Max Coleman

Apr 062016
 
Flower of Myrmephytum arfakianum.

Some of us try our best to discourage ants in the garden. I’m not sure why as they really don’t do any harm. However, in the plant kingdom there are a few species that actively encourage ants to live within them in specially created ant homes that are grown by the plant. On the face of it this seems like the oddest thing for a plant to do. On closer examination it becomes clear why a plant would go to the bother of cultivating an ant colony. The most important bonus is a 24/7 security service. Any other animal that might cause harm to the ant plant is instantly attacked by an army of minature defenders with fearsome jaws. Another benefit is that the ant waste contains lots of valuable plant nutrients that are absorbed by special structures inside the home created for the ants.

Flower of Myrmephytum arfakianum.

Flower of Myrmephytum arfakianum.

Right on cue an ant plant from the Arfak Mountains in West Papua, Indonesia, is now flowering as part of a display for Edinburgh International Science Festival. We have enhanced our children’s glasshouse trail – Survival of the Smartest – with a display of plants showing a range of survival adaptations, and among them is Myrmephytum arfakianum with its very odd looking blue flower. To be honest the entire plant is the strangest looking thing. If you image a prickly haggis you just about have it. You can see this botanical curiosity in the Temperate Palm House until Sunday 10th April after which it will be taken off public display.

The ant plant is just one of many plants featuring in the Survival of the Smartest trail for Science Festival. Young explorer’s can discover how plants could help them survive in an emergency and how the plants are able to survive in all sorts of different conditions through smart adaptations. Making homes for ants is really just the begining… Continue reading »

Mar 242016
 
MSc student Tom Dawes with one of the moths from the Garden's new moth traps.
MSc student Tom Dawes with one of the moths from the Garden's new moth traps.

MSc student Tom Dawes with one of the moths from the Garden’s new moth traps.

Monitoring the wildlife in the Garden is an ongoing task that helps us understand the value of gardens, and other amenity greenspaces, for all sorts of different animals. Moth trapping is the latest activity to become a regular focus of attention. With the help of a grant from the Friends two portable moth traps have been purchased to allow regular trapping throughout the year.

Recent BioBlitz events at the Edinburgh Garden, Logan and Dawyck have all shown how many moth species are using the gardens as a habitat. A typical summer trapping could easily include 60 different species. Some are impressive large species you might think would only be encountered somewhere more exotic than Edinburgh.

Around 6pm on the 23rd March a single mains-powered Skinneer trap was set in the Garden and left running over night. The following morning moth recorder and Garden MSc student Tom Dawes found eight individuals of four different moth species. Two of these, Twin-spotted Quaker and Chestnut, (pictured below) are new records for the Garden.

Tom has been trapping moths since his grandfather bought him a trap as a 12th birthday present. According to Tom…

Now is a good time to check for species that are more cold tolerant and would normally be emerging in early spring. Trapping all year will build up a much better picture of the moths of the Garden and is well worth doing despite numbers often being low in winter.

IMG_2115The future of moth trapping looks bright. Both the Edinburgh Natural History Society and local volunteer recorders helping Butterfly Conservation have offered to help ensure regular trapping takes place.

Work is in the final stages to produce a new moth atlas for Britain and volunteer recorders are keen to get records for areas that are currently relatively poorly recorded. All of the Garden’s moth records will be made available for this national effort and will be sent to the local biological records centre.

Ultimately all of this data is freely available via the online resource called the NBN Gateway. So if you want to know more about the wildlife in your area the information is only a mouse click away.

Common Quaker.

Common Quaker.

Twin-spotted Quaker.

Twin-spotted Quaker. A new record for the Garden.

Hebrew Character.

Hebrew Character.

Identity yet to be determined.

Chestnut. A new record for the Garden.

Mar 182016
 
The completed display.
Examining Sapotaceae fruits and seeds in the Herbarium with Sapotaceae researcher Peter Wilkie.

Examining Sapotaceae fruits and seeds in the Herbarium with Sapotaceae researcher Peter Wilkie.

If anyone had asked me if I knew any plants belonging to the Sapotaceae family eight weeks ago, I would have had no suggestions – I probably wouldn’t have even been able to spell the word Sapotaceae! With around 1300 species, the tropical tree family Sapotaceae is incredibly diverse. From latex production to edible fruits (and just about everything in between!), the plants within this family are of great economic and environmental importance.

