Maiden Erlegh Reserve – 14 April 2018

Following a week of unremitting cold and rain, the warm sunshine on the afternoon of Saturday 14 April, when Renée Grayer led a walk at Maiden Erlegh local nature reserve, was a welcome change. While the group were gathering at Instow Road, Brimstone, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were seen and Peacock was soon added to the tally. A number of native species have been planted around the reserve, and specimens seen in the garden of the Interpretation Centre included the leaves of Shining Cranesbill and flowering Cuckooflower. The walk started out through Old Pond Copse, the strip of woodland in the valley of the stream which flows out below Maiden Erlegh Lake. The rich ground flora indicates that this is ancient woodland and flowers included Primrose, Common Dog-violet, Wood Anemone, Wood-sorrel and Wood Spurge. The first Bluebells were just coming into flower. Leaves of Wood Speedwell, Three-nerved Sandwort and Ramsons were also noted. The small yellow flowers of Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage were found in the wetter parts of the wood, together with Marsh-marigold. The leaves of Hemlock Water-dropwort, Fringecups and Wild Angelica were seen by the stream. In a pond in the valley bottom were several clumps of Summer Snowflake. It was suggested that these might be the wild Loddon Lily, but closer inspection of the stem edges revealed that they were smooth, as in the garden plant, rather than with the minute teeth of the wild plant. Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Nuthatches and a Green Woodpecker called and two Buzzards soared overhead. After walking through Old Pond Copse and Moor Copse, the route led back to Maiden Erlegh Lake and through Oak Wood on the south shore. Moorhen, Coot and Great Crested Grebe were amongst the sightings on the lake, while a Grey Heron perched in a tree above the water. A bank of sunny Blackthorn blossom at the end of the lake proved a magnet for butterflies, with several more Peacocks and Commas and a newly-emerged Holly Blue. Finally, in a nettle patch by the road, a tiny 24-spot Ladybird was seen on a sunny nettle leaf, with a much larger 7-spot Ladybird nearby for comparison.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Jenny Greenham

Continue reading Maiden Erlegh Reserve – 14 April 2018

Mosses at Greenfield Copse – 24 March 2018

Eleven members met on Saturday 24 March for the Annual Moss Walk, led by Sean O’Leary. The chosen venue was the hidden treasure of Greenfield Copse, bordering on Watlington Park and owned by the National Trust. The small door in the wall opposite the Tree Barn leads to a truly beautiful ancient woodland, often missed by passers-by.  The first signs of spring were clear, with Hazel catkins in flower, Bluebell leaves showing and, at the bottom of the valley, some possible Wild Daffodils prompted discussion.  However, we were concentrating on the mosses, which were fairly typical of such a site.  Acid loving species such as Mnium hornumDicranella heteromalla and Pseudotaxiphyllum elegans were present on the surface soil higher up, together with some common ‘epiphytes’ (those growing on trees) such as Orthotrichum affine and Cryphaea heteromalla.  On the exposed chalkier soil lower down the valley we found Cirriphyllum crassinervium, Thamnobryum alopecurum and Plagiomnium undulatum. Some species such as Brachythecium rutabulum were ubiquitous and, in fruit, provided a beautiful demonstration of the amazing ‘peristome’ structure, the minute teeth arranged around the capsule mouth, which open and close according to humidity, to release the moss spores.  A beautiful location, with some luxuriant mosses.

Report by Sean O’Leary

Pictures by Sue White and John Thacker


Inkpen – 10 March 2018

On Saturday 10 March, Jan and Laurie Haseler led a walk round Inkpen Crocus Field, a nature reserve of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). It was a grey, damp morning, but the thousands of crocuses still managed to put on a fine display. The entrance to the field was a haze of purple, with the occasional white specimen scattered around. Bright green feathery leaves of Pignut pushed up through the grass. The path led across the valley of a small stream and up onto the far side of the field, where there were much lower numbers of crocuses. Greenfinches flew along the hedge and a Woodpecker drummed nearby. The origin of a skull attached to a long robust neck was discussed, with some sort of small deer the most likely candidate.

