This month Rhododendrons start to come into flower and very beautiful they are; Sheringham Park is a good place to see them in all their glory. The original wild Rhododendron is native to parts of Asia and the southern Mediterranean and many lovely cultivars have been developed but the wild one can be very invasive. If a branch comes in contact with the ground it will produce roots, enabling the plant to spread. It will colonise large areas in this way and also the seeds are light and easily picked up by the wind to settle, germinate and produce more plants. Very little will grow underneath Rhododendrons so our native plants cannot exist alongside this bully. It is very difficult to eradicate as the smallest bit of root will send up new shoots. It is poisonous to grazing animals but it is thought that there has to be a shortage of food for animals to eat it as it is not very palatable; bee hives are not placed where the bees can reach Rhododendrons as the honey will be toxic. So, although they are beautiful, these plants have several downsides.
Another toxic common plant, which is in flower this month, is the Buttercup; this is poisonous to both humans and animals. People used to think that these plants were responsible for giving butter a rich, golden colour when cattle had grazed in fields where they grew but the truth is that the cows will instinctively avoid them. Generations of children have played the game ‘Do you like butter?’ with these flowers. If one is held under the chin the shiny petals reflect a yellow glow on the skin and this confirms that “Yes, you do like butter’.
It’s that time of year when flies arrive in the house to buzz around and generally be irritating. Most of the ones that visit will be House flies or Blue or Green bottles but sometimes we may see Flesh flies in our homes. These are easily recognisable with their bright red eyes and black, grey and white bodies, quite pretty in fact (if we’re allowed to say that about a fly!) If you find that there are a lot of these insects in your home, it is a sure sign that there is also something dead somewhere, either behind a piece of furniture, in a chimney or in a roof or wall cavity. These flies are called Flesh flies for a good reason, they are attracted to the dead and decaying; their larvae feed on the flesh of a dead insect or animal, dung or rotting vegetable matter and on open wounds. Unusually for flies, the eggs hatch inside the female’s body and the live larvae are deposited on a suitable feeding place and this could be a human body! Forensic experts can tell by what kinds of larvae are present and how well developed they are to estimate the time of death. The whole thing is quite gruesome but although we may feel a bit revolted by the way flies live, they are part of the big natural chain; they do their bit by helping to clean up the planet.
Other flying insects that we find in and around our homes are moths, especially nocturnal ones. These are found to be in decline and habitat loss, climate change and pollution all play a part in the loss of these insects. But Dutch researchers’ studies over thirty years have found that day flying moths have scarcely declined at all. So what is different about the life styles of diurnal moths and nocturnal ones? Many nocturnal moths are attracted to artificial light whereas those that fly only by day are not and it is thought that this attraction interferes with reproduction, foraging and indeed can kill them. Expansion of cities, towns and roads is obviously going to mean more night lighting but it has been recommended that street lights should be designed to be of longer wavelength, which is less attractive to insects than short wave light, and that they should also be shielded to some extent. Moths are important pollinators and they, their caterpillars and eggs are food for bats, birds and other insects so we can’t afford to lose them.
If you are walking beside water this month you may come across a Common amber snail resting on a bank side plant. This tiny, golden mollusc likes to live in damp places and can also be found in fields where the humidity is high. It has one habit that has made it quite popular, it eats Japanese knotweed! Slovenian biologists have being doing studies to see if this little snail could be the answer to the control of the highly invasive plant which, as we’ve talked about before, will spread to take over large areas.
Common vetch is in flower this month and can be found in your garden, fields, roadsides and waste ground and is liked by Bumble bees. It is a sprawling plant that will use others as support, climbing up them by using tendrils which wind round the stems of the stronger plant. It is member of the pea family and like others in this group is a nitrogen fixer, able to convert the nitrogen in the air into a form that it can use. It is grown as forage for cattle and horses and also as green manure when it is ploughed into the soil.
May is a lovely month with flowers and new life everywhere.
Things to do this month:
• Evening water trail to St.Benet’s Abbey – Ranworth Broad.
• Spring migrants Cley Marshes.
• Dawn chorus – Hickling & Ranworth Broads & Cley Marshes.
• Unseen Worlds: An introduction to underwater life – Hickling Broad.
• Flora walk – Ranworth Broad.Details at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
© Sheila Sims 2019