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My Wildlife Allotment February 2019

Despite the cold weather many of the early spring bulbs are flowering now. The winter aconites look pretty but have not spread out much. I think they would rather prefer to grow in a woodland setting, but until the trees I have planted have grown taller the winter aconites have to put up with growing under the raspberries. The pink-flowered Cyclamen coum has been joined by the later-flowering purple Cyclamen coum which looks really pretty as well; I wonder if I will get small carpets with a lovely mix of colours in the future. Primroses are flowering already, braving wind, rain and frost. I had planted a few wild primroses several years ago which have self-seeded and I now have plants scattered all over the allotment.

Winter aconites add a splash of yellow

The purple-flowered Cyclamen coum

Primroses are already flowering

Snowdrops are flowering as well and seem to be happy where I planted them as they are spreading slowly. In some years with milder winters it was warm enough for bees to pollinate the flowers which then produced seeds. The seeds have attachments called elaiosomes containing fats and proteins, which are very tempting for ants. They carry off the seeds down tunnels and feed them to their larvae. Some of the seeds must have survived as this would explain why several snowdrops are now growing quite a distance away from the ones I initially planted.

Snowdrops flowering on the allotment

Snowdrops in the snow

Snowdrops after a frosty night

The crocuses seem to flower earlier and earlier every year, this year they started flowering on 9th of January. Last year I saw the first flowers on 12th of January. As I always take a photo of the first crocus flowers I see every year I could go back quite a few years and do a little statistical test, a so-called Spearman rank correlation test. Using the one-sided version of this test, which specifically asked the question 'Has flowering begun increasingly earlier throughout the period 2012-2019?', I could confirm this with a probability of 99.91%, corresponding to a P-value of 0.0009 in the statistical test, which is considered a highly significant result in statistical terms. So yes, the crocuses on my allotment are really, on average, flowering earlier every year. As there is a strong correlation between temperature and the date when flowers first open each year we can assume that our climate is getting warmer.

The first crocuses are flowering

Date of first crocus flowers seen on my allotment

It is well-known that some plants have sensitive leaves which react to touch, such as sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica), prairie mimosa (Desmanthus illinoensis) and venus flytrap. I recently learned that some plants have sensitive stamens which I had not heard about before. When you lightly brush the flowers with a finger the stamens either move inwards towards the stylus (like in Mahonia) or outwards towards the petals (like in Sparmannia africana, also called African linden tree). This movement is quite quick and easy to see. Sensitive stamens are most likely aiding pollination by bringing the stamens (and with it the pollen) in better contact with visiting pollinators. Other plants with sensitive stamens are Berberis species, Opuntia and Helianthemum nummularium. If you grow any of these plants in your garden or greenhouse you can try it out yourself. I found it quite amazing. A short video of the stamen movement in Mahonia and Sparmannia can be found on my You Tube channel (see link below).

Mahonia flowers with stamens in normal position

The stamens have moved towards the stylus after touching

I have planted the first unusual fruit and vegetables on the allotment now. Chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis) have interesting-looking small tubers, they already had little roots growing so I will probably see the first shoots soon. I also planted the Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) which looks like a good strong little tree already. I can hopefully harvest the first fruit next year.

Chinese artichoke tubers

The Asian pear is planted

The foxes are quite active at the moment, it is breeding season so it is not unusual to see them quite frequently on my wildlife camera. One of the foxes seemed to have an injured leg and was limping, I hope he has recovered now. The hedgehog was active for a few days as well at the beginning of January, just before the cold weather arrived. He likes hoovering up the spilled food below the bird feeders as the birds are quite messy eaters.

A fox is sneaking around on the allotment

A fox footprint in the snow

With the ground frozen frequently and now some added snow the birds are very hungry. The starlings have returned and descend onto my bird feeders like locusts. They gobble the fat balls in a matter of days which would normally have lasted a couple of weeks. But I don`t mind so much as starlings are beautiful birds and seem to have a hard time now as according to the Big Garden Birdwatch they have declined by 82% since the start of the survey in 1979. I took part in this year`s Big Garden Birdwatch with a friend and we counted birds on my allotment for 1 hour. We have seen dunnocks, blue and great tits, a house sparrow and to my surprise a great spotted woodpecker. The woodpecker was quite interested in my greengage tree and also visited the peanut feeder. It was a very windy day; I think on a calmer day we would have seen a lot more birds.

The starlings like visiting the fat ball feeder

A robin is looking for food in the snow

A very acrobatic blue tit

It will soon be time for the frogs to return to the pond and all the little wild tulips to start flowering. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in March.

Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine Mitschunas Posted by Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine developed an interest for wildlife from an early age, and discovered gardening as hobby when she was twenty years old. As a trained ecologist, she moved with her partner from Germany to England in 2008, and is now working at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Much of her spare time is spent on her two-and-a-half allotment plots. These contain a wide range of ornamental plants, attracting many insects and other wildlife. She also grows some produce. Her other hobbies include photography and reading.

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