Nature Notes – September 2018

In late summer we have fewer wild flowers in the verges and field margins, especially after this particularly dry year, but we have had some good rain lately and there are still plenty to look out for. One of the most striking is the Yellow Toadflax, a pale yellow, slightly smaller version of the garden Snapdragon.

This, to me, was always a holiday flower, as it tends to grow towards the coast and is still flowering at the end of the school summer holiday. Have a close look; it really is satisfying to discover this perfect miniature snapdragon. Also late in the summer, and again yellow, is St John’s Wort, the wild relative of the garden Hypericums. This is quite tall, up to two feet or so, with the bright yellow, five petalled flowers in broad heads.

I have been asked several times about a bright blue flower which appears here and there along our verges.

This is Chicory, whose blue flowers grow along a stem which may be some three feet tall. (On verges this very often gets cut back, but the plant seems almost indestructible and carries on producing flowers in its shortened form.) Although a bright blue the flowers are the size and form of a Dandelion, and clearly members of the same family. Chicory is probably not native, having been introduced in prehistoric times, and found in gardens and mixed in with forage crops for animals. It is best known for its use in providing a substitute for, or additive to, coffee. It was grown for this purpose in parts of Suffolk. The part of the plant used was the root, which was dried in kilns and sent off to a chicory factory. The leaves of Chicory are also eaten as a blanched salad vegetable, and the seed is included in some bird seed mixtures.

A typical butterfly in gardens at this time of year is the Holly Blue. Common Blues are also on the wing, but they are brighter blue with orange, black and white spots on the underside. They are found in more open, grassy areas where their caterpillars’ food plant is the Bird’s Foot Trefoil. Holly Blues are a more lilac blue, with their underwings (if you can see them) almost white with tiny black dots. The females are seeking to lay their eggs on the flower buds of Ivy, where the summer brood of caterpillars will feed on the developing flowers and berries. The name Holly Blue derives from the next brood in the spring, which will do the same on the buds of Holly. This makes a garden with both Ivy and Holly an ideal habitat for this little butterfly.

The main late dragonfly is the Common Darter, a small species with bright red male and duller female.

These will carry on pairing and laying eggs well into the autumn. Their habit is to fly around attached as a pair, the male holding the female, with the tip of his abdomen, by the back of her head. Like this they fly low over the water, the female dipping in her tail tip from time to time to lay her eggs.

Geoffrey Abbott