Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hortus Britannicus

I found this first edition of an amazing work of early 19th. century scholarship in an antiquarian bookshop many years ago. J.C. Loudon's Hortus Britannicus lists all the the plants, native and introduced, known to be growing in Britain in 1830.

This is much more than just a list, though, as becomes evident when you read the title page which describes the full scope of this monumental work of reference. 

It is: 

A Catalogue of all the Plants Indigenous, Cultivated in, or Introduced to Britain with the Systematic Name and Authority, Accentuation,Derivation of Generic names,literal English of specific names,Synonyms Systematic and English of both Genera and Species, Habit, Habitation in the garden, Indigenous Habitation, Popular Character, Height, Time of Flowering, Colour of the Flower, Mode of Propagation, Soil, Native Country,Year of Introduction, and Reference to Figures

All this information, in this masterpiece of early 19th. century information technology, is tabulated under column headings. 

This page is the key to the various categories under each heading. 

If you double click on this image it should enlarge enough for the detail to be readable.

Here is a sample page, for species in the genus Primula, the primroses.

But there is more! 

Here is Loudon's method for producing coded plant labels for the garden that correspond to the species numbers in his catalogue, by cutting grooves in a wooden label.

And here is his advice on drying plants, forming a herbarium and drawing plants, flowers and fruits.

J.C.Loudon was a Scottish botanist who also designed gardens and cemeteries and who is also credited with coining the term 'arboretum'. 

Despite suffering from poor health he travelled widely and seems to have been something of a workaholic. He completed Hortus Britannicus after a botched operation to repair a broken right arm, which led to him having it amputated at the shoulder. Undeterred, he quickly learned to write and draw with his left hand.

He died, penniless, in 1843.

You can read his Wikipedia enrty (the source of this image) by clicking here.

You can download a digital copy of Hortus Britannicus by clicking here

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Magical roundabout

Durham County Council deserves great credit for the way it has planted roundabouts and road verges with colourful cornfield annuals.

This vibrant display is on the roundabout at the junction of the A68 and A689, just west of Crook. The rowan trees in the centre always produce a fine crop of berries but this year the addition of the flowers has produced a stunning display.

Corn marigold, cornflower, ox-eye daisy and corn poppy. A wonderful tapestry of colour.

Managing road verges in this way is a win-win-win strategy. It provides loads of nectar and pollen for insects, reduces maintenance, and makes a superb addition to the landscape.

This roundabout sits at the gateway to Weardale, part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is famous for its colourful meadows in summer. It provides a wonderful welcome to visitors to the dale. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Painted Ladies

Lately a few painted lady butterflies have begun to appear in Teesdale and Weardale, wafted in by warm winds from the south. It's nothing like the spectacular invasion we enjoyed in 1996, when the first arrivals appeared in early July and bred on thistles to produce a second generation, so that there were enormous numbers by early autumn. Sometimes late invasions arrive in early autumn, as they did in 1903 (see below).

Painted ladies are noted for their infrequent but spectacular invasions and some of the largest of these, according to F.W. Frohawk in his Complete Book of British Butterflies published in 1934, coincided with wet summers in 1879 and 1903. 

This is how Frohawk described them:

"In 1879 the first migratory swarm appeared in North Africa in the middle of April. At Barcelona and Valencia enormous numbers occurred at the end of April and reached the island of Minorca on the first three days of May. On June 15th. vast swarms passed over Sevres, flying all day in a north-westerly direction. Similar flights were seen at Strasburg passing in countless numbers to the north, At Angers, on June 10th., an immense swarm flew over the city; it was estimated that between 40,000 and 50,000 passed along a single street in one hour; they were flying so low that pedestrians were inconvenienced by them. At Bisheim, on June 8th., the same phenomenon was observed and their numbers were so enormous that they darkened the sky. On June 11th. the flight that passed through Steyer in Austria, was so great that between one and two o'clock p.m. 90 to 100 per minute were counted in the breadth of 100 paces, the swarm being estimated at 1,000,000. Similar vast swarms were encountered in other places. 

Again, in 1903, a sudden and great invasion of these butterflies occurred in the autumn. They arrived in hundreds of thousands along the southern and eastern coast and dispersed over the whole of the British Islands. The flight was so vast that it extended from the Shetlands to the extreme south of England and Ireland. Their numbers were so prodigious that they swarmed along the whole of the eastern seaboard, from Durham to Kent, and wherever observations were made on the Scottish coast, they were abundant. The first arrivals of this vast invasion reached our shores on September 18th., and the flight continued for five or six days, their numbers increasing daily."

These butterflies look particularly attractive when you view them from below, with the sun shining through their wings that then resemble stained glass windows.

This individual was in Weardale yesterday, feeding on knapweed.