ROCKS AND FOSSILS ~ A FASCINATION

Stones…..over the years I have gathered a huge collection of rock samples, of stones. I’ve had an interest in stones, in rocks and fossils ever since I can remember. I’ve always had this connection with the earth , and to me a stone was never a dead thing, no, rocks are alive, definitely in the sense that they evolve, they change, over millennia they change, and what is a millennia in context with the unfathomable, expansive, and the immense timescale of the cosmos. And so, yes, I think rocks are alive. And I’ve always had this affinity with rocks, but also with sand, and what other is sand than tiny pieces of rock, and what does sand do under pressure and given time but change into rock.

I was, for a large part when I was young, living in that part of Antwerp where sand had been dredged up from the river Schelde, this sand that we had in our gardens and everywhere else, was sea sand, and it was full of pieces of shell and other sea creatures. In a way it was like living on the beach. One day while on a walk with my family I happen to see something curious, I picked it up and identified it as a fossil, a fossil of a conch or some type of sea shell. I was eleven years old. It was the start!

And yet I did not end up studying geology, but in later life I did do a geology course with Tel-Aviv University and I loved it. At the time we were living in Gozo and all my research was done on the geology of the Maltese islands. I’m retaking this course in September but doing my research around West Cork. That’s the plan.

I always said that I would label all my rock samples when I retired, but to date, and after several years, this has not happened, that is until a few days ago when I had to move all the samples out of an old glass press in order to redecorate the living room. So, they are all spread out in the conservatory and now demand my attention totally. Some of my smaller samples I brought back from India, Mauritius, New England, Spain, Gozo, France, Uk, Portugal and Naxos. And of course I have some very interesting samples of Ireland itself. Among my many samples are limestone, basalt, quartz, marble, malachite, soapstone, etc.

A little sample of copper ore in quartz, from the ancient disused copper mines in Ballydehob.
Not too sure if this is actually weathered corral or rock?

Over a life time I found more fossils too, and I found crystals, as it’s not only rocks I’m interested in. It is a fascinating subject to be sure and there’s always plenty of rocks and fossils around. When we were in Gozo, I found the most beautiful citrine crystals, but I left them where I found them, like wild plants I don’t think I should indiscriminately just take away natural treasures from wherever I go. But I always take photos of course.

Our earth sure is a fascinating place and I mean to enjoy another bit of what it has to offer so freely, for us to admire and examine, study and enjoy.

Part of the collection of samples

TENDER SEEDLINGS AND ROBUST SHOOTS

After a full two weeks of sunshine and mild weather, we are now experiencing some crazy April showers! Heavy rain is drenching our valley and wind is tearing at the blossoms of our trees.  For now the frosty nights we had lately are definitely over.  Inside, however, there is plenty of activity and the conservatory cum dining room, half of the kitchen, and part of my bedroom are all taken up by tender young seedlings or robust shoots.  Pots are everywhere but it is a delight to see.  Ian too is sleeping between all this young growth.

I have learnt an important lesson this spring, to date I have always bought my plants at the market stalls and put them straight into the garden, except last spring when I sowed French beans, spinach, and radish as part of an experiment and course with GROWTH.

This January, however, every time I went shopping I came home with at least one packet of seeds or bulbs and doing this cheered me up no end.  Come the beginning of March I could contain myself no longer and started sowing, indoors obviously.  And this was a mistake….some seeds came up after a week or more but did not thrive, most came to nothing.  A few days ago I did another larger sowing and the seed came up almost overnight and so far they are thriving!  Lesson learnt!  Do not sow before April in West Cork!

So far the slugs seem to be still asleep, I find them underneath pots and planks in the garden, unmovable.  Inside is quite another matter….they are travelling leaving silvery trails in their wake over pots, carpet and table, but so far very little damage has been done to plants.

I did plant some old English marigolds outside and I put empty water bottles over them as protection and they are doing fine.   The irises will have to be planted out soon as the shoots are coming on strong, as are the dahlias and begonias.  I’m so looking forward to my first time growing agapanthus.  Furthermore I’ve lots of different rudbekias coming on, I used to grow these and love them, also the time of year when they flower.  Seedlings growing at this moment are petunias, red poppies, ixia, cosmos, zinnia, freesias, eliopsis scabra, and phlox, they are all new plants to me.  Irises I used to grow when I was a teenager, they were blue.

I’ve also sowed marrows, cucumber, basilica, African marigolds, spring onions, chives, lots of heirloom fragrant sweet peas, and the wild bee flower seeds which I bought because they were recommended to help the declining bee population, the sunflowers and the cornflowers.

The local (Brown Envelope) seeds of the garden peas are also coming up beautifully.  There is a lot to be said for sowing locally sourced seeds – plants resulting from them will be more tolerant of local climate.  There remains to be sown my own seeds which I saved from last year’s harvest and these are;   Thistle, catnip, evening primrose, oregano, basil mint, and purple loosestrife, some of these seeds have already self-sown outside. 

The wealth and abundance of nature is a wonderful thing to behold, something to be very grateful for, day by beautiful day.