Miracle berry fruit makes sour food taste sweet.

Miracle berry fruit makes sour food taste sweet.

Perhaps my favourite discovery from researching this plant family is the miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum). The ‘miraculous’ element of this plant comes from its ability to change how we perceive tastes – after eating this berry, all sour foods taste sweet! We managed to source tablets containing miracle berry extract and decided to test their effect by eating a slice of lemon after eating the tablet. I was a little sceptical and wondered whether I would only notice a change in taste because I knew there was supposed to be one. However, I discovered that the change in taste was not at all subtle – the lemons tasted like sweet oranges! As someone with a sweet-tooth, this calorie-free phenomenon is very exciting! The potential applications of the miracle berry as a natural and healthier alternative to sugar could be revolutionary to dieters and diabetes patients alike.

Seeds of Sapotaceae from the research collection in the Herbarium. Sapotaceae have a characteristic dull scar with the rest of the seed surface often being glossy. Here the middle seed shows the scar uppermost.

Seeds of Sapotaceae from the research collection in the Herbarium. Sapotaceae have a characteristic dull scar with the rest of the seed surface often being glossy. Here the middle seed shows the scar uppermost.

Little did I know when I began this placement I have actually been using products derived from members of this family every single day! Shea butter, found in many cosmetic products, is a product from Vitellaria paradoxa, another species within the Sapotacae family. I discovered that shea butter is not only great for treating skin conditions, but for anti-inflammatory medical uses, and has great potential as a biodiesel. This great number of diverse applications was a common feature of many of the plants I researched. To coincide with the Garden’s spring exhibition about the Sapotaceae – Nature Mother of Invention – I have been involved in developing a display about the Sapotaceae. This covers floral and fruit diversity in the family as well as four examples of animals that have specific interactions with Sapotaceae trees. The animal interactions have been written up as a separate blog The dodo tree and other stories.

The practical, technical and revolutionary applications of the Sapotaceae family throughout history are largely due to the special properties of the latex produced by species of Palaquium, otherwise known as gutta-percha. This was the wonder substance of Victorian Britain and was used in the same way that we use plastics today for moulding. The most revolutionary development to arise from the Sapotaceae family is arguably the linking of the world with high-speed communication via telegraph cables laid on the ocean floor. These cables were only possible with gutta-percha insulation around the copper core.

Installing the Sapotaceae display in the John Hope Gateway Building.

Installing the Sapotaceae display in the John Hope Gateway Building.

The display I have worked on has been able to draw upon the research on Sapotaceae diversity that is a focus for the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. This work is documenting species unknown to science. Without a name nothing can be communicated about a species potential uses or their place in the wider ecology of the habitats where they grow. Given the great utility of this plant family so far it is natural to wonder what exciting new discoveries may be just around the corner. The Sapotaceae truely is the most interesting plant family you’ve probably never heard of.

The completed display.

The completed display.

This post is by guest blogger Sarah Fleming, Science Communication MSc student at the University of Edinburgh.

 

 

Mar 172016
 

The Sapotaceae plant family provides us with some wonderful examples of the sometimes intricate interactions plants have with animals. One of the more intriguing cases is that of the so called dodo tree, or tambalacoque. Like many members of the Sapotaceae family the tambalacoque tree, known to botanists as Sideroxylon grandiflorum, is a tropical species. It is found only on the island of Mauritius, home of the now extinct flightless dodo bird.

Early engraving of a dodo, the famous extinct flightless bird from Mauritius.

Early engraving of a dodo, the famous extinct flightless bird from Mauritius.

In the 1970s there was concern that the tambalacoque tree was on the brink of extinction. There were supposedly only 13 specimens left, all estimated to be about 300 years old. The true age could not be determined because, like most tropical trees, tambalacoque has no growth rings. Scientist Stanley Temple came up with the theory that the tree relied upon the dodo to complete its life cycle. Temple thought that before the tough seeds would germinate they must first pass through the digestive system of the dodo. The idea was that the abrasion in the bird’s gizzard and the stomach acids would start to breakdown the seeds surface, allowing water to penetrate and triggering germination.

