Thursday, 30 July 2009

The White Bryony- The Wild Plants of France 1.

I choose to write about this species solely because when I looked with a lens at the male flowers, they displayed three apparent boxing gloves thrust towards me. The gloves are the three stamens. Why three? Unless the plants are monocotyledons where parts in three are commonplace, three is an unusual number. Two, four or five is more likely. The flower has five petals and sepals. In fact the three stamens consist of a fusion of 2x2 plus one free = 5. It still is odd.
As with other members of the family (Cucumber family) it has tendrils with which to climb. These tendrils are also strange. They start with a long thin thread which, when it hits a support twines, but the length behind behaves in a remarkable way. Somewhere near the centre the twisting changes so that the proximal part and the distal part twist in opposite directions. But the proximal portion does not always twist in the same direction, clockwise or anti-clockwise appear, it seems, just as frequently. The distal bit is always contrary to the proximal. So what controls what? After the twist is begun, the two portions twist more and more tightly, thus drawing the stem to clutch at the support.
The flowers are either male or female and are borne on separate plants. I haven’t a clue what pollinates them.
The herbalist books are full of accounts of the medicinal value of the plant and its power to kill. It is said that 20 red berries are enough to kill a human. The oddest accounts of it is speak of it as being used as a pretend mandrake root. John Donne, writing of the impossible, says ‘Go and catch a falling star, Get with child a mandrake root…’ So the root of this White Bryony was paraded as the English Mandrake. The theory is that if a woman hung it around her neck she could become pregnant. The Mandrake, not a plant of Britain, has distorted roots which can have a human like form. The White Bryony has a huge root and it can be forced to grow into a human shape. We are told that pottery moulds in the form of a human body were made in which the root was encouraged to grow. It soon fills the mould. Such roots could be sold in unscrupulous pharmacies, so they say! I have dug up the root of the Bryony and they are certainly huge. They are very brittle. Their consistency is rather like a brittle plastic foam. The books give an account of a root weighing in at over 56 lbs (25 kilos).

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Blue beetles on Artichokes - Hoplia coerulea.

Hoplia coerulea
It was an astonishing sight to see these brilliant blue jewels of beetles sitting on the leaves of Topinambour (the Jerusalem artichoke), in June.  A photo of a specimen does not reflect the incredible iridescence that comes with the sun shining on the surface structure of the beetle. For the colour is not within the substance of the surface but is formed by the refraction of the light as with a prism. In contrast the legs and underside shine like silver.
Several of these beetles were sitting immobile of the leaves. All were males. The females are apparently less often seen and are a muddy brown.  I read that in museum collections of this species there is only one female to every thousand males.  The males will sit on a leaf and hold themselves in almost a standing position on their hind legs.   The larvae live underground.  It is said that the female will climb from the ground to mate and then after a copulation of less than twenty seconds drop down again to re-enter the soil. [If the females are so rare, how does anyone know this?]  It is further claimed that the males do not attract the females  in any positive way.   Why then, one wonders, do the males  sit in such a strange  manner on the leaves, and why are they so brilliantly coloured?   Can there be any other reason than to attract the females?
It is classified with a subgroup of scarab beetles. . This species is found only in Southern France and Catalonia in Spain.

Bimonthly Weather Report May to June 2009 Gourdon Lot, France

Click to view Statistics.
May had mixed weather. Fires were necessary in mid May. Whilst we were on holiday in the Auvergne, the weather was poor in the Lot with considerable rainfall. June ended with heatwave (canicule in French) which extended into July.
By late June most birds seem to be silent, but the turtle doves coo in the woods and here and there the nuthatches belt out a wolf whistle.
I am astonished how fast the vegetables grow in the 'potager'. The pests are few. I picked three Colorado beetles from the potatoes, but there has been no damage. The cabbage white butterflies laid some eggs on the sprouting broccoli, but the caterpillars have been picked off by hand.
The green eyed horse flies (Philipomyia graeca) appeared on time from June third. They get trapped on the inside of the windows. All are females. Refer to an item in The French News past articles for more on this.