The walk continued along trackways to BBOWT’s Inkpen Common reserve. The first footpath led past a thatched cottage with two staddle stones in front of its gateway. The tops of the stones were covered in mosses, including grey-green cushions of Grimmia pulvinata and brighter green patches of Tortula muralis. The footpath led through a Beech wood and down into a stream valley. The stream had carved a deep channel and on the banks were a selection of ferns, including Common Polypody, Hard Fern, Scaly Male Fern and Soft Shield Fern. First stop inside the reserve was a big clump of daffodils. Their small size, narrow grey-green leaves, golden yellow trumpets and pale yellow outer perianth segments all indicated that they could be genuine Wild Daffodils. The yellow jelly fungus Tremella mesenterica was found on a dead Gorse branch nearby. Gorse and Bracken had recently been cleared from a sizeable area on the south-west side of the reserve. The walk continued along a boardwalk which crossed a stream and an area of mire, where the leaves of Bog-rosemary were spotted. Two ponds on the south-east side of the reserve showed no signs of life, perhaps not surprising, since a week before they had been covered by thick ice. The walk continued round the common, following wide grassy pathways through sections of heather and managed Gorse. Grazing livestock are used to help maintain the open structure of the common. The footpath back to the sports field led first through a Beech wood, then through a very muddy section where a dense thicket of birch trees had grown up amongst planted pines.

Pictures by Rob Stallard


Titchfield Haven – 10 February 2018

A dramatic red sky in the morning on Saturday 10th February was the sure sign of a shepherd’s warning, as 10 indefatigable members, led by Ken and Sarah White, converged on Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, just west of Gosport on the Solent; this reserve has the fabulous combination of a visitor centre & cafeteria, plus 7 strategically placed hides overlooking the freshwater river, lagoons and meadows of the River Meon right next to the high water level of the Solent coast. Early RDNHS arrivals to the beach-side car parking found groups of waders sitting out the early morning high tide on the shingle foreshore including Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling. A 30-strong flock of very confiding Turnstone joined the Mallard, Pochard and Black-headed Gulls at the Meon sluice gates in the small Hill Head Harbour, awaiting food handouts from sympathetic passers-by.

Once assembled, the group set off for the southernmost Meon Shore lagoon hide; large numbers of Teal filled the pool. Some were roosting, some were feeding but quite a few were in small groups frantically displaying to each other, the males expanding their head feathers into amazing shapes while exaggerating their striking yellow on black rear ends. Amongst them pairs of Mallard and Gadwall dabbled calmly around the pool margins, while a small group of Shoveler were, like the Teal, amorously displaying, resulting perhaps surprisingly for early February, in one pair mating! Careful scrutiny of the myriad islands and reedy margins resulted in finding several Snipe, who kindly moved onto a grassy bank while feeding, allowing everyone to observe the ease with which they work those extraordinary bills, and a graceful trio of Avocets, also busy with feeding, but this time by sweeping those finely upturned bills from side to side as they do.

Amongst the Teal hogging the islands, plenty of Lapwing also chose these safe spots to roost. A sprinkling of Redshank and Ringed Plover soon left for the foreshore when a Buzzard floated across the back of the lake in a very harrier-like manner. The next hide, the Pumfrett, had no near birds to view at all, and yet the more distant views of Great Black-backed Gulls, with their 5 ft wingspans, patrolling up and down the River Meon in the strengthening winds demonstrated their command of the aerial environment. As we progressed to the final hide of the morning, one of the diligent members recognised the path-side watery habitat as being suitable for Water Voles, and within minutes one was found swimming up a water channel right next to the path! Viewing from the Spurgin Hide, the trio of Avocets had changed pools to just in front of us, initially on their own, but within minutes, ALL the birds from the first lagoon became airborne, spooked presumably by the Buzzard we saw earlier, many of which settled in front of us. Rival pairs of Shelduck postured and displayed to each other, a lovely sight and sound. On our return route towards the cafeteria for lunch, the Water Vole was still there, giving us a second chance to watch it sampling the marginal vegetation. Later on when we met up with the warden, he said that the Water Vole had been recently successfully re-introduced following earlier eradication by mink. Back on the foreshore, in increasingly wet and windy conditions the group caught up with one of the star winter birds here, the Russian Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla ssp. bernicla. This population of Brent Geese breed on the Taimyr Peninsula at longitudes around 85 – 95 ̊ East, and every autumn they fly over 3,500 kms to spend the winter in the south of the England and the low countries on the continent. [Seven of the group members had enjoyed, only a month before in Scotland, catching up with the Pale-bellied Brent Goose B.b.ssp. hrota that undertake the autumn migration from Ellesmere Island, Canada.] Small flocks of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Sanderling and Dunlin raced past us disturbed by walkers and wind surfers on the shoreline. At last, amongst the many gulls there were 3 Common Gulls and one Mediterranean Gull.

