Thursday, December 25, 2014

Harriet Isabel Adams 1863-1952

I recently posted (click here) a plea for information about a mystery artist and botanist called H.Isabel Adams, who produced some delightful wild flower illustrations in an old book that I'd bought. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, and particularly to the following

... who pointed me in the right direction, I now have some biographical details.

Her full name was Harriet Isabel Adams. She was born in 1863 and trained as an artist at Birmingham School of Art, before becoming a noted Arts and Crafts illustrator, although as far as I can ascertain she only published these wild flower books and a book of fairy tales. Apparently she produced some fine designs for ex libris book plates. She was a Fellow of the Linnaean Society and lived to the age of 89, dying in 1952.

There don't seem to be many copies of her wild flower book available on the internet via Abe books but numerous mounted examples of the book plates are available, suggesting that many of the books were broken up for their plates. It's easy to see why - they are wonderfully stylish and elegant.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Winter heliotrope

Wonderful display of winter heliotrope Petasites fragrans on the cliffs at Dawdon on the Durham coast today. The fragrans species epithet refers to it scent, which to me is reminiscent of marzipan but is sometimes described by others as vanilla. 

This plant was first introduced into Britain from the Mediterranean region of North Africa in 1806  but by 1835  it had established itself in the wild. It has spread widely ever since, with increasing rapidity after being thrown out in garden waste. All British plants are male so it never sets seed, spreading instead via a rapidly creeping underground rhizome. Gardeners soon discover that this is a very invasive species in cultivated soil and is very difficult to eradicate. Every fragment of the rhizome regenerates into a new plant. 

In a location like this it's pretty harmless, bordered on one side by a wide tarmac footpath and on the other by the cliff precipice, although its leaves shade out most other vegetation. It can be a problem plant in nature reserves, though. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

H. Isabel Adams: Mystery Botanist and Artist

These elegant plates of species in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) are from a book called Wild Flowers of the British Isles by H. Isabel Adams, published by William Heinemann in London in 1910, in two volumes.

Isabel Adams also painted and hand lettered these elegant plates, whose style reminds me of some of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (click here for some examples)

There seems to be almost no information about Miss Adams  on the web. The only substantial reference I can find is a review of her work in The Bookman in November 1910. 

Does anyone know anything more about this talented lady? She also illustrated a children's book -  Little Red Riding Hood and the History of Tom Thumb, published in 1904

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mouldy lemon

I found this mouldy lemon lurking at the bottom of our fruit bowl.

It's being attacked by the fungus Penicillium digitatum which will convert it into a spore-coated bag of mush in just a few days. The white areas are a mycelium of rapidly growing fungal hyphae and the bluish-green area marks the zone where spores are being produced in vast numbers behind the advancing fringe of hyphae.

In this macrophoto you can see the invading white mycelium on the left and the green spores on the right.

The fungus very quickly  produces vast numbers of conidiospores, which are pinched off from the tips of the branching hyphae, seen here under the microscope magnified x100.

Under the microscope you can see the conidiospores forming like minute sausages at the hyphal tips, then ......

... becoming rounder once they are released.

You can watch a fascinating time-lapse video of the fungal attack by clicking here

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cormorants' coat of many colours

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is about cormorants.

Look at a cormorant's plumage from a distance and it seems as though it's coal-black, but a bit of sunshine makes all the difference.

Bright sunlight glancing off their outstretched wings reveals a bronze iridescence ...

..... but in a more diffuse light there's indigo in the chest and wing feathers....

.... while this juvenile has a hint of bottle green in the crown and tail plumage.

All 'a trick of the light'.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Attack of the killer bootlaces

This strange black network, that grew under the bark of this pine tree when it was alive, identifies the fungus that killed it - honey fungus Armillaria mellea.

Honey fungus is perhaps the most notorious of all fungal tree killers, not just of forest trees but also specimen trees of many species in gardens and arboreta.

