Category: Wildlife

Photos and writing


Alder cone & immature catkin2
Alder, or to give it its botanical name, alnus glutinosa

A very lovely elderly lady I used to garden for, had a stand of five alder trees at the bottom of her garden, next to a brook.  She called them her guardians, and there is indeed something solid and reassuring about this tree.

Alder binds up river-banks.  Like willow, it flourishes naturally  by the edge of rivers, with its roots in the water.   This preference of the the wild tree can exploited by planting alder along river banks to prevent the erosion.

Alder has an ancient reproductive system , harking back to a time before angiosperms. Like hazel and birch, it has catkins, but alder is the only broad-leaved deciduous tree to have cones as well.  You can see them on the photo above, persisting from last year, along with the unopened catkins and the young cones.  In the late-winter sunlight, alder trees have a purplish haze to them, because they are covered with purple catkins.


Alder catkin

The catkins are the male part of the alder’s reproductive system.  They are produced in the winter, and as mentioned before are a purplish brown.  In the early spring they become long and dangly and are full of yellow pollen which is dispersed by the wind.  The female parts are the little nubbly structures which you can see in this photo.  They will be fertilised by the wind-blown pollen from the catkins and will swell into cones.

You can understand what D.H. Lawrence was banging on about in ‘Women in love’: trees are surprisingly sexual.

And here is a bit of local lore: alders can form alder carr, which is a dense thicket or stand of alder, usually small in height, growing on wet swampy soils.  And Aldercar is an old area of what is now a joint parish with Langley Mill, just north of Derby.

Our history is in our place names.


R is for Revolting

Revolting larvae of the lily beetle
Revolting larvae of the lily beetle

How can something as handsome as the Lily Beetle ( See H is for Handsome), have such revolting offspring?  They are fat and maggoty, and live in a lump of sticky black poo, glued to the underside of the lily leaves by their crafty parents.  As mentioned in the previous post (H is for Handsome), I remove them with the hose, set on a gentle spray, and as they drop, I collect them by hand, into a container bound for the compost heap. Yuk.


H is for Handsome

A lily beetle looking very handsome
A Lily Beetle looking very handsome

The Lily Beetle, aka Lilioceris Lillii.

I noticed them in spring, just a mating pair, and in a moment of weakness, I was overcome with admiration for their shiny scarlet carapace and natty black antennae.  Besides, it was spring.  Let them have their fun, I thought.  Needless to say, I have regretted that moment, as over the following months, they and their loathsome offspring  have decimated my lilies. (See R is for Revolting)

From then on, it has been war: I use my hose, set on a gentle spray, to wash off the grubs from the underside of the leaves. The thin threads of orange eggs I scrape off, although they are not easy to spot.  As for the adult beetles, and here I’m being completely honest, I crush  between my nails.  OK, OK, I know it’s gross, and I do have a twinge of regret.  However, I love my lilies more, so I harden my heart against the scarlet blighters.

The RHS are currently tracking Lilioceris Lillii, as it scoffs its way through the lilies and fritilleries of the UK, concerned that their numbers are on the rise. If you grow lilies, you may like like to take part in their survey: it only takes 2 minutes.