe in their blackened legumus pods, to store and sow next year. Vetch plants have developed an ingenuous method of natural seed dispersal, allowing the pods to dry out under the sun on the stem until they literally burst open and twist, sending the seeds flying out in all directions. In his published diary, ‘Notes From Walnut Tree Farm’, the late naturalist Roger Deakin described the sporadic ‘popping’ of vetch seed pods in numerous entries. One of them reads;

‘Standing in the home meadow in the long grass, listening to the vetch pods cracking open in the sunlight and warmth after a rainy night. The rain has softened them, then the sun has blackened and hardened them, causing the pods to snap open like little springs’.

As we collected them into paper envelopes this evening, every now and then one would suddenly explode either in the hand or from within the paper, making us jump. No nicer endeavour on a warm Summer evening.

In the Open

Exploring the outdoors, unaccompanied for the first time ..

Meadow Brown in the Greenhouse

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It seems that the butterflies have all decided to give up hope of any welcoming, warm weather and are coming out to feed regardless. I was beginning to think they just weren’t around this year (other than the staple handful of speckled woods and orange tips) until this morning, under a brief spell of sun. Today I’ve counted numerous small skippers, red admirals, cabbage whites and this temporarily greenhouse-confined meadow brown.

2012 is undoubtedly going to be a bit of a disastrous year for British butterflies. But this does go hand in hand with an overly wet Spring and Summer, which in turn has had positive consequences for other ecological chains. The meadows, for example, have lasted much longer this year, enabling later wildflower species to develop and spread such as the knapweeds and wild carrots. In drier years these are usually only just getting going by the time it comes round to cutting, and subsequently have less of a chance to flower prolifically. Common knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, is a huge favourite of bumble bees in the mid Summer, and is therefore an important plant to have flowering.

Actually getting round to cutting the meadows this year is another story. It’s a mammoth job and does rely on a decent stretch of dry weather, so I’m putting it on hold for a while..