The extinction of the dodo in the 17th century, due to hunting by people, was linked by Temple to the absence of young trees. Put simply, the extinction of the dodo was preventing the tambalacoque from regenerating and the tree seemed doomed to go the same way.

This was a compelling and plausible story, and not surprisingly captured people’s attention. However, the story has a more positive postscript. Further research has shown that surviving tortoises are also likely to disperse the seeds of this tree, and more tambalacoque trees have been found, including some younger individuals. Although now discredited as the sole agent of dispersal, the dodo’s relationship with this tree still continues to fascinate.

Animal interactions with other members of the Sapotaceae family include some equally fascinating stories. A relative of the tambalacoque in the same genus, Sideroxylon inerme, the white milkwood tree, attracts a wide variety of animals to feed on its flowers and fruits. This southern African coastal tree has fruits, similar to blackberries, that are delicacies for bats, monkeys and bush pigs. While the small, greenish and rather malodorous flowers, are a favourite food of the speckled mousebird with its distinctive brown head crest.

Speckled mousebirds eat the flowers of white milkwood trees, Sideroxylon inerme.

Speckled mousebirds eat the flowers of white milkwood trees, Sideroxylon inerme.

Whole fruit of Omphalocarpum from the research collection in the Herbarium.

Whole fruit of Omphalocarpum from the research collection in the Herbarium. The image behind shows the trunk of a tree studded with fruit.

In Africa’s tropical forests Omphalocarpum elatum produces fruits that can be as much as two kilos in weight. These large fruits are sought after by the forest elephants, and it is only the elephants that can break through the hard shell. When the fruit falls to the ground the sound echoes through the depths of the forest and attracts elephants. They always follow a specific path, specially carved out of the forest to the Omphalocarpum tree. After positioning the fruit with their trunk, the elephants skewer it with a tusk and split it open. This interaction is ecologically important, as seeds pass through the elephant’s digestive system and germinate more easily. The close connection between Omphalocarpum trees and elephants echoes the dodo tree story. However, here the tree does seem to rely on just one animal to disperse its seeds. Declines in forest elephant populations really could put pressure on Omphalocarpum trees, and this is a good example of the often unexpected interconnections in nature. This particular interaction has only recently been discovered and a short video clip of elephants feeding on Omphalocarpum fruit can be seen here.

Antheraea paphia, one of the moth species that is the source of wild silk.

Antheraea paphia, one of the moth species that is the source of wild silk.

Travelling from Africa to India, there is another species of tree in the Sapotaceae family of high economic and ecological interest. The tree in question is Madhuca longifolia, and it is vital for the life cycle of the moth – Antheraea paphia. The larvae of this moth are silkworms and they eat the leaves of the tree before building their cocoons. It is these cocoons that are collected from the wild and processed to produce the sought after wild silk, also called tussar silk. This type of silk is commercially important in India and is appreciated for its special qualities.

As well as their stories these trees show us a fundamental aspect of nature. Interactions between animals and plants are everywhere. They are both complex and dynamic, but fragile at the same time. If we ignore these connections between plants and animals more species will face the same fate as the dodo.

This post is by guest blogger Theodora Mouschounti, an MSc student studying Science Communication and Public Engagement at The University of Edinburgh. It was researched during preparations for a major new exhibition about the Sapotaceae plant family – Nature Mother of Invention – at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Dec 162015
 
Brassica plots at Glasgow Botanic Gardens in summer 2015.
Wild celery seedlings in the poly tunnel at the Botanics in spring 2015.

Wild celery seedlings in the poly tunnel at the Botanics in spring 2015.

As 2015 draws to a close we end the third growing season for the Really Wild Veg project. The aim of the project is to explore how domestication has changed crop plants by comparing them with their wild ancestors in growing trials. As in previous years trials have been conducted here at the Botanics, by the Edible Gardening Project team, and at Redhall Walled Garden and Hermitage Vegetable Garden. A newcomer for 2015 has been Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Elizabeth Mittell, a PhD student with the University of Glasgow, is studying brassicas in order to explore the potential of this important group of crops in the context of increasing food demands and the stresses imposed by climate change.

Some of the growth trials at Glasgow Botanic Gardens have fed directly into the nutritional work being carried out by the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health as part of the Really Wild Veg project (see below). For more on Elizabeth’s work on brassicas check out her blog.