If, my dear friends, you have continued to read to the end of my notes this time, I congratulate and thank you.  Have a nice day.

Every bit of space where there is sufficient light is taken up by seedlings
Dinner is served on a tray for today!

WALKING THE CUTTING

Mural of the old steam train leaving the street behind in order to drive through The Cutting.

Skibbereen town has something preserved from the past that is quite interesting and has always appealed to many. This market town of old used to have a station, and a train line to Baltimore, a small seaside village, and to Cork city. It also had a narrow gauge line to Schull which is another small seaside village in the area. In the sixties the trains lost their use to bus routes and that was a great pity. And so we are left with some relics from this glorious train travel era. And one such a relic is what people here call ‘The Cutting’, and it is around this that I mapped my second walk. It was not a long walk, just 45 minutes and about 4000 steps. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon when I stepped out, I had the sun behind me as I walked along the Baltimore road. Passing many mature and beautiful gardens I then turned right and looked straight at a cottage that must have been associated with the railway I think, that’s what it looked like, maybe there was a level-crossing there. The road turns right again and passes lovely trees, birds were singing high in the branches, bluebells were in bloom even though it was only the end of March! Primroses, buttercups, wild strawberries, and long stemmed daisies were to be seen here and there. The other side of the road was mainly walls, some plastered but others lovely local stone and probably quite old behind which I could see some beautiful trees. I also saw one interesting ancient gate, I love those and always imagine what story they could tell us.

Road signs here in Ireland are in both English and Irish.
I hope whoever lives there won’t mind me using my photo of their lovely place.
It’s early yet for buttercups to flower, yet due to the very mild winter no doubt everything is early this spring.
In someone’s garden…..silhouette of yet another amazing tree, is it alive or dead, too early in the year to see.

And then after passing the sign for Swanton’s Garden Centre, all of a sudden there it lies before you, The Cutting! A road sliced through the rocks, stark high rock walls covered in mosses, ivy, wild plants and even trees, everything seems to be growing out of these rock walls, rainwater drips down here and there, I walk on in the shadow and find it refreshingly chillier. Towards the end of the Cutting, the town’s houses come into sight, here we are at the Bridge street end of the town. Just a little while further there is the iron railway bridge – part of the now West Cork Hotel, and still further along there is the old station on the Marsh road. But before coming to this I found this most beautiful mural of the old steam train on the wall of a disused pub. I then walked back to where I left the car at Drinagh car park. I enjoyed this walk very much, it’s very easy and not long. Footpaths all the way.

Different types of mosses are plentiful on these rocks.

From where we live I can see the hill that overlooks this walk, it is to the West of the town and its a long gentle hill. One of my future walks will be over this hill, the views are great from there, but that’s a story for another day.

SHORT WALKS

Gorse growing in the West Cork landscape along the road leading from the town of Skibbereen towards the coastal villages of Castletownsend or Unionhall. I walked only as far as Russagh Mill Hostel which lies about 2 km from the town. The walk is a pleasant one even though it is along a busy enough road, there is a footpath most of the way which makes it quite safe.
I found that along the road there was quite a bit of wetland, and also a small stream, ducks flew up when I approached. Though my reason for taking the walk was to become fitter, I enjoyed finding so many wild plants and spring flowers by the roadside, among them were two types of wild geraniums.

To my right was Lick Hill, a long hill which is so familiar to me as I can see it from the upstairs window where I live. Its bedrock is made up of purple mudstone and siltstone, behind it and to the South lies the sea, the wild Atlantic Sea. A little more towards the S.West lies the famous Knockomagh Hill, at Lough Hyne. But walking further along this road I passed some lovely green fields, very green, like you only get them in Ireland, typical with Gorse, Hawthorn, and Blackthorn growing in the hedgerows. And today the sky was blue, dotted with woolly white clouds, what a lovely contrast.

Above – Looking back towards our houses, with hawthorn hedging and wetland in front, and then the walk goes on past Liss Ard Estate where I found lots of native trees growing, their buds bursting in the warming spring sun, and birds singing their hearts out for sheer delight.
Also along my walk, and I love to see this, were stone walls, beautifully built from local stone, purple mudstone, shale and I even saw some quartz here and there. These are often grown full of little ferns, mosses, and other wild plants, this one in the photo must have been built fairly recently though.

And in people’s gardens, a magnificent Camelia bush in full bloom!
I also came across this beautiful blue door, the colour of it dazzled me!
Last, but not least, this little ladybird was sunny itself, I’m happy to say that I’ve seen at least a dozen over the last few days.
I have marked out at least seven walks in the vicinity of Skibbereen town, I’m doing this for my health, both body and mind. This particular walk took me 50 minutes and all round it was about 4km in distance. When we used to spend our winters on the island of Gozo I used to walk everywhere, exploring the whole island and all it’s little villages, and it was such a delight. I have missed this very much in the past six months and so I decided to make the best of it by mapping out some do-able walks around here and exploring nature or architecture or whatever I can find to interest me, and reading up on it all. The beautiful sunshine of the past few days has helped greatly to encourage me and inspire me, and off to a good start it has been. I am truly grateful.

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.