After a warm and much needed lunch break, we set off up the east side of the reserve to visit 3 more hides; with the wind-driven now horizontal rain, the hides really were a great asset. The Suffern Hide overlooks the River Meon, but the water levels were high and no muddy bank margins were visible. However, some Coot and Little Grebes were worth the stop. The next hide was the most productive, the Meadow Hide, giving great views up and down the valley; flocks of Wigeon, Black-tailed Godwits, Cormorants and Canada Geese also had Teal, Gadwall, Curlew, Mallard and Lapwing amongst them. Two Ravens mobbed another Buzzard, and as we progressed to the final Knights Bank hide, a sprinkling of passerines in the trees and scrub included Goldfinch and Goldcrest, and a nice specimen of Scarlet Elfcup. Increasing wind & rain and decreasing light helped us conclude the winter day’s birding at the Osborne View pub just a mile up the road towards Gosport. The final tally was a very satisfying 55 species of bird, many from distant lands, and some very fine viewing.

Report by Ken White

Pictures by Ken White

Lambourn – 27 January 2018

Despite grey skies and steady drizzle, 21 members and guests turned out on the morning of Saturday 27 January for another of Lesley Dunlop’s excellent geology walks. The walk started from the front of the church of St Michael and All Angels in Lambourn. In the churchyard were many snowdrops and a few crocuses. Lesley pointed out a high-status house across the road which was faced on one side by dressed sarsen stones, which would have dated from before the time of mechanical cutting tools. It also had both headers and stretchers of the more expensive blue-glazed bricks. Beside the path towards Lynch Wood was a big block of sarsen stone with two characteristic holes formed by tree roots. Lesley explained that sarsens are lumps of hard sandstone, formed by localised patchy cementation of the Tertiary sands which formerly covered the Chalk. Fossil root holes indicate that this cementation occurred near the surface. Evaporation of ground water in the warm Tertiary period would have concentrated dissolved silica to the point where locally it crystallised out, cementing the sand grains together. Subsequent erosion of the uncemented bulk of the Tertiary beds left these hardened blocks behind as sarsen stones.

Normally there are pools and bubbling springs in the lower part of Lynch Wood, forming the headwaters of the River Lambourn. But despite the recent rains, the pools were completely dry, indicating that the aquifers had not yet been replenished following the previous year’s very dry winter. Snowdrops carpeted the lower part of the wood, while Box and Hart’s-tongue Fern were abundant on the steep slope above the path. Scarlet Elfcup fungi were spotted, growing up through moss on dead wood. Lesley pointed out the contrast between the steep side of the valley on the right of the path and the much shallower gradient on the left. This is a characteristic feature of dry valleys on the Chalk. In the time of the ice ages, when permafrost prevented water from draining through the Chalk and instead rivers of meltwater carved out dry valleys, south and west facing slopes warmed up more quickly and suffered more erosion. The walk continued along a track which led northwards along the top of the ridge. The root plate of a fallen tree showed a shallow layer of Clay-with-flints above the Chalk, and the top layer of Chalk had been crumbled by frost action into small stones. Looking across the valley, Lesley pointed out clumps of trees on the ridge tops. These mark patches of Clay-with-flints, formed by freeze-thaw at the top of the Chalk. Lower down the valley of the River Lambourn, ridge-top trees mark layers of the sandy Lambeth Beds lying above the Chalk. A Fox was spotted in the field beside the track. The route continued down to Upper Lambourn, where there were some interesting walls and cottages. One cottage had big coigns (corner stones) of chalk blocks at the top of the wall, but with a big sarsen block at the bottom. Another cottage had been extended several times. Part of it had grey knapped sarsen stones, while another section had orange-coloured rough sarsen stones.

