Saturday, 23 July 2011

More new sightings

Ploughman's Spikenard
Our resident botanist is Jocelyn Gale, who also manages our indoor volunteer programme. Over the years, she has found all sorts of unusual plants around the reserve. This week she discovered a new plant growing along the Heron Trail, opposite our new Environmental Education Centre. Ploughman's Spikenard likes calcareous soils, so we wouldn't normally expect it to turn up on gravel. It's not a very eye-grabbing flower, but the name alone makes it worth seeking out. Apparently "Spikenard" was an expensive perfume, made from a Himalayan plant, but poorer folk could get a similar product from this member of the fleabane family. The roots were dried and used as air-fresheners, but please leave our lonely example to seed in peace!
Talking of perfumes, "musk" is quite a prominent ingredient in many of the scents that overpower you as you enter a John Lewis store, for example. Did you know that you could make a very expensive version from beetles?

Musk beetle
The Musk Beetle is a kind of longhorn beetle that we find at Paxton every summer. It's very big and glows with metallic colours of green, blue, brown and gold. In flight it looks like a mini dragon to me: Quite impressive. Photographers love them because they are very tame and obliging. They are large enough to photograph without special equipment as well as being quite spectacular to look at.