Friday, November 27, 2015


text and photos by Bruce McDonald

A few snippets from some recent rambles.

Beetles on a Gower beach
First Whiteford on Gower, which Cardiff Naturalists' last visited to look at beetles a few years back with Steve Bolchover. A fine day in mid-June this year and the same stretch of sand on the edge of the dunes around SS 4428/9517 was productively revealing. The key appears to be to find a larger plank of wood or branch or tree trunk that is just above the recent high-tide mark but below the dunes. Lift slowly and see what lies beneath. The black beetle, Broscus cephalotes, was found quite easily. They either stayed put or went scuttling off across the beach.

Broscus cephalotes

Not so common but also in evidence was Nebria complanata, sufficiently rare to warrant its own Species Action Plan. It feeds on sandhoppers at night and is variously referred to as the Strandline Beetle (as is Broscus cephalotes!) or Beachcomber Beetle. Have your camera ready if you find one under timber as they often burrow down into the sand.

Nebria complanata

Running around on the surface of the beach in the same area was the Dune Tiger Beetle, Cicindella hybrida, and helping to procreate the species were the two below. They can travel at speed so are not always easy to photograph but these two had other things on their minds.
Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindella hybrid)

Galls on Gower and at Culverhouse Cross
Whilst on Gower another gall to add to the existing 'collection'. This I take to be Aulacidea hieracii described as having ovoid or elongate swelling of the stem, green at first then hard and brown. This was on several Hawkweed plants in the car park at Oxwich Bay.

Gall on Hawkweed

The Copthorne Hotel at Culverhouse Cross roundabout, Cardiff, has the usual common shrubs and trees but the Hawthorn was showing examples of the gall shown below. It has been a struggle to identify this one and any expert views would be most welcome. Photographic comparison with web images suggests Gymnosporangium as a possibility - caused by a fungus. Whereas clavariiforme is usually associated with Juniper which does not seem to apply here, this could be confusum.
Gall on Hawthorn

... and not far away some Holm Oaks, Quercus ilex, with the gall shown below. Again, information on galls affecting this oak is limited, the main reference being to Aceria ilicis. caused by a mite.

Gall on Holm Oak

The next challenge is the gall causing these swellings on the leaves of Hop Trefoil, Trifolium campestre, on which I have again drawn a blank. There is little enough on possible galls for this plant, one candidate being the mite Dasineura trifolii but the description of this refers to folding of the leaves along the mid-rib which is not that evident here. Again, any insights from readers would be helpful. 

Gall on Hop Trefoil

Orchids and Pearly Everlasting
A walk near Treorchy in late June was something of a revelation. A forestry track which starts just north of Cwmparc SS 9472 9617 by a metal barrier is worth trying because of the profusion of Southern Marsh orchids. Up to this point we had been walking through heavily sheep-grazed turf and the only plant you tend to find is Tormentil, Potentilla erecta, although it was interesting to note that Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla sp., was growing in clumps suggesting it is unpalatable even to the voracious sheep. Once into the sheep-free area the botany was a revelation. One of the usual suspects was Pearly Everlasting. The following extract is from a field trip in 1994 to Kenfig by The Wildflower Society:
'Then we came to a first record for Britain, Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting, which was recorded in the South Wales valleys in the seventeenth century and is now spreading over Wales.'
It is certainly quite common in the Valleys, is visible on the edge of the M4 around the Pyle turn-off and turned up on Coppet Hill near Goodrich growing under bracken. Despite its local ubiquity it is almost completely ignored by wildflower books. Wouldn't it be nice to know more about this plant?

Pearly Everlasting

A smattering of Common Spotted Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, was eclipsed by the Southern Marsh Orchids Dactylorhiza praetermissa which appeared to favour the damper runnels alongside the forestry track and stretched for a mile or more giving one of the best displays you are likely to come across in this part of the world.

Southern March Orchid

Bruce McDonald

Photos by Bruce McDonald

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lichens - short course in Wenvoe

Wenvoe Wildlife Group have organised a short course on Lichens on Saturday 14th November.

