NATURE AT MIDWINTER

I went for a little walk today, it was misty but very mild. At about three in the afternoon I stepped out wanting to enjoy the birdsong along the way. There is a little boreen (path) close by, which is flanked by rock and hedge on both sides. I find the nicest little plants there and today was no different even if it is mid-winter. The temperature is 11C which is quite normal for the time of the year here in sub-tropical West Cork (due to the gulf-stream bringing warmth to our region). There was a slight smell of some coal burning chimney’s but only slight as the breeze carried the smell away. It was great to feel the fresh breeze on my face and give my legs some movement after all the sitting down at my study the last few months. I finished my course now and I found it immensely interesting. Thank you Yale University and Coursera. I learned all about the development of Gothic architecture in Cathedral building, and read some medieval literature and history. I feel so enriched by it all and enjoyed every minute of it. It is now back to my blog writing and to my garden! Wishing everyone of my friends and followers a relaxing day and a nice Christmas.

GREEN-VEINED WHITE – Pieris napi

Today while gardening a lovely butterfly came to check out some dark pink Oxalis flowers, it was a warm and sunny day here in West Cork, and because the two previous days we experienced soft Irish rain the garden was fresh and beautiful. The colours and the green shades were easy on the eye. And since we have quite a few wild flowers in bloom, we are visited by a good variety of visitors from the insect world. But today it was the butterflies that took away first price.  Yes, since I started reading the book “The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals” by Patrick Barkham, my interest in butterflies has intensified. Patrick Barkham first went butterfly spotting as a child with his father in Norfolk. His book documents his search for different butterflies found in the British islands. It is a slow read but quite interesting, I am hooked.
I think that the butterfly in my photos is a Green-veined White (Pieris Napi).

Biodiversity Ireland is holding a Butterfly Bash this week and we are sending records of all the butterflies we see into https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/start-recording

Lovely to have seen this striking butterfly today and I will be on the look out for more. I hope you enjoy them too.

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“WE ARE ALL BUTTERFLIES. EARTH IS OUR CHRYSALIS.” LeeAnn Taylor

MEETING WITH THE OMBU TREE

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While here on the island of Gozo I have been taking note of and enjoying the trees unfamiliar to me. It is nice and interesting to find out what they are called and then to search on Google information about their uses, growth, country of origin and so on, it keeps me quiet busy at times. Then I will take many photos of all the different attributions, leaves, flowers, seeds, seed hulks, shoots, trunks etc. And of course I like to share this in my blog, my blog is after all a celebration of all the earth so generously has to offer to us and to life itself. And so here goes, I hope you enjoy.


The Ombu tree, or to give it its proper name the Phytolacca dioica L. is an attractive tree. I found it growing in the area of Ghajnsielem along the main road. I was amazed to learn that this tree is actually an evergreen shrub that can become quite old and grow to look like a rather large tree. I became fascinated by the beautiful glossy dark green leaves, looking very healthy and growing very vigorously out of the trunk. Apparently the more you cut it, the more fiercely it grows. Its trunk is a soft spongy wood, the rings are loose and not at all like proper timber rings. It is resistant to fire and drought and this is due to its many trunks which store water very efficiently in its large base. Its sap is poisonous. The Ombu is a South American relative of the pokeweed (P. Americana) It is indigenous to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, there it grows easily in the wild, and it is there that it manages to survive on the pampas. Put to good use because of its large canopy it shelters both animals and humans alike, but is especially good for the many cattle and so is of agricultural value.

Being a dioecious plant it produces male and female flowers on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white, little and many on one long spike. The fruit is green and is clustered in a bunch together, I see both flowers and fruits on the tree at this time (November). To date I have not myself seen the seeds but believe that they are brown, small and glossy. I shall be on the look out for them just to find out.
I learnt that extracts of the Ombu have Antifungal potencies which would probably make it interesting to Naturopaths or to pharmaceuticals.
Some of its uses are:
• Fodder – leaves are used as fodder in time of drought.
• Medicine – infusion of leaves has been used as a laxative, but don’t take my word for it please.
• Hot drink – locally the leaves may be used as a hot drink. (I am not planning to try it out myself not being sure of what the result will be).
• Soapy juice – containing salts of lime and potash.
• Shade in regions where other trees won’t grow – in the pampas it is the only tree that will naturally grow and provide shelter.
• Bonsais – something I did not know is that it is an ideal tree to grow as a bonsai, nice to know!
• Dyes – juice extracted from the berries can be used as a source of dyes.
• Berries – apparently the berries are eaten by birds as they are not affected by the toxin as the seeds contained within the berries passes through the bird intact.
I also read that in South Africa Ombu is treated as an invasive plant, possible because it grows so rapidly. Here in Gozo there is more and more emphasis on the growing of indigenous trees and plants, and eradicating to an extent the growth of invasive plants and trees. This is, of course, a tendency all over Europe these days. I am not sure at which time the Ombu tree was introduced in the Maltese islands and why, I wonder if it was introduced because of the high temperatures in the summer months, the drought some years, and the lack of tree cover in general.