The fungus kills the host by producing this network of rhizomorphs - bundles of hyphae that look like boot laces. They digest the living tissues between the bark and the water-conducting xylem that forms the woody core of the tree. The victim in this photo is a beech tree.

The rhizomorphs are doing their deadly work well before the fungal fruiting bodies appear. Often the first symptoms are individual branches of the tree dying, but it can take years to completely kill the tree. Often the roots are killed and then it topples in a gale. Meanwhile the rhizomorphs also grow downwards over the roots and out through the soil, until they find roots of a neighbouring tree that they can invade. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Some interesting fungi

Striated bird's nest Cyathus striatus growing on decayed wood. Each of the cup-shaped 'nests' contains egg-shaped structures called peridioles that contain the spores. Photographed in Slindon Woods, near Chichester, West Sussex.

In these field bird's nests Cyathus olla you can see the 'eggs', which are attached to a fine thread and are splashed out of the 'nest' by raindrops and become entangled in surrounding vegetation. When they dry out they then discharge their spores into the airstream. For more detailed explanation, click here.These specimens were photographed in Durham, growing in a garden border of perennial plants that had been cut back for the winter.

Bog beacon Mitrula paludosa, a tiny jelly fungus.

These bog beacons were growing on a waterlogged bed of decaying spruce needles in Hamsterley Forest, Co. Durham.

Eyelash fungus Scutellinia scutellata growing on wood chips after tree felling in Hamsterley forest, Co. Durham. Each of the orange cups is surrounded by long hairs that look like eyelashes.

Terracotta hedgehog fungus Hydnum rufescens. The majority of toadstools carry their spores on radial gills or on the surface of pores but in this genus the spores are attached to tooth-like structures under the cap. Growing under beech trees in Hamsterley Forest, Co. Durham.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bramble leaf rust

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary concerns the fungus that produces these colourful symptoms on bramble leaves - bramble leaf rust, Phragmidium violaceum.

The fungus initially develops within the green leaf, causing purple patches, but when the leaf begins to die and loses its chlorophyll this vibrant 'plums and custard' colour scheme turns the leaves into some of the brightest objects in the hedgerow in early winter. 

These clusters of spores erupt through the underside of the leaf as it begins to die.

The individual spores are just about visible with a camera macro lens but for a clear view you really need a microscope.

These are the individual spores viewed at about  x20 with a low power stereomicroscope, and .....

.... here they are seen though a compound microscope at a magnification of around x100, showing their very distinctive club-shaped structure, with 4-5 spores on a stalk.

In Victorian times rust fungi were popular, easily accessed subjects for amateur microscopists and in 1870 the somewhat eccentric naturalist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke devoted a whole book, entitled Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould: An Introduction to the study of Microscopic Fungi, to their study. It’s hard to imagine such a title attracting many buyers now but in Cooke’s day, without thedistractions of television, radio and the internet, microscopy was a very popular pastime and the book ran through four editions in 20 years.

Mordecai Cubitt Cooke
[public domain image, source]


Cooke was evangelical when it came to promoting the delights of microscopy, opening his first chapter with the confidant assertion that “everyone who possesses a love for the marvellous, or desires a knowledge of some of the minute mysteries of nature, has, or ought to have, a microscope.” In his day the lady of the house would be perfectly happy for her husband to retreat to his study for a close look at smut – or rusts, mildew and mould – in the knowledge that he would be advancing the cause of science.


A plate from Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould. The spore of Bramble leaf rust is illustration number 35.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kirkby Stephen's macaws feeding on beech mast

Kirkby Stephen, in the Eden Valley in Cumbria, has a locally famous flock of free-flying feral macaws. It seems that beech mast is their favourite food - all these photographs were taken from under a beech tree outside the local fire station this afternoon.

These spectacular birds originally belonged to a local farmer and conservationist called John Strutt, who died a couple of years ago. You can read all about this remarkable man and his amazing free-range parrots by visiting this web site.

There's also more about him here.