Sunday, June 19, 2016

House Circuit (10) A trip to New Zealand

Note: House Circuit posts are drawn from the many walks I make every day around our house.

There is a number of New Zealand plants in our garden, mostly from my old friend the late Graham Hutchins of County Park Nursery in Hornchurch, Essex.  In recent weeks two have been noticeable - Corokia cotoneaster and a Libertia.

The Libertia (above) produces its white flowers during May and June.  It is, I think, L. chilensis but may be L. grandiflora and there is great confusion in the nomenclature of this genus.  L. chilensis seems to be, as the name indicates, a Chilean species introduced to New Zealand where it joins several other native species from the genus.  It is known in New Zealand and elsewhere as the New Zealand Satin Flower and mikoikoi in Maori.  The genus was named after Marie-Anne Libert, a 19th century Belgian botanist.  Her own nomenclature appears to be somewhat confused too as she is sometimes known as Anne-Marie Libert.

Our plants came from a small clump I found many years ago on a rubbish dump in Devon and it has proved hardy and easy to grow here.  The flowers are attractive to a range of insects.  The linear leaves are very tough and make good plant ties.  It is said that this toughness made them resistant to grazing by moas, those huge, extinct New Zealand birds of the Dinornithiformes order.  This attribute would not perhaps be necessary in Chile, but may have protected them against grazing by rheas, flightless birds (ratites) related to ostriches.

The other new Zealand plant I want to mention today is the wire-netting bush, Corokia cotoneaster or, in Maori, korokio.  We have an old plant that flourishes in a south west corner outside the porch. It flowers every year, but has never produced its red berries.  It has been used for hedging as it has wiry, contorted twigs suitable for this.

The leaves are brownish green and spoon shaped and it has been claimed that if boiled they provide instant relief from stomach ache.  The wood contains beta-sitosterol, one of the compounds used to lower blood cholesterol.

Monday, June 06, 2016

House circuit (9).Foxglove & washing line

The winter before last we moved a bird table and a foxglove came up where the post had been.  This year, well-fertilized by bird droppings no doubt, it has grown vigorously and has overtopped the washing line.

Another plant smiling amid the junk is an unusual looking dandelion with very jagged leaves near the back door.  I have a copy of the BSBI's book for identifying microspecies dandelions, but find the prospect of running it down to species level somewhat daunting, so I shall leave it to a quieter time of year.


As the garden surges into its wonderful May and June brilliance, the little unplesaunce in the south west corner of the house looks increasingly dejected.  As Sellar & Yeatman wrote in what has been described as a frgrant book Garden Rubbish "Countrymen fear the Unpleasaunce.  They know that if it is not ruthlessly kept down and cut back it will encroach: putting out tentacles like an Octopus."  I remember when granddaughter Ellie used to ride the pink bicycle, her pride and joy, wildly around the summer garden.  Now parked rusting against the wall probably to move only to the skip leaving happy memories behind. The metal crate has a much longer history and we have had several in the garden for many years. Unlike old bicycles they are much used for covering vulnerable plants or study plots and even, on one occasion as a stand for boiling a kettle out of doors during a prolonged electricity cut.  The leaves in front of the bike are of hazel saplings.

Friday, June 03, 2016

House Circuit (8) Privet sawfly

In the hedge a couple of metres from our back door I have recently seen several examples of the rather handsome privet sawfly (Macrophya punctumalbum).  I have not come across this here or anywhere else and have been unable to find any previous records from Sussex.

There is a thin spread of records across the southern part of Britain and it is widespread in Surrey, so it is probably simply under-recorded in Sussex, though I am surprised I have not seen it here before. It may have cycles of relative abundance and scarcity.

The larvae feed on ash, privet, lilac and other members of the Oleaceae family and, rather unusually for insects of this kind, the adults browse on leaves of the same plants.  There is a characteristic grazed patch towards the top right of the picture above.  The picture is of a female and while males are found occasionally, the species is said to be mainly parthenogenetic.

This record, which may be a first for Sussex, shows the value of walking round the house several times a day and looking out for anything interesting.  It helps one to see things that would otherwise have been missed as elsewhere the eye is drawn on to more interesting looking sites.  The piece of hedge where these sawflies occur does not look a particularly promising spot though wild privet and ash grow together there.