After a couple of frosty nights we should now start to see the beautiful kaleidoscope of autumn colours begin.
The National Trust is predicting a good ‘autumn leaf show’ this year, as it is the first year for a while that the trees and shrubs are properly hydrated and haven’t had a stressful summer! We have already had a good show of berries, and although it’s considered, in weather folklore, to be a sign of a hard winter, the ‘horticultural’ reason is that we didn’t have late spring frosts to scupper spring blossom (and therefore berries) and plenty of summer rain.
From late summer through to late autumn, Ivy produces small globes of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers that are often mistaken for berries. They are definitely not the ‘flashiest’ flowers but are loved by hundreds of insects that visit on warm autumnal days through to late November.
On the recent sunny days have had you are bound to have noticed that any large patches of ivy on a wall or in a hedgerow are literally humming. ‘The ivy’s alive’ (said in a Brian Blessed voice). Look closer and you will see that it is like the ‘January sales’ for bees, a few wasps and other pollinators at the ‘all you can eat buffet’. I used to think that it was mostly honey-bees indulging in the last real feed of the year but most of the diners will be the aptly named ivy bees.
The ivy bee was first recorded in the UK in 2001, so is a relative ‘new-bee’ (couldn’t resist) which has also settled throughout Wales and Scotland. As its name suggests it’s main food is the ivy pollen and it emerges in time to feed between September and November.
Probably due to the sheer numbers of the ivy bees on the ivy at home, I have had several in the cottage over the last week and they seem to have more ‘dangly’ legs than our honeybees – I’m not sure that this is a reliable identification method but definitely something I have noticed.
And I noticed this fabulous fungi in a border last week – it has always fascinated me as when we were kids, Dad told us it was ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’. Its proper name is Xylaria hypoxylon and it’s a member of a large fungi genus or family. Technically I think it is actually it’s ‘cousin’, Xylaria polymorpha that is more commonly known as Dead Man’s Fingers–if you Google them, (along with Dead Moll’s Fingers) you’ll see why–but I have never let that stop me seeing these skinny little mushrooms as the ‘death digits’. Which reminds me – despite being considered one of nature’s ‘medicinal marvels’ it is not an edible fungi.
As if I wasn’t a big enough fan already, I have just read that it is also a bioluminescent fungus, and in a very dark place it can be seen to emit light as phosphorus accumulated within the mycelium reacts with oxygen and other chemicals in the fungus. The amount of light is very weak and rarely seen, but for me, it has only added to its fascination – and now also makes them ‘light fingers’.