December 2015The last few weeks have seen the autumn leaves put on another spectacular display. The days when we had late evening sun lighting them made it hard not to just stand and admire. It is also the time I remember my grandmother's larder filling with various shaped bottles filled with all sorts of concoctions. I was sent out on my bike with bag and "shopping list" of the ingredients required. Elderberries, for wine, sloes, for sloe gin, rose hips, for rose hip syrup, crab apples, for crab apple jelly, sometimes combined with rose hips. (Try the website bbcgoodfoodfor a recipe for this one) and blackberries, for blackberry vinegar, all usually featured on the list. Some of the resultant products were delicious others were, shall we say, an acquired taste! We are lucky in that there are so many old hedgerows around here and they contain a variety of plants. I decided to have a quick walk round and see which fruits and seeds I could find.
The most obvious is the hawthorn which this year has produced a huge crop of fruits in shades red and orange. There are actually two species of hawthorn, the common hawthornand midland hawthorn. They can be distinguished by the leaves of short shoots. The common hawthorn's leaves are deeply divided, almost to the mid rib whilst those of the midland hawthorn are less so, reaching less than half way to the mid rib. At this time of year another way to identify them is by their fruit. The common hawthorn usually has one seed in each fruit whilst the midland hawthorn usually has two. This gives rise to another name for the midland hawthorn, the two styled hawthorn. The style is the part of the flower that takes pollen to the ovule and if you look carefully at the end of the fruit you can often see the remains of them. Unfortunately where the two types grow together they often cross pollinate so in some cases hybrid forms can be found. I collected some samples to photograph (the results can be seen on the village website) and found a stowaway when I got them home. It was a hawthorn shield bug. There are quite a few of them about this year but they are not often noticed due to their excellent camouflage.The blackberrieshave produced a bumper crop although the fruit has tended to be rather small. There are a fair number of sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, although there doesn't seem to be as many as last year. The elder busheshave fruited well and are weighed down with masses of purple black berries. The squirrels have been busy and beat me to the hazel nuts, the remains on the groundprove that they have had a good feast. Wild cherry trees provided a huge crop of small fruit for a variety of birds and disappeared as soon as they were ripe. Rose hipsseem to be plentiful on some plants but sparse on others. This may be because they are different species. There are many wild roses, some known as dog roses, some known as sweet briar and several others. I have tried in the past to identify them but I'm afraid this soon ended up a dismal failure; they all look very similar to me! Another berry that seemed attractive to birds was that of the dogwood. Not so common but it does occur in the hedges. Garden escapes can also be found like the snowberrywhich can form a large bush covered with, what look like, white polystyrene balls.