Pictures by Sue White and Laurie Haseler

Solway Coast – 7-11 January 2018

Ken and Sarah White organised a trip to the Solway coast, staying at the Mabie House Hotel near Dumfries. Target species for the expedition were Whooper Swans which breed in Iceland, Pink-footed Geese which breed in Eastern Greenland and Iceland, Barnacle Geese which breed on Svalbard, Greenland White-fronted Geese which breed in Greenland and Pale-bellied Brent Geese, which breed on Ellesmere Island in Arctic Canada and migrate over the Greenland ice-cap. The party of 14 gathered on Sunday 7 January at Martin Mere, a reserve of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Lancashire. Regular feeding attracts large numbers of wild birds to a big pool in front of a viewing hide. There were good numbers of Whooper Swans, and many ducks and geese, including Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and Pintail. There were also close views of Ruff and a Black-tailed Godwit. Amongst the many finches and tits on the feeders at the edge of the woodland which borders the reserve were a few Tree Sparrows, with rich brown caps and dark cheeks.

The destination on Monday, a day of bright sunshine but hard frost, was Caerlaverock WWT Reserve. Flocks of Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese were feeding in fields on the way to the reserve. Once again, regular feeding in front of a viewing hide had attracted a good sized flock of Whooper Swans, this time together with Mute Swans and ducks including Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and a single female Scaup. Pools on the reserve which would normally have been alive with wildfowl were frozen over and deserted, but out on the salt marsh were geese and waders including Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Dunlin. A Water Rail was spotted below the feeders in the reedbed and woodland area where the waste water from the Visitor Centre is processed, and there were more Tree Sparrows here too. The afternoon was spent at the Saltcot Merse Observatory, overlooking saltmarsh and the estuary, where unfortunately the tide was out. Small groups of Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans fed nearby, but the star bird was a silvery grey male Hen Harrier which flew close to the hide.

On Tuesday, a grey day with a strengthening wind, the group headed west to Loch Ryan near Stranraer. A flock of Scaup were just off-shore on the eastern side of the loch, while Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding on the beach. Red-breasted Merganser, a male Eider and more Scaup were seen in the sheltered waters of Stranraer harbour. In the afternoon, the group drove to Kirkcolm, where a grassy peninsula juts out into the western side of Loch Ryan. A flock of about 100 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were feeding in the field beside the track. They remained in a tight flock as they waddled a little further away, but never threatened to fly. Final stop was the sheltered coast road at Stranraer, where Common Scoter and Goldeneye were added to the tally.

The RSPB’s Ken-Dee Marshes reserve was the first destination on Wednesday. The group set out along a track which led through sheep-grazed pasture where Fieldfares and Redwings were seen and into an area of woodland. On one side were big old Beech trees on a steep hillside. A flock of Chaffinches were feeding below the trees and a Red Squirrel was spotted. On the other side, wet woodland led down to the banks of Loch Ken. The first hide overlooked the water. Its three feeders were in constant use by a stream of Blue, Great and Coal Tits, a Nuthatch and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, but not the hoped-for Willow Tits. But at the next hide, two Willow Tits joined the queue at the feeder, showing their chunky necks and pale primaries and making their distinctive wheezing call. On the walk back, a flock of geese flew in to a field by the car park, and these turned out to be Greenland White-fronted Geese, with characteristic orange bills. The afternoon was spent at the RSPB’s Mersehead Reserve. A Kingfisher was seen on the walk round the reserve. As dusk fell, the group were positioned in the Meida hide, overlooking an extensive reedbed. Small groups of Starlings gradually coalesced into a large murmuration, which passed to and fro, until a Peregrine made two unsuccessful passes through the flock, at which point the Starlings dropped down into the reeds. On the walk back to the cars in the fading light, skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead, heading out to the estuary.

