The Amazing Arum

ArumIn the areas under the trees you won’t need to walk far before you find the heart shaped leaves of the arum lily (Arum maculatum). This plant, which is sometimes known as Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint or Parson in the Pulpit, is a strange plant and has a smell that is unattractive leading one to suspect it might be poisonous. In fact it is, in all parts, even though edible starch can be extracted from the roots provided it is carefully prepared. In Elizabethan times, the starch was used for starching ruffs, but it often led to the workers having blistered hands. Although infrequent handling is unlikely to produce any such effect, be careful not to expose your skin too much, certainly don’t taste any.

The ‘lily’ appears to be the flower, poking out among the leaves, but is in fact a whole mass of flowers (an inflorescence) modified into a bizarre trap. In this plant the inflorescence axis terminates in a purple spadix (yellow in A. italicum) which heats up and emits the odour which attracts small flies, known as owl-midges. The temperature inside the floral chamber can be 10 degrees Celsius higher than outside, making it an attractive refuge for the insects. The midges crawl down the spadix to enter the floral chamber, passing a ring of stiff bristles (modified flowers) which prevent them from escaping. If they are carrying pollen they will pollinate the female flowers, but gradually while they are in captivity the stamens will ripen, dusting the midges with pollen. Only then does the ring of bristles wilt and allow the insects to escape, and starting the whole cycle once again.

Brimstone Butterflies

As early as January on a warm day, you might catch a glimpse of the yellow male of the brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). It may be that the colour of this early butterfly was responsible for giving us the name by which all butterflies are known. From mid March onwards your chances of seeing one are much better and by now you may also spot the pale greenish, almost white, female. If you can get close enough though, both sexes have an orange spot on the wing, so you can be sure of your identification. Although the food plants of the brimstone are not that common along the line, often the butterflies will fly a long way to find them. Adults overwinter in ivy and there is certainly plenty of that!

Brimstone 01 Roger Reynolds
Brimstone 02 Roger Reynolds

Unlike many butterflies both sexes of Brimstones rest with their wings closed.

Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis)

GoldfinchAlthough some goldfinches (more particularly the males) stay with us through the winter, some migrate to the Netherlands, France and Spain, even getting down to North Africa. Late spring is when the migrants return and sometimes they gather in loose flocks prior to breeding in April, so they are relatively easy to see. You can often find them flitting along ahead of you as you walk along the Nickey Line. When they stop, they are well worth looking at since their vivid colouring is more like that of a tropical species. Males and females look much the same, although the bright red ‘mask’ on the front of the head extends back a little further to cover the eye in the male. Populations which reached a low in the ‘70s and ‘80s are now recovering well.