Author Archive

27th November 2006, Monday

Apple of Peru, Nicandra physaloides

Apple of Peru, Nicandra physaloides

I have come across the very distinctive apple of Peru or shoo-fly plant, Nicandra physaloides, several times this year, though it is not a plant I have seen in the wild before. My latest sighting was of several plants still in flower in a private garden in Baldslow on the outskirts of Hastings and I have also seen it in Balcombe Green, Sedlescombe.

It is an alien species from, as the name suggests, South America and poisonous to boot. As the shape of the fruit suggests, it is related to the Physalis fruit, or Cape gooseberry sometimes sold in supermarkets.

I wonder if anyone else has seen it locally this year and if it is going to become a familiar plant.

2nd September 2006, Saturday

Light emerald moth, Campaea margaritata

While walking the other day, a light emerald moth flew past and landed in the grass nearby. They seem to be quite a restless species, often about in daytime. Why, I wondered, are they such an obvious colour when most of their bretheren are so cryptic. Some lichens, I suppose, do approach this rather aniline colour, but the moth, so far as I know, makes no attempt to find such refuges. Maybe it is a ‘keep away’ signal, but red or yellow usually mean ‘stop’ rather than a curious sea geen. Perhaps they hide away under silvery green leaves.
Whatever the reason, it is common enough, so it must be a ‘safe’ colour.

27th August 2006, Sunday

The sorrows of Sycamore

The sycamore leaf above is twice afflicted. The black, yellow-edged patches are caused by tarspot fungus, Rhytisma acerinum, while the red pustules are formed by a mite species variously named Eriophyes macrorhyncus, Aceria cephaloneus and more. They all be one species.

Tarspot is only abundant in areas free of atmospheric sulphur pollution.  These were photographed today in Sedlescombe.

27th August 2006, Sunday

Hornets on Escallonia

Hornet on Escallonia bifida

One of the best flowers for butterflies and other insects at this time of year in my experience is Escallonia bifida, a South American shrub.

We have had a plant for many years growing against a South Wall and, while it has suffered a bit in hard winters, it flowers well every year.

At the moment it is being constantly patrolled by hornets who are interested in prey, not nectar or pollen. The picture shows one of them hanging by one of its hind legs as it devours a hoverfly (an Eristalis I think). This is a characteristic hornet feeding position.

26th August 2006, Saturday

The tortoise-bug

An interesting shield bug in the family Scutelleridae that is adult at present is the tortoise-bug, Eurygaster testudinaria. This species seems to have been relatively scarce until the 1990s when it started to spread northwards and eastwards. It favours damp grassland where it feeds on the grasses themselves and various other plants.

The example in the picture was found in Marline Valley meadows in Hastings and is the first record I can find for East Sussex. I wonder if others may have come across it this year.

25th August 2006, Friday

Prickly lettuce

I enjoy grubbing about on small brownfield sites to see if I can find anything that might not occur on ostensibly more interesting sites. The other day I had to take my car to the garage in Bulverhythe and did a quick survey of the car park while waiting. Among other things I noticed sticky groundsel, swinecress and the plant in the picture, prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola. This is the species from which cultivated lettuces are said to have been developed, though the resemblance is not easy to see until our garden plants have run to seed. Prickly lettuce is quite common in waste places and has been spreading over the last fifty years or so. Its much rarer and smaller congener, least lettuce, Lactuca saligna is only found on the shingle at Rye Harbour in our area

19th August 2006, Saturday

Pleated inkcap

After the rain a few toadstools are starting to appear. This one, the pleated inkcap, Coprinus plicatilis, was growing beside a path in our garden in Sedlescombe.

18th August 2006, Friday

Iris rust

I have quite a few, mostly self-sown, gladdon (aka stinking iris, Iris foetidissima) plants in the garden and this year for the first time they have been quite severely affected with the rust fungus Puccinia iridis – see the yellow spots on the leaves in the picture. I have not noticed this on these plants before, either in the garden or in the wild, and I wondered how widespread it was in the area this year?

11th March 2006, Saturday

Spurge laurel now in bloom

That unassuming evergreen shrub spurge laurel Daphne laureola is already in bloom, its small flowers nestling in the leaves at the tips of the shoots.  I know of only one wild plant in a wood in Sedlescombe, though it is not uncommon elsewhere in Kent and Sussex.  There are also examples in hedges at Broad Oak Brede and elsewhere locally that are probably garden escapes.  The flowers are followed by black berries that are poisonous, as are all parts of the plant.

Spurge laurel, Daphne laureola.  Sedlescombe, 10 March 2006

10th March 2006, Friday

Peeling oysterlings

One of the few smaller fungi in our local woods and gardens with fruit bodies at present is the peeling oysterling Crepidotus mollis. Each cap is about 1cm across, much like small oyster mushrooms. These were growing on a fallen branch in Killingan Wood,Sedlescombe.

Peeling oysterling, Crepidotus mollis.