Pictures by Jacinto Villalvilla, Chris Ash and Laurie Haseler

Bowdown Woods – 26 November 2017

Roger Dobbs led a walk at BBOWT’s Bowdown Woods reserve, which lies to the north of Greenham Common, on the clear, cold afternoon of Sunday 26 November. Members gathered at the Bomb Site car park before heading out to an enormous old Sweet Chestnut stool in the woods on the northern side of the Bomb Site. Originally a single specimen, it is now a ring of 5 big multi-stemmed trees. Nearby was a big clump of Scaly Male Fern. The route then led into the open area at the centre of the Bomb Site. It had originally been open heathland, but had become covered with dense Oak and Silver Birch. Many of the trees have now been cleared, leaving an open area of grass, heather and scrub. Highland cattle, Dexter cows and ponies have all been tried for keeping the scrub down, but none had proved satisfactory – they just ate the grass and avoided the scrub. So now the area is either mown or brush-cut to control the vegetation. The walk continued into the former Baynes Reserve, emerging at the top of a ridge overlooking a long valley with a clearing below power lines. The steep south-facing slope below the ridge is regularly cleared, making ideal sunny butterfly habitat. The path dropped steeply down to the valley bottom, where a Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe was found on an Alder stump. On the far side of the valley were tall multi-stemmed Alders. Roger explained that the grass in the valley bottom is cut each year on alternate sides. While he was talking, a vole was spotted, running through the grass. Continuing down the valley, the woodland on the northern slope is being actively managed for Dormice. Hazel in the first section was coppiced a few years ago and is growing back strongly. The second section has big old Hazels which have not been cut. Several had nestboxes attached between 1 and 2 metres above the ground, with the entrance hole at the back against the tree trunk. In total, about 70 Dormouse boxes have been put up across the reserve. The third section was very wet, and had sparse recently coppiced Hazel. The fourth section has not been cut yet. The walk continued to the small stream, cut deep into a meandering course. Both Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles and Golden-ringed Dragonflies are regularly seen in the valley. A Raven flew calling overhead. The route then led back up the steep valley side, where a wide south-facing ride had recently been cleared. Leaves of Sanicle, Wood Spurge and Yellow Archangel were all seen in this part of the woods. Towards the top of the hill was a flat grassy terrace with a pond where Smooth, Palmate and Great Crested Newts can all be found. In summer, Common Spotted-orchids are abundant here and solitary bees use the exposed sandy bank at the back of the terrace. The path led back up to the main track round the Bomb Site. The low wall and containing banks of the area where bombs used to be stored can still be seen. The track led to an open area where Grayling butterflies have sometimes been seen and a row of oaks where Purple Hairstreaks are regularly found. The light was beginning to fade when the group returned to the car park.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler

Fungi at Farley Hill – 21 October 2017

Mike Waterman led a fungus identification walk at Great Wood, Farley Hill on Saturday 21 October. It was an afternoon of gale force winds, but within the woods conditions were fairly sheltered. While the group gathered at the start of the walk, they were able to admire a collection of about 10 Collared Earthstars Geastrum triplex on the bank at the side of the road. Hand lenses were used to look closely at 2 different Bonnet species. The stems of the Snapping Bonnet Mycena vitilis are brittle and made an audible snapping noise when broken. Mike pointed out the tiny cross-veins between the gills on the Common Bonnet M. galericulata. Jelly Rot Phlebia tremellosa was noted on a fallen trunk. Both Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum and Scaly Earthball S. verrucosum were found. The latter species had a stem-like structure at its base. Mike explained the difference between Puffballs, which have neat holes for releasing their spores and Earthballs, which split open. Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria amethystina was found growing in the leaf litter. Its colour changes from a deep purple when wet to a much paler tone when dry. The underside of a Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa was rubbed to demonstrate that it flushes pink when bruised. A stick had small creamy-white fan-like specimens of a Crepidotus species, which subsequent microscopic examination revealed to be C. cesatii. A number of Brittlegill species were seen, including the Charcoal Burner Russula cyanoxantha, the Ochre Brittlegill R. ochroleuca, the pale pink Birch Brittlegill R. betularum and the Fragile Brittlegill, R. fragilis. A striking glossy bracket on Birch was identified later as the uncommon Ganoderma resinaceum. A worn Stinkhorn Phallus impudicus was found, with its cap worn away to a white honeycomb-like surface. The False Deathcap Amanita citrina was pale yellow, with traces of veil on the cap and a ring on the stem. A drop of latex from the Birch Milkcap Lactarius tabidus was put on white paper, where it slowly turned from white to yellow. Later, a specimen of the Grey Milkcap Lactarius vietus was found, whose milk dries dark on the gills. A specimen of the Lurid Bolete Boletus luridus was cut in half and it quickly turned a greenish blue. Later in the walk, a Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum was cut in half, and this time the pores remained a creamy white. The Grooved Bonnet Mycena polygramma had a relatively long fluted stem. A series of short irregular black lines on a Bracken stem were the Bracken Map Rhopographus filicinus. Pale Oyster Mushrooms Pleurotus ostreatus were growing out of a fallen tree trunk. On the way back to the cars, Mike pointed out the gas tar smell of the Sulphur Knight Tricholoma sulphureum.

Pictures by Rob Stallard and Laurie Haseler

Continue reading Fungi at Farley Hill – 21 October 2017

Wildmoor Heath – 24 September 2017

Michael Keith-Lucas led a walk at BBOWT’s Wildmoor Heath reserve on Sunday 24 September. While the group were gathering, two Comma butterflies were spotted on the adjacent vegetation. It was a good day for finding fungi, and a wide variety were seen, including Common Earthball, Fly Agaric, Brown Birch Bolete, Amethyst Deceiver, Birch Polypore and a number of different Milkcaps, Russulas and Boletes. Ling, Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heath were all still in flower. A number of different Cladonia lichen species were found below the heather, including a specimen with red fruits and Cladonia fimbriata, with cup-shaped podetia. The brightly coloured Yellow Stagshorn fungus was seen nearby. The walk description had included a recommendation that wellies should be worn, and it soon became clear why this was a good idea, as Michael led the group from tussock to tussock, deep into an area of mire. Species of Sphagnum moss found here included Sphagnum magellanicum, S. fimbriatum, S. pallustre, S. papillosum, S. inundatum, S. cuspidatum and S. capillifolium. Round-leaved Sundew and the seed heads of Bog Asphodel were also seen. The walk continued on solid ground for a while, before crossing another bog, where White Beak-sedge was seen in flower. In the final stretch of woodland on the way back to the cars, a number of specimens of the fungus Coltricia perennis were found. It is a funnel-shaped fungus with pores and the cap has concentric circles, coloured in different tones of cream, yellow and tawny-brown.

Pictures by Laurie Haseler


Harris Garden Tree Walk – 9 September 2017

Sunny periods and heavy thundery showers had been forecast for the afternoon of 9th September – and we got them both – when 19 members led by Renée Grayer went for a tree walk in the Harris Garden, the former botanical garden of Reading University. Renée handed out a list of some 50 tree species that we were going to see and she explained that the garden dates from 1975 just after the Botany Department moved from the London Road site to the new Plant Science Laboratories adjacent to the garden. In the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century the area had been part of the Wilderness Estate, one of the leaseholds into which Whiteknights had been divided when the Marquess of Blandford, who owned the whole estate, had become bankrupt. The group were shown a number of veteran trees planted in the former Wilderness estate in the 19th century, now tall and majestic, including Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum, Caucasian Alder Alnus subcordata, Giant Redwood or Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron giganteum and Himalayan Cedar Cedrus deodara. There are also huge Turkey Oaks Quercus cerris and other species of oak that probably date from that period. We also saw unusual trees which had been planted more recently, some of them dedicated to the memory of university staff and students, including Judas Tree Cercis siliquastrum, Wheel Tree Trochodendron aralioides and Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Other trees had been planted for their interesting bark, such as Paper-bark Maple Acer griseum, Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula and Hybrid Strawberry-tree Arbutus x andrachnoides, or autumn colours of the leaves, including Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua, Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica and Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera. The spiny trunks of Persian Honey-locust trees Gleditsia caspica and spiny leaves of the Monkey-puzzle Araucaria araucana were also admired by the group. One area of the garden is dedicated to unusual conifers and there we saw Tiger-tail Spruce Picea torano, Serbian Spruce Picea omorika and Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani. At that moment the pitch-black sky that had been approaching us fast started precipitating, so that we sheltered under the dense branches of the Himalayan White Pine Pinus wallachiana, which bears bundles of five needles instead of bundles of two as found in our native Scots Pine. But the rain, accompanied by hail and thunder, became so heavy that we still became soaking wet. When the rain had subsided some 15 minutes later we looked at two more trees, probably the most interesting conifers in the Harris Garden, which had been planted quite recently. They were the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis and Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Both trees were only known from fossils, millions of years old, and thought to be extinct. Wollemi Pine was discovered in 1994 in the Wollemi National Park in Australia where about a hundred specimens were growing in a few steep-sides gorges which were hardly accessible. Since then the tree has been propagated successfully and distributed to botanical gardens all over the world. Now they are even available in garden centres. Dawn Redwood was found in China in the 1940s, but only one wood comprising some 5000 specimens is left in the wild. This tree has also been successfully propagated and has been planted widely since, especially in China itself.

Report by Renée Grayer

Pictures by Laurie Haseler