Friday, 9 September 2011

Weather report - July -August 2011

Bimonthly Weather Report
These two months were considerably more wet than in 2010.  The rainfall totalled 35 mms last year  and it was 125 mm this year.  This at least restored the balance of the drought in the first half of 2011.
Unfortunately the vegetables suffered well before July commenced and although it has been possible to get some beans planted and crop, some crops have been totally futile. The parsnips totally failed to germinate and there was no attempt to plant a third time in July.  
As I reported for May-June, the hay crop was appallingly poor. 
Nevertheless some fruit crops have done quite well.  There were quite a few plums and the walnut and chestnut trees will probably produce good crops.  In an entry on this blog I have commented on the fruiting of the True Service trees (Sorbus domestica).  Their  fruit crops are immense and  branches are breaking under the load.  Such also happened with apples and plums.  
Partridges  have been scuttling around as the car approaches along the lanes. But not immediately near the house.  The odd hare scampers across the field as I write this piece and we see small family groups of roe deer on some mornings from the bedroom window.
But it seems to me that insects generally have not been as prolific as usual.  There have been very few sightings of the horse fly [I seem to think - none!]with large green eyes (Philipomya graeca).   The Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly  has hardly had a sighting, yet in previous years we normally see several at once trapped indoors and trying to get out of the windows.  There has not been the usual numbers of Marbled White butterflies. Small flies of the house-fly type appear to have been less abundant.
There was a fairly good cropping of  fungi at the end of July some days after a downpour of rain, but it was not repeated after the 26 mms of rain on the 26th August.
A few Cesar’s mushrooms were seen in July.  No cèpes! 
Towards the end of August a few Autumn Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis – an orchid) have appeared on the pasture and I have noticed that some other flowers are flowering quite well at this time – Sickle leaved hare’s ear is fairly abundant in its accustomed location and the yellow Odontites is quite luxuriant.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The True Service Tree or Cormier

Wild Plants of France 5.

This beautiful tree, laden with golden fruits is growing at the far side of my daughter’s field.  The locals know it as the Cormier.  In England it is named in books as the true service tree.  But few people will recognise it.
Once it was thought to be extinct in England.  When I was young it was thought that there was just one tree growing in the Wyre Forest near Kidderminster in central England.  There, that single tree was known as the ‘whitty pear’.
Some time in the 1960’s I happened to read the work of Nennius (in translation) of the Wonders of Britain.  Nennius was a monk who lived around the year 800 in North Wales.  He gathered together all kinds of scraps of information.  I was trying to get to grips with the stories surrounding King Arthur whom Nennius mentions.
He wrote in latin ‘Juxta flumen quod vocatur Guoy, poma inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus qui est prope ostio fluminis’.    And this is translated as:
‘Next to the river Wye apples spring from an ash tree on a slope by the river estuary.’
I happened to be living fairly near the Wye  at the time.
A friend of mine, a botanist, happened to be wandering around  the district and  he found on the banks of the Severn very close to where the Wye joins that larger river,  amongst some scrubby and neglected patches of trees specimens of this same tree.
It could not be better described as looking like an ash tree bearing small apples.
These must be descended from the same tree or trees that Nennius describes.
The leaves resemble much those of the rowan tree or mountain ash to which it is in fact related.
The fruits are, unless ripe to the point of rotting very bitter.  They almost take the lining off the teeth. Yet the Latin name Sorbus domestica reflects a culinary use.  It is claimed that they were fermented to make a form of cider.   
The wood is fine grained and excellent for carving. But generally the trees end up as firelogs. In this district of south-central France the tree is quite common growing on the edge of the abundant woods of pubescent oak. Most are felled in the recurrent process of cutting timber for firewood. There are few around as old as this specimen, though the tree is said to live to 600 years and more.   This one is perhaps towards a hundred years.