Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Bugs and butterflies

It's a great time of year for butterflies. Noticed this Small Tortoiseshell and hundreds of his kind flitting among a sea of Creeping Thistle as I walked the dog the other day.

There were butterflies all along our route, drifting across swathes of wheat or lifting startled from our footsteps among the meadows.

And in among the nettles were swaying clusters of caterpillars, which will eventually transform themselves into the mighty Peacock butterfly. Always worth leaving some nettles in your garden, they are a boon to moths, butterflies and more.

Having filled up the paddling pool for the children, I noticed how many bugs and creepy crawlies soon find themselves trapped on the silvery surface. No wonder fish have so much natural food at this time of year. If a three foot paddling pool can trap literally hundreds of insects in 24 hours, imagine the tonnage of fish food collected by a good size stretch of river or stillwater?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Foxglove Fanatic

I have something of a fixation with foxgloves at the minute.

What extraordinary plants these are, and although widespread across the planet, seem quintessentially English to me.

Propogated entirely by the wonderful bumble bee, these glorious flowers have a shelf life of just six days between opening and falling from the corolla.

It is interesting to note that while many bees and insects are attracted to the striking plant, none of them rest on it, perhaps because they recognise its poisonous character.

Well known and used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, the plant produces the important heart drug Digitalis, highly poisonous but effective in tiny doses. Increased doses apparently cause a variety of cerebral symptoms, including seeing everything coloured blue!

A side effect of its use is loss of appetite and some desperate souls have been known to use it as an aid to weight loss.

Well, it doesn't make me blue or hungry, but it does give me enormous pleasure in the garden as the bees clamber in and out of the throats of its magnificent flowers. I have spent many hours in Devon and Cornwall marvelling at the strain of pink foxgloves that carpet the verges and embankments of those sun splashed counties.