April 2019: Nature Watch
Nature Watch With Dawn Lawrence
Green returns at last to our part of the world and on a fresh April morning it feels as though all the plants are wide awake and really concentrating. People who live in a tropical or a Mediterranean climate miss out on this sudden wild burst of growth that we, so simply, call spring.
This is when plants really demonstrate their miracles. At the allotments there are old apple trees that have fallen over completely. In winter you might think them dead but in spring they briefly wear their crown of pink and white blossom and they go on with their business of producing apples.
That strange scabby patch at the corner of a car-park is revealed for what it is. Not poor workmanship by the labourers, but a hole caused by plant-power! The pressure generated within the cells of a plant in spring, for example the yellow daisy-like colt’s-foot, provides enough force to break tarmac; the plant is unstoppable.
Down in the angles of kerbs and walls, you can sometimes find a miniature bunch of dog violets, come from the woods to live with us in our unaccommodating city. Nobody has encouraged them, we have even given them a scornful name (the “dog” indicates that they have no smell and therefore are somehow less worthy than the sweet violet), but there they are. They have fragile flowers of pale purple and yet also an inner steel that enables them to survive traffic, pollution and road-sweepers, digging their roots into the tiniest of cracks.
Spring is also a good time to look for cuckoo plants. The cuckoo flower is a small herb that bears floaty four-petalled flowers of pale lilac or white. It can still be found in some old lawns and playing field corners in our area, a rare relic of the days when this area was still farmland, performing its own small miracle of inconspicuously surviving the immense upheaval of the expansion of Bristol. But there are also cuckoo plants of another type altogether. The term is used for trees or shrubs that are growing piggy-back on another tree or shrub – another remarkable feat of plant growth. The street trees are good places to look and it is possible to find elder, holly and bramble growing in the main fork of the tree (ie at the point where the trunk splits into the several main branches). The “cuckoo” refers to the fact that, like the bird, they have imposed upon another species to support their next generation. It is presumably not a coincidence that these cuckoos tend to be species that bear berries and I assume that birds have accidentally planted the cuckoo into the stranger’s nest.
Plants like these seem to be optimists and I think that is one of the reasons that we tend to like them; they make us smile.