Brassica plots at Glasgow Botanic Gardens in summer 2015.

Brassica plots at Glasgow Botanic Gardens in summer 2015.

A particularly fun part of the project this year has been to explore taste preferences with members of the public in blind tastings. In general wild relatives of crops have stronger flavours. What we wanted to know was how people regard these flavours. Tastings at public events seemed an ideal opportunity to both engage a wider audience with the aims of the project and at the same time generate an indication of flavour preferences. To this end a series of blind tastings were conducted and the results are outlined below as the percentage vote for the best flavour:

Crop Circle discussion (panel of 47): Wild Cabbage 55% (26) vs. Cabbage 45% (21)

Crop Circle discussion (panel of 47): Wild Celery 70% (33) vs. Celery 30% (14)

SciMart market (panel of 71): Wild Cabbage 46% (33) vs. Cabbage 54% (38)

SciMart market (panel of 70): Wild Celery 51% (36) vs. Celery 49% (34)

Royal Highland Show (panel of 14): Wild Cabbage 79% (11) vs. Cabbage 7% (1) with 14% (2) undecided

So, in four out of five tests the wild plant gained a majority of votes, although in three of these cases the preference for wild over domesticated was not particularly marked. Despite not being scientifically robust data, these results do hint at a liking for more intense flavours.

Interestingly, a visiting group of students from Queen Margaret University studying for an MSc in Gastronomy also participated in a taste test with wild cabbage and cabbage. One might expect that such a group of highly-tuned palettes would be able to detect differences between the samples. The results below show a clear preference for the wild plant:

QMU student visit (panel of 15): Wild Cabbage 73% (11) vs. Cabbage 27% (4)

Celery trial plots at the Botanics showing wild celery (left), which is clearly less leafy and erect.

The format of the growing trials has remained the same in 2015. Three replicates of each species are grown side by side in blocks to try to ensure that environmental variation is kept to a minimum. The replicates represent different strains as follows: 1. wild type (where possible collected from the wild); 2. heritage variety; and 3. modern F1 hybrid cultivar. Samples of each strain in a trial were sent to the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health for analysis of phytochemical content with a focus on compounds linked to prevention of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. In addition, each strain was scored for productivity by weighing a specified portion of the crop. Plant health issues were recorded to see if certain strains display greater resilience and, as noted above, blind tastings were conducted to assess flavour preference.

During 2015 the focus on brassicas and celery has generated relatively few new results for productivity. Brassica trials have been conducted every year and additional data on productivity was not needed. For the celery trials the only data available at the time of writing is presented below. These data are from a sample of eight plants of each of the three strains grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh by the Edible Gardening Project. In each case only the above ground parts were weighed:

Wild Celery – 368g, 162g, 178g, 152g, 133g, 130g, 159g, 51g with a total of 1,333g and a mean of 167g

Heritage Celery – 197g, 405g, 155g, 428g, 141g, 49g, 283g, 289g with a total of 1,947g and a mean of 243g

F1 Hybrid Celery – 175g, 197g, 240, 436g, 350g, 147g, 427g, 412g with a total of 2,384g and a mean of 298g

These results fit an expected pattern in which F1 hybrids are most productive and wild ancestors least productive. Domestication is to a large extent driven by a desire to increase productivity so we would expect wild plants to be relatively unproductive. In the case of F1 hybrids the crossing of two genetically distinct strains to create the F1 hybrid is the source of what is known as hybrid vigour. One manifestation of this is increased growth, and this explains why F1 hybrid strains are so commonly available to the home grower.

During 2016 the investigation of edible wild plants as novel crops will move away from Scottish native crop wild ancestors. We plan to grow trials of black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) collected in the UK and from a seedbank in Holland. This species is a weedy member of the potato family that is semi-domesticated in some areas (particularly Africa) and grown as a versatile crop that has edible leaves and fruits. In Scotland it is not native, but we are confident it will grow here as our herbarium has numerous examples of this species collected in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland over the last 100 years or so. Most of these are garden weeds or accidental introductions with imported products. As a result many of the records are from Leith, a major trading port in the past. To start this exciting new project off with some UK origin seeds the Natural History Museum was contacted and has kindly supplied a selