Much of Skye consists of boggy moorland, a habitat I know next to nothing about. I was so blown away by the profusion of orchids and sedges that it took me a little while to spot the locally common (but thrillingly unfamiliar to me) sundews. These tiny plants with their elegant succulent leaves sporting glistening red nectar tipped hairs are so small you’d be forgiven for not spotting them. On a sunny day however, large colonies of the plant are clearly visible, glowing warmly like alien jewels in the mud. Once I’d discovered one colony and knew what to look for, I glanced about in surprise, suddenly realising that I was completely surrounded by them for some distance.
That is when I began to feel glad that I am several feet tall and human, because this dainty botanical wonder is carnivorous.
Sundews inhabit soils with poor nutritional value and in order to obtain the minerals they need, they have evolved the ability to lure and capture small insects using their mobile, sticky tipped tentacles. Attracted to the bright colours and sweet, glistening dew an unlucky fly will become stuck, the tentacles of the plant slowly enveloping and smothering its victim. The plant then exudes enzymes which will digest the insect and extract valuable minerals. Some sundews are even capable of enfolding their prey completely in their mobile leaves.
I felt fairly certain that the plants I had seen were round leaved sundews and oblong leaved sundews, but upon further research I’m no longer sure about the oblong leaved ones. Oblong leaved sundews are supposed to be rare in Skye, yet the ones I had seen were staggeringly common, suggesting that they could in fact be Great sundews. It may seem like splitting hairs to you but I’m a keen amateur plant geek and I care about the details. Plus, if I really was lucky enough to see huge numbers of a rare plant in an unusual place, I really should report it. I only wish I knew for sure.
Anyhow, that’s the science bit over. I will now invite you to imagine that you are 5 mm tall. You have struggled through head high spongy moss and swum through carnivorous beetle infested waters. Somehow, the gigantic, whirring dragonflies have failed to spot you. Eventually you spy an island, a safe place, and greatfully haul yourself up a blade of grass onto it. Huge bog-myrtle trees tower over you as you pick your way toward a patch of bare mud, and the air is filled with an oddly enticing sweet scent. A dried sedge stalk trips you up, and you stumble headlong into something…sticky. You look up, horrified, and see the questing scarlet tentacles tipped with sickly sweet goo, and no matter how you struggle, the supple, asphyxiating leaves are getting closer and closer….
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that mother nature is kind, be greatful that you are the size you are, and above all, don’t have nightmares!
What? The beautiful and alien looking Arum Maculatum, a native of much of northern Europe, lurker of the dark, dappled shady places. This incredibly common plant with its strikingly sculptural flower like spathe, elegant spotted leaves and brilliant scarlet berries unsurprisingly has many common names in the British Isles – and some of them are distinctly suggestive! Here is a short list of local names given to this plant:-
Cuckoo pint, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Devils and angels, Naked boys, Snake’s meat, Cows and bulls, Adders root, Wake robin, and my all time favorite…Willy lily!
The word “pint” in the common name “Cuckoo pint” is considered to be a shortening of the old English word “Pintle”, which refers to a certain portion of a gentleman’s anatomy. For those not familiar with British slang, the word “Willy” in the name “Willy lily” fulfills the same purpose. I absolutely love it that Lords and ladies has been considered a prim Victorian name for the plant, coined by those who couldn’t bear to say the cruder ones. And I love it that there is a counter argument, that if you look at the flower and how it is made you could easily say that calling it Lords and ladies is actually ruder still (If you are innocent of mind, think about human anatomy and what makes the boys different from the girls. What were those Lords and ladies up to?). No matter, these plants are, as my mum would say, “common as muck” and don’t care what you think they look like. I would love to coin a new name for them, but all the best ones seem to have already been taken.
I’m sure that I’m probably the last person in the world to see this news story, but it chimed in so well with my previous post I just can’t resist; anyway, how fantastic is this footage? The nefarious bird looks to me to be a herring gull, so I’d be careful if I were the shopkeeper; it’s the kind of big aggressive gull I wouldn’t risk feeding. But I do love the way it stalks out of the shop very properly, with a real sense of entitlement.
Further to my last post, it would seem that rubber ducks the world over are making desperate bids for freedom, as sixteen hundred of the bath toys made a break for it during an annual charity duck race on the Water of Leith in Scotland.
“The heavy rain meant the currents on the Water of Leith were so strong the ducks shot straight past the event’s 20 volunteer “catchers” on Sunday.
Race co-ordinator Stevi Manning said: ‘We usually lose a dozen or so ducks every year, but we’ve never seen anything on this scale. They just picked up speed and kept going’. Staff at pubs and restaurants in Leith described seeing a “bizarre” parade of ducks passing by.
Steve Legget, bar manager of Cruz on the Shore, said: “It was unbelievable. It looked like there were thousands of them coming down the river and people were trying to get them out from under the bridge.
‘We didn’t have a clue what was going on, but we’ve got a couple of them on show in the bar now.’
The charity duck race has been running between Dean Village and Stockbridge since 1988. Despite the setback, this year’s event raised £2930, which will be split between the Sick Kids Foundation and Lifecare, a care centre built at the former Stockbridge House community centre.”
Britain is about to be invaded – by a flotilla of rubber ducks!
For the past 15 years Seattle based Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking nearly 30,000 plastic bath toys, known as Friendly Floatees, that were released into the Pacific Ocean when containers filled with the toys were washed off a cargo ship. The plastic ducks and other creatures have been voyaging en masse around the worlds’ seas and oceans ever since. This charming and surreal incident has proved invaluable to science.
Some of the bath toys, including red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles and the more famous yellow ducks, are expected to reach Britain after a journey of nearly 17,000 miles, having crossed the Arctic Ocean frozen into pack ice, bobbed the length of Greenland and been carried down the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Mr Ebbesmeyer has been tracking them using an ocean surface current model called the Ocean Surface Currents Simulation, created by himself and fellow oceanographer James Ingraham. The mass release of 29,000 objects into the ocean at one time offered significant advantages over the standard method of releasing 500–1000 drift bottles and was a glorious opportunity not to be missed.
Many were stranded as ocean currents took them through the Bering Strait, which divides Alaska from Russia. Mr Ebbesmeyer predicted that they would spend years trapped in the Arctic ice, moving at the rate of one mile a day towards the Atlantic. In 2000, eight years after their journey began, the ducks were reported in the North Atlantic. By now the ducks had been frozen in ice and defrosted, and their yellow colour bleached white by the elements. Sightings in the past two years have been scant, but oceanographers believe that their next port of call is southwest England, southern Ireland and western Scotland.
Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said that the ducks offered a great opportunity for climate change research. “They are a nice tracer for what the currents are doing as they travel around the world, and currents are what determines our climate, and cycles of carbon.
“I would ask holidaymakers to keep an eye out, as they might be very few and far between by now. It’s a real adventure story and the plastic should last 100 years, so we hope it will continue.”
Any beachcomber lucky enough to find one of the toys will be able to claim a $100 (£50) reward from the toys’ American distributor, First Years Inc; the ducks have also become collector’s items, changing hands for £500. I think the real value of these miniature plastic adventurers can’t be estimated – to science and as springboards to the imagination, at any rate. More uncomfortably, they also highlight the persistance of plastic in our environment – these harmless toys will be around in the world for as long as the children they were intended for.