It is just two hours: from 10.30am to 12.30pm.

It will start with an indoor introduction to Lichens, before we go out to see which ones we can find in Wenvoe.

No experience necessary - this is ideal for anyone wanting to find out about these fascinating life forms.

It will be led by Barbara Brown of the Natural History Museum's OPAL project.

Anyone can come and the course is free, but places must be booked.

To book and for further details e-mail:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hedgehog Rescue and Conservation


We had an absolutely wonderful talk last Monday on Hedgehog rescue and conservation by Erica Dixon from 

She was helped in the talk by Poppy the hedgehog who is an unfortunate victim of an accident and has been blinded though a bad head injury, but is otherwise healthy. You can see Poppy being posed for in the pictures below (of course with her injury she was not aware she was being photographed)

The work that the helpline do is wonderful and we had some facts about them and how they were born with spines, and some fascinating information on how you care for an animal that is only days old. It takes a lot of dedication !

We were all then very sad to hear just how much they were needed to be called on given how rare hedgehogs are getting.  Hedgehogs were abundant throughout Britain, with an estimated population of perhaps 30 million in the 1950s. By 1995, the population was estimated to be only about  1.5 million and declining again since then

We were shown some awful pictures of injured animals and we had a very apt reminder of the need to check bonfires before being cheered up with some pictures of success stories and happy hogs being released.

Poppy as has been said is not able to be released so she is being kept to entertain people like us on an occasional basis and spends most of her time in a nice secure garden. She was happy to be awake because with no eyes she has lost perception of the time of day.

All in all a fascinating talk and I know a number of our members exchanged information about being a release site or becoming a helper. if you want more information then take a look at their website

Monday, October 12, 2015

Zoe Melvin wins Bioscience Prize 2015

Bioscience Prize 2015

The Bioscience Prize is awarded annually by Cardiff Naturalists' Society in the memory of former member Prof Ursula Henriques, for the best 2nd-year fieldwork project in the Bioscience Department at Cardiff University. Andy Kendall presented Zoe Melvin with the 2015 award (below) at the CNS meeting on Monday 28 Sept, during which Zoe gave a talk about her project on mosquitoes in Borneo. Zoe has written an article, based on her talk, which will feature in the next CNS newsletter.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Violet

by Bruce McDonald

Vaguely familiar? You know how it is, you see something that rings a bell but you can't quite put a finger on it. In amongst the dunes between Rhossili and Broughton beaches on Gower were some low patches of a plant shown in the photo. Some individual plants, some clumps with trailing stems. Not much to go on so take a photo and consult the books. Nothing obvious in the books so have a look at the photos. A few pieces (small - just 2 millimetres) of something withered and rust-coloured. Close-up on these - just shrivelled, well, could be anything. Hang on - alongside these a flower! Tiny - I could not even see them when looking at the plants in the dunes. Quite distinctive but odd. Back to the books - nothing.

Call in the experts. A quick response from Julian Woodman - some sort of Violet. Of course; no wonder the leaves were familiar. Also a little way back along the flower stem a couple of very small bracteoles - another Viola clue. More research - possibly a hybrid? There are tables of hybrids on the Wildflowerfinder website. But nothing really fits the bill. And the odd puzzle - if they were hybrids would one not expect to see some parent plants around? Find an Oxlip (the hybrid) and you are bound to see some Primroses and Cowslips in the vicinity. But here - nothing. The only Violas were Wild Pansies and they bore few resemblances to our specimens. So, back to the dunes for some further observations.

Another observation. On one plant a seed pod - suggests viability.

A rough count. About 30 plants in an area of 20 square metres - they seem to be prospering. Another look at the stems - runners! But are they rooting?

Take a small plant and tease it out of the sand - possible rhizome?

All the plants seem to be like this - are they all connected? Short of digging up a couple of sand dunes we will not know.

