Spindle – January 2021
You may argue that spindle (Euonymus europaea) shouldn’t be the flower of the month for this month but rather in May, however, with its bright pink unmissable fruit, it makes sense to talk about it now whilst it is so obvious in the bleak winter landscape.
Spindle is a native deciduous tree that can grow up to 9 metres. The bark and twigs are deep green but become darker with age. The leaves are waxy and have tiny sharp teeth along the edge. Each flower has 4 petals that are clear and distinct. Where they are narrow and long petals it makes the flower, head look like a cross (+). Spindle is hermaphrodite which means that each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts. The main flowering period is between May and June but Spindle is far easier to spot in the winter due to its luminous pink fruit that gives it a delicate but joyful appearance. These fruit develop after the flowers are pollinated causing them to turn into the bright fruits with orange seeds, looking almost like popcorn.
To find spindle, the best places to search are on the edges of forests, in hedges and on scrubland. It is a sign of ancient woodland so if you spot it whilst out and about it could be a sign you’re standing in a rare and special habitat. They can live for more than 100 years which always makes me wonder what the tree has witnessed over the years it has stood there.
Winter Flowering Clematis – December 2020
This month I am going to focus on the species of winter flowering clematis known as Clematis cirrhosa. This group includes the cultivars ‘Freckles’, ‘Wisley Cream’ and the aptly named for this time of year ‘Jingle Bells’.
Jingle Bells is the first of this species to start flowering in autumn and carries on until early spring. Just like others in this group, is an evergreen shrub that is a climber. Its flowers are pale yellow to creamy white and are bell shaped. Having petals that form this shape helps to protect the internal parts of the flower head from frost during this time of year. The bottom of the flower can be up to 6.5cm wide in diameter. The leaves are the darkest green and have a jagged edge. Each stem coming off of each branch has multiple leaves. Growing up to 3 metres they can be great to provide a shelter to bee hives if given something to climb up.
With the winter weather now here, our bees are staying warm and dry in their hives. However, for the Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris), winter is still an active time for them so this plant provides refuge from winter winds and a source of food.
Mahonia -November 2020
Any bees that are brave enough to go out and forage this month may struggle against the conditions but upon finding a Mahonia, they will be rewarded with a bountiful forage. Whilst not native to the UK, they are one of the most common shrubs to have in gardens, providing urban bees with forage during this time of hardship.
The genus Mahonia has over 70 species. The leaves of this group are pinnate glossy dark leaves that have a jagged tooth edge. These can range between 10 to 50 centimetres in length but due to them being evergreen they are easy to identify as they are around all year. They often have bright yellow flowers all the way through winter until early spring, which are subsequently followed by blackish purple berries in autumn. Focusing in on the single species Mahonia japonica proves how diverse this group of shrubs is. This species’ flower sit on stems that stand up right above the foliage. In my mind they look colourful spokes of a bicycle wheel. Each of these stems (known as inflorescences) can hold dozens of these small flowers.
During the nectar flow, foragers often fly off long distances in search of food sources. Whilst you may have planted elaborate borders full of bee friendly plants, they may not visit them as frequently and go searching elsewhere during the summer. However, by planting sources of nectar during the coldest months close by it means they do not have to travel as far away from the hive if the weather permits.