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I looked up a bit more on the antifungal activity which extracts of the Ombu can provide. Here is a link to a paper.
The antifungal activity of saponin-rich extracts of phytolacca dioica and of the sapogenins obtained through hydrolysis.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45826292_Antifungal_Activity_of_Saponin-rich_Extracts_of_Phytolacca_dioica_and_of_the_Sapogenins_Obtained_through_Hydrolysis
I also read through the following information ‘Oyama Bonsai Kai Ombú “Tree” by Pierre van Rensburg, which I enjoyed and found very interesting.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of information on the beautiful and interesting Ombu tree which in fact is not a tree at all. I for one will enjoy twice as much when I am passing these trees in the knowledge of all its good uses.
And finally what I would like to know but could not readily find an answer to is whether the water stored inside the Ombu tree’s large trunk can be used in case of water shortage by cattle or people, or is it already juice in which case it is toxic? I would say, it is juice and it is toxic so it cannot be used. If anyone can shed more light on this please do.

SEAWEEDS OF THE IRISH COAST

Yesterday saw a whole bunch of us interested folks going to explore the arboretum at Ardnagashel in Glengarriff, West Cork, but apart from admiring the wonderful trees we also received lots of information on the seaweeds and lichens along this stretch of coast. Ardnagashel was established by the Hutchins family and it was as part of the Heritage Week of Ireland that these activities took place, in memory of Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815)who was a remarkable Irish Botanist. The talks on the lichens and seaweeds were given by Howard Fox, who is the State Botanist (National Botanic Gardens) and by Maria Cullen. This ‘life’ introduction to the seaweeds and the lichens of the coast of Bantry Bay was so very interesting. a true first introduction in this field for me. Later in the afternoon Madeline Hutchins (Ellen’s great great grand niece) took us through the forested area of this garden and introduced us to some wonderful trees, among them an enormous Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). But more about the trees in another blog.  Now to concentrate on the seaweed for a start.  There is so much information that I took in yesterday and research I want to do on this that I feel delighted (because it’s right here at my doorstep), but I am also a bit overwhelmed because so far in my life I have been concentrating on enlarging my knowledge about wild plants, flowers, insects and spiders of Ireland.  Now this is taking it one step further with looking at lichens and seaweeds.  There are no days enough in the week to enjoy all this abundance of nature, and to do the research.  Needless to say I am a huge amateur in all this. (an enthusiastic one).
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So we learnt that there are three types of seaweeds and they are divided by their colour. These are the greens, reds, and brown seaweeds. There are about 10 000 species.  This particular species is called Fucus serratus L.  (Serrated wrack).  This seaweed is used commercially in the manufacturing of cosmetics and seaweed baths.

Photo on left is Knotted or Egg Wrack (Ascophylum nodosum) with another seaweed growing parasitically (it gets its sugar from the Knotted Wrack) on it, it is called Polysiphonia lanosa. Maria Cullen (right photo) told us to nibble some of the parasite and to me it tasted only like….sea water!  Maria gave us great demonstrations of a variety of seaweeds which she picked straight from the sea there.

Duileasc (Palmaria palmata) a red seaweed, and Nori (Porphyra tenera) and another one of the Wrack seaweeds (Fucus) .

Top right photo is a calcareous red seaweed, Howard is here showing and telling us about the Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata).  The book I am giving attention to on the right is an excellent cookbook with lots of information on the edible seaweeds.  I bought it for my son-in-law once and he was very pleased with it.

DSCF2696The coast of Bantry Bay is rich in seaweeds, and it’s beautiful too.

Nori seaweed, Laver (Porphyra tenera) in the top left photo is paper thin and edible, much used in countries like Japan of course.  The green seaweed is sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).  The book on seaweeds looks real interesting and essential if seaweed foraging and identification is taken seriously.

DSCF2706Microscopes and strong magnifying glasses were all available for us to have a look through.

More samples laid out for us to check out and learn about, far more than I can identify right now.  Further in the water there were even more types of seaweeds to be seen.  Howard and Mary never tired of explaining to us all the details, it was such an interesting hour spend on a lovely and warm Saturday afternoon in this beautiful part of Ireland.  My brother Johan and his wife Lorraine who were visiting Glengarriff, were among those interested and it was lovely sharing this time with them too.