Hmmm! Where now? More Google delving and then, Eureka! A website image of a flower looking very similar to ours and the magic word 'Cleistogamous'. Wikipedia is on hand to clarify - 'Cleistogamy or automatic self-pollination describes the trait of certain plants to propagate by using non-opening self-pollinating flowers. Especially well known in peanuts, peas and beans this behavior is most widespread in the grass family. However, the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is actually Viola' - voila! The opposite is Chasmogamy with open flowers, nectar and pollen but this is relatively expensive in terms of energy.

Wiki goes on to comment that Cleistogamy often occurs in unfavourable sites or adverse conditions. Heavy grazing by livestock or deer or shortage of light may bring on a bout of self-pollination. So the probability is that these violets have become Cleistogamous  because they are growing in nutrient-poor sand-dunes.

Where next? Take a specimen and grow it on in a more nutritious loam - if 'normal' violets appear that will tend to support the argument as well as helping to clarify which variety this is. Also check earlier in the year to see if they do produce conventional flowers in the dunes before reverting to Cleistogamy late Summer. 

Text and Photos by Bruce McDonald

Monday, September 7, 2015

Newsletter 105 is now online

It went to members a few weeks ago, and is now offered more widely in the hope that you will find something of interest and will want to join us at one of our indoor meetings or outdoor events

you can find it by CLICKING HERE 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tortworth Arboretum

By Bruce McDonald

With just a few days to go before our trip to Tortworth, on Sunday 31 May, the weather forecast was dire - would it go ahead? In the event the weather relented and we enjoyed a day at this amazing arboretum led by the irrepressible Tony Titchen, an ideal guide for this collection as he had been involved with the identification and cataloguing of the trees in the past. We had invited members of our other groups and were delighted to be joined by representatives from Bristol Naturalists, Gloucester Naturalists and Friends of Dyffryn Gardens.

For those unfamiliar with the location, the arboretum is in the grounds of the Tortworth Court Hotel near Wotton under Edge and a convenient 45 minute drive from Cardiff. There is plenty of history to this place as Tony pointed out. As far back as Edward I's reign (1272 - 1307) the manor of Tortworth belonged to Sir Nicholas Kingston. The Veel family held it for 200 years when it included a deer park; then the Throckmortons and finally the Ducie family who owned it for 350 years. The house itself was built between 1849 and 1853 by the 2nd Earl and was designed by Samuel Teulon. During the Second World War the building was used first by Royal Navy as a training establishment when it was referred to as HMS Cabbala. Next, American servicemen took up residence and it was at this point that some of arboretum trees were lost due to the spillage of vehicle oil. In 1991 the house was bought by Phillip Stubbs but a disastrous fire caused widespread damage. The structure was then purchased by Four Pillars Hotels and their restoration is what you see today.

And now to the purpose of our visit: the arboretum itself. Whilst some mature trees predate the arboretum it was the 3rd Earl who started planting in 1853 and created an arboretum which at the time was a rival to Westonbirt. Our tour started with a Robinia pseudoacacia (below) but this was the contorted form 'tortuosa'. Robinia originates in the Eastern and mid-Western USA arriving in Europe in the 17th Century.

Then a Blue Cedar, Cedrus atlantica, the form 'glauca' of the Atlas Cedar from the Atlas mountains of Morocco and Algeria. Tony pointed out the characteristic short needles which contrast this cedar with most others. And then a massive Southern European Plane, Platanus hispanica, often referred to as a London Plane. The girth was impressive although, as with many of us, the bulk had shifted downward in old age.

A Dawn Redwood, Metasequia glyptostraboides, followed, discovered in China as recently as 1941. This can be confused with the Swamp Cypress, Taxodium distichum, alongside which it is often planted but a simple key is the opposite foliage of the Dawn Redwood and alternate of the Swamp Cypress. The first Champion tree to grab our attention was a Nikko Maple, Acer nikoense with distinctive trifoliate leaves.

A Shagbark Hickory followed (above), Carya ovata, from North America, and one of 7 different species but distinguishing them can be tricky. However it usually (but not exclusively!) has 5 leaflets whereas the Mockernut and Shell-bark Hickory - the other two with large leaves - usually have 7.

