Thursday, September 8, 2011

A case of mis-steaken identity?

Autumn is most definitely here. Fleeces out. Time to snuggle up warm. But the weather wasn't too bad on Saturday, so we ventured to Old Warden to stretch our legs. 
There's a car park by St Leonard's church (Grid reference: TL 13599 44283). We did a shortened version of this walk.
Before walking it was time for lunch. The picnic table in the carpark is fashioned from a huge old oak stump. 
I'll let you into a secret: I'm a tree hugger. This one was admittedly tricky as I had to pretend to hug it. The best hugging position is breast height, but that wasn't possible here. It was about 3.5 of my hugs round the stump. Oaks with girths of over 3 adult hugs (and as I'm petite my hugs are just a little less than adult size) are probably ancient trees. For oaks, I usually go on one hug=one hundred years. This tree must have been at least 350 years old when felled. 

So when this tree was a sapling in maybe the 1660s...Samuel Pepys was writing his diary, Isaac Newton was beavering away on his ideas, the Royal Society was born, Charles II was on the throne, the Great Plague swept the country, the Fire of London consumed the capital and the Dutch stole the Royal Charles from under our very noses in the Medway. They auctioned her for scrap. Now we just scrap with them over a leather ball...or not, as the last match was postponed due to the riots.

A picnic table is a humble end for such a grand old tree. At the base of the stump I noticed a large russet bracket fungus.

Ha ha! I actually know what this is! Fistulina hepatica; beefsteak fungus. I peeled back the top, a wee bit, just out of!!!
All the books say that this fungus looks like raw steak and is the colour of raw liver (hence hepatica). It does and it is! Quite remarkable.

I didn't pick it, although it is apparently edible when young, but left it for others to be amazed at. It typically grows on the lower part of the stump of old oaks (and sweet chestnut). I sniffed it, almost expecting the smell of meat, but it was innocuous.

So, to walking. This part of Bedfordshire is blessed with some great woodlands and grand open views.

My plant id skills were tested momentarily...
...Pinus antennensis.
All that effort for a fake-bark look in the middle of a wood. Meh?
I can only identify a few fungi by name. This is, I believe, a common earth ball.
And these cute little grey parasols in the middle of the bridleway are...I've no idea.
The berries on this cherry laurel looked lush, but are not for eating. It was probably planted for game cover. Laurel leaves were used by entomologists in 'killing jars' to kill insects for preservation and collection. Now we have digital cameras. When crushed cherry laurel leaves smell of almonds and release cyanide. The seeds also contain amygdalin and cyanogenic glycosides. Best kept away from cherry pies.    
The smell of laurel flowers in spring is lovely. Here in bloom at Wrest Park in April. 
A wobbly panoramic shot across the fields.
A lush green corridor, near Sweet Briar Farm.
I don't often see big holm oaks (Quercus ilex) in hedgerows, but this one is rather fine. 
Holm is the lovely old English word for holly. The lower leaves on young plants resemble holly leaves (holly being Ilex aquifolium, hence Quercus ilex). This picture was taken at Kingsdown, Kent in June.
The bark is distinctive and described as reticulated (a network of small squares). The only other time I recall hearing the word reticulation was when I was in Western Australia, where reticulated lawns were, for some people, highly desirable. All that water wasted to achieve a green lawn. Hmm.  
A little holm acorn.
Also in the hedgerow; Midland or woodland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) with its deep red berries.
To distinguish it from common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) see how many seeds the berries contain. Midland has 2 seeds, common has one (mono = one). 
Here is a single-seeded common hawthorn for comparison (although I wonder if this is a hybrid as the leaves are not that deeply cut).
In the picture below; common to the left is deeply lobed, Midland to the right is more rounded. 
A snout was hiding in the hedge too.

Hare's a lovely sight...way in the distance...a harey moment.
I don't know if this is a male or female hare. I guess they must know and that's what's important. But hare's an interesting and important fact to liven up the day: male hares have their scrotum in front of their penis. Unsure why that's significant but Wikipedia mentions it so I thought I'd just pass it on. 
I've only once seen hares boxing in spring, and that was very briefly. I used to think this was males slugging it out, but it's actually female hares saying 'No thank you' (a link to a snippet of an article from Nature is here).

Just checking... to keep grazing...for now
Oh-oh, humans! 

Whenever I see hares, I wonder how can anyone chase these beautiful animals, with dogs, for sport. The previous Labour government, to their eternal credit, brought in the Hunting Act 2004. Long overdue. The public enquiry at the time found "that being pursued, caught and killed by dogs during coursing seriously compromises the welfare of the hare". No! Really?

Shuttleworth Agricultural College (Old Warden Park) is visible over the fields. The building was designed by architect Henry Clutton in the late 19th century. Good to see that dead oak left standing.

The Shuttleworth estate also houses the Shuttleworth Collection of aeroplanes, vintage cars, etc.. I admit, in the time I've been Bedfordshire, that I've not yet visited. Must fix that. There was an airshow on...
..with some magnificent men in little flying machines. 
Looks exhilarating.


  1. Thanks David. Lovely animal to see.

  2. Very good pics of the hares.

    Holm oak acorns can be delicious roasted. They are variable in tannin content and the sweeter ones are sown around farms in Andalucia for future generations. There are still some bitter/astringent ones that have self-sown or crossed with the sweet. The ones I had were better than chestnuts. I haven't tried any from this country.

  3. Hi Pat.
    Thanks. The hare was way in the distance and seemed oblivious at first.
    I've never tried roasted acorns of any kind. And didn't know that about holm acorn use in Spain. English planted holms won't have been selected for their acorn edibility - shame.
    Of course, all is not lost as sweet chestnuts will be ready soon :-)

  4. I enjoyed reading your post. The fungi picture is excellent.

  5. Thanks lotusleaf. Guess you mean the beefsteak? It was amazing.
    Your tropical garden flowers in India look awesome!