Our Patch: In Which SJ Hangs out with Her Buds

By on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

our_patch_sj_jarmanI hope you have all enjoyed the festive season and have been able to spend some time with those who are the most important to you. Due to injury and illness (let it never be said I do things by halves), I haven’t been out and about much over the last few weeks, and so haven’t had anything to share.

Listening to the rain beating relentlessly at the panes, and the wind howling around our chimneystack, it seems that winter has finally started taking a firm hold; but still there is wildlife, clinging on (in some cases literally), and continuing its battle to survive and reproduce.

budAs I have finally worked out how to use the macro function on my camera, I thought I’d share some of the tiny things I’ve found this week, and some signs that nature is already preparing itself for the new year.

I can remember as a child being shown Lichens growing on rocks. They were vaguely green, fairly flat, and no match in my mind to the more beautiful avian or mammalian forms of life to be eagerly sought out. My mum would tell me how resilient and ingenious they were, whilst I looked fervently elsewhere through my binoculars hoping to see something ‘interesting.’

lichensI have since come to realise, however, that these organisms, which are made up of various forms of algae, bacteria and fungus living symbiotically, are amazing, hardy survivors.

We are so familiar with them growing on pavements, rocks and trees, and probably give them no more thought than we would any patch of moss or pebbles, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

They can live in the most inhospitable environments, being found from the arctic to the desert, and with no ready access to food, they make their own. Taking the form of a plant, they use photosynthesis (the algae contains chlorophyll) to create simple sugars; the fungi feeds upon this energy-rich food, and in return its structure provides shelter for the algae – the seemingly perfect partnership.

lichens_close_up

They grow where other plants or fungi would be unable to do so and, when seen up close, can actually be quite beautiful. They are also known to produce an arsenal of chemicals which they use to discourage herbivores from eating them – I imagine there are many scientists studying them right this minute looking to find uses for these compounds in creating the next lifesaving medicine.

pussy_willowDeep in the woods, most of the trees have few or no leaves, but something is stirring in them. Already there are catkins (sort of flowerless flowers!) appearing, and the children’s favourite example of this is the pussy willow. Surely the first sign of spring, seen even before the snowdrop, these buds burst and little fluffy catkins protrude, ready to let the wind spread their seed and start the process of reproduction once more.

There are buds appearing on many trees, as yet protected by fine down and a tightly wrapped leaf, just waiting for longer, warmer days to kiss them open. No matter how cold and dreary January may make us feel, there is the sure knowledge that the seasons will inevitably turn on.

In the middle of the oak woods, where the leaves are gone or nearly gone, there are galls of many shapes and sizes to be seen. These interesting ‘cases’ are created by a tiny parasitic wasp. The adult laid an egg onto the tree, and the chemical makeup of its larvae causes the tree to create these spectacular growths.

gall_bud_wasp_holeIn this example, you can see the hole where the adult wasp emerged, having been fed and sheltered by the unwitting oak tree during its larval and metamorphic stages.

Although we will probably face much harsher weather over the next six weeks, it helps to think that soon our fair town will be dressed once more in green, and I hope that 2014 will have lots to offer us all.

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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