An Oriental Spruce (above), Picea orientalis, was obligingly sporting some cones - Tony reminded us to look out for the unusually short needles on this tree. Many of the trees were supporting Mistletoe including species which were quite unexpected such as the Red Oak, Quercus rubra. A stream marked a valley fault line with acid soil to one side and the other alkaline, helping to enable such a wide variety of tree species to flourish.
Although the rain had held off Tony marched us under the umbrella-like cover of a Crimean Pine, Tilia euchlora, making it a perfect place to shelter from adverse weather (above). A Common Walnut, Juglans regia, provided Tony with an opportunity to use his penknife test to reveal the interrupted pith in the twigs. And a close relative of the familiar Sycamore and similar in appearance was Van Volxem's Maple, Acer velutinum var. vanvolxemii. - a rare tree coming from the Caucasus in the late 19th century. Under it were hundreds of small seedlings - a propagation opportunity if ever there was one. Another rarity followed, Chinese Zelkova, Zelkova sinica, with orange-pink bark.
Next, and sporting the largest leaves we were to see on a tree that day, was an Amercian Lime (above), Tilia americana, and yet another rarity, although it was discovered in North America as far back as 1752. The photo illustrated the size of the leaves as the ruler help alongside was 30 cm or 12 inches long.

Tony took great pains to describe our next tree as the Tree of Juda, Cercis siliquastrum, and not the Judas Tree although it is commonly called the latter. A tree originating in what might loosely be called Judaea is a more logical name than yet another of the many varieties of tree on which Judas is supposed to have hanged himself. Distinguishing this from the not dissimilar Katsura is helped by the fact that the Katsura has opposite leaves and the Tree of Juda alternate.
Sophora japonica was next in line with the common names of the Pagoda or Scholar's Tree. This has similarities with the Robinia that was the first tree on our quest although the latter usually has spines and round-tipped leaflets. An American Blackjack Oak, Quercus marilandica (above) took us nicely up to lunch. With most of our brains and notebooks full to overflowing, how might we cope with the afternoon session?
After a brief pause and cup of tea in the hotel for some we assembled around what must be one of Tortworth's crowning glories, a mighty Caucasia Elm, Zelkova carpinifolia (above). The photo was taken in December and shows the scores of stems twisting up from the ground. Another unusual feature was that the suckers around the base had been trained to form a protective hedge.

The umbrella form of a Pendulous Beech, Fagus sylvatica var. pendula allowed ample scope for the whole group to assemble within its protective canopy (above), before we moved on to a smaller tree with prominent spines, Aralia spinosa, commonly known as the Devil's Walking Stick (below).
Next, an English Oak, Quercus robur, but this was an uncommon variety with variegated leaves. And as if we had not already encountered a plethora of rare trees our next specimen is described as 'very rare' and this was the Chinese Cork Oak, Quercus variabilis, with, as the name suggests, thick, corky bark.
A Willow-leaved Pear, Pyrus salicifolia (above), was showing off some of its small, inedible fruit but our final meeting was with a small tree or large bush that many will have encountered, the Corkscrew Hazel, Corylus avellana var. contorta (below). However this one was different from those that most of us will have come across as it was an 'original'. The story goes that it was first discovered in a hedgerow in Gloucestershire and the 3rd Earl of Ducie was a recipient of one of a number of plants propagated from suckers and distributed to private collections. The Corkscrew Hazels that are available in garden centres at modest cost will all have been grafted as the bush will not grow true from seed or cutting. It also has a popular name, Harry Lauder's walking stick supposedly because the great music hall entertainer often appeared with a crooked walking stick.
With our thirst for trees now well sated our gentle stroll back took us past a pets' cemetery (below), a tunnel of Wisteria (below) and a pudding stone to be greeted by a lively, colourful and exuberant Indian wedding taking place at the hotel.
Our thanks, as ever, to our guru for the day, Tony. If you are tempted by this and love trees why not pop in and wander round the grounds. The hotel will not mind but note that dogs are not allowed. Next year we are planning a return trip to Pontypool Park with Tony as our previous visit was largely washed out. Watch this space for details.
Text and all photos: Bruce McDonald



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