Country Diary: Flowering ivy has abundant store of nectar

The greenish petals of of ivy flowers secrete nectar.
The greenish petals of of ivy flowers secrete nectar.

Autumn’s early morning nip in the air often heralds bright sunlight, illuminating the season’s mellow tints and remaining fruits. Shiny black sloes remain abundant on thorny blackthorn bushes. For those making sloe gin in time for Christmas, it should be made now, although I’m sure many will have been awaiting a frost to benefit the berries.

Even earthworms are aware of colder days, as they plug their burrows with leaves and worm casts on lawns and between pavers. They aerate your garden soil and move nutrient salts to the surface, performing a vital function in nature.

Beside the Reasty Road near Suffield, grew lofty sweet chestnut trees amongst pine and silver birch. Tigga longed to be free to follow exciting scent trails, but we knew the consequences, alas! The trunks of old silver birch trees bore many common bracket fungi known as the razor strop. The brackets burst out from the bark. They are pale, greyish brown and smooth on the upper surface. The underside is creamy white with hundreds of tiny pores containing the spores. When dried, this fungus becomes corky, and can indeed be used as a substitute for cork. It has also been used by entomologists as a mounting base for small insects. I’ve heard of artists using the dried, pure white flesh for painting, as the surface will take water colours. I’m tempted to try a miniature painting!

However, during our grandfather’s days, when only cut-throat razors were used for shaving, corky strips of this fungus were cut, flattened, and used as razor strops for sharpening the blade.

We have foxes and grey squirrels frequent our gardens. Recently, our neighbour Christine observed a cheeky squirrel up the horse-chestnut tree, balancing like a trapeze artist along slim branches, and seizing the horse-chestnuts. It would then bang the chestnut onto the fence to release the nut. Maybe it would later stash some away in its winter ‘larder’.

Christine also witnessed a pair of dragonflies in the mating position – flying together in what is known as the copulation wheel.

Dragonflies usually rest on vegetation while mating, but they can also fly in this position.

Ivy, clambering over hedgerows and walls, is displaying an abundance of dazzling greenish yellow flowers. Clinging to a supporting tree or wall by fine rootlets that grow from the stem, ivy can attain great heights.

Its flowers are arranged in globular heads. Each tiny flower has five greenish petals which secrete abundant nectar. This is eagerly sought by countless wasps and flies, along with late butterflies. Watch them visiting the flowers, and inadvertently pollinating them too. The pollen is greenish yellow as you’ll see.

Even ivy leaves have their uses, ladies. Boil a pan of ivy leaves, and then mash them until the water is dark. Strain, and you have a fine rinse for revitalising black silk!