THE BEAUTY AFTER THE STORM

Beautiful raindrops shimmered on the flowers and leaves in the garden this morning, everything sparkled after last night’s rain and thunderstorm. There was a freshness about the garden and the scent was earthy. Soon the sun burned the mist away and the breeze dried out the raindrops but not before I had enjoyed their beauty. A fine summer’s morning in West Cork.
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CHERISHING THE MOMENT

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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During the last few days I visited one of my dear friends, it had been too long since we caught up with each other, and it has been very necessary and a great joy and pleasure to make that time for her yesterday.


Since there was such a super crop of raspberries in the garden I have made plenty of jam, but also the cherries were cheap in the shops, but it’s not as easy to make these into jam hence they turned out runny and we are using the result on ice-cream and in porridge. Delicious!

Summer flowers, it’s good to concentrate on the beauty of nature, especially during days of sadness.

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou

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It has been a sad start to the week here with one friend passing, and a joy later on in the week with visiting a precious friend who is very ill. It makes for quietness and reflection in my own mind. Realising, of course that nature, the beauty of nature, the flowers, the insects, the summer sun and evenings, the delightful scents in the meadows, the nearly full moon in the sky right now, the ripe red berries in the garden, the stillness of the river reflecting lush summer trees found along its banks all help to make life beautiful and meaningful. Letting go is an essential part of growing a little older too.

A SENSE OF WONDER – INTENSE JOY IN NATURE

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I just finished reading Michael McCarthy’s book “The Moth Snowstorm” in which he describes and talks about the decline in biodiversity of birds, moths, butterflies, and other creatures worldwide but especially in his own Britain.  He gives examples of his own experiences and that of other nature lovers, where they have witnessed this decline.

His emphasis, though, is on the intense joy that the natural world can and does bring to humankind.  The book is also part memoir, his reasoning about wildlife decline is interspersed with his own memories, and of how his childhood trauma played a role in his discovery and his passion for the natural world, the joy that nature stirs inside us humans.  And this resonated with me so well, I too developed this passion at an early age, not perhaps through childhood trauma, I’m not sure why.  The point that McCarthy makes is that this is something very innate in us, that we have developed this over the thousands of years of life when our ancestors were hunter gatherers, living lives in very close contact with nature.  This joy, I used to think of it as my very own when I was still a young woman until I discovered that it was just out there for anyone to tap into; watching a beautiful sunset, the opening of a beautiful flower, seeing a marvellous butterfly, listening to the dawn chorus, or indeed the sound of the cuckoo in early spring, all of these scents, sounds, observations, experiencing the natural world with our senses can bring intense joy into our lives, the natural world is very good for us, essential even, and studies have showed that too now, scientists agree on this, worldwide there is a trend from professionals to advise walks in nature for mental and physical well being and health, happiness even.

This book also highlights the destruction of our planet which has been going on for over one hundred years and he gives many details of this – but it never becomes a depressing read as McCarthy always bring us back to this joy that nature gives us and shows why he believes we are wired for this and how it will be the best resource for survival in that when more and more people realise this they will unite to save the planet starting with saving its biodiversity, its birds, its animals, its insects, and all the wonderful creatures.

So once again I came to realise that it is not childish or silly to be totally blown away or inspired by the discovery of say a moth, a spider, a butterfly, the sound of the robin or blackbird early in the morning, the first signs of spring, or the sun throwing its first rays of light over the horizon.  All these intense pleasures are deeply ingrained in our beings and if tuned into them they can move us and bring total peace of mind and happiness.

I would love to hear what you feel about this, is having a sense of wonder about the natural world an inspiration in your life?

 

WISHPERING TREES

“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.”  Kahlil Gilbran

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Trees have always been my among my best friends, I love the feel of being near to them, their scent, their whispering, rustling of leaves, the first buds opening in spring, their beautiful and delicately fresh young green filtering the first rays of the warming sunshine. So much about trees talks to me and inspires me. But I also like to know their botanical names, their medicinal uses, and their importance in the landscape and to the earth. I’ve been taking photos of trees here on Gozo, but obviously I am not familiar with most of them. Some of the trees that came to my attention a lot here are the Olive and the Carob tree, two most lovely trees that produce health giving and delicious fruits. The Eucalyptus grows here too, I’m quite familiar with this tree as it grow in Ireland too.  I know there is a lot more to learn and explore about trees on the Maltese islands, something to look forward to next winter.
I’m just going to add photos to my post as I am still working on identifying and looking up information on the tree in my pictures.

Foto above are a row of Aleppo Pine  Pinus Halepensis (Siġra taż-Żnuber/Siġra tal-Prinjol)

20170305_151310Bark of above Aleppo Pine

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More photos of the above Aleppo Pine.

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Young shoots.

Strongly scented sticky resin, and some of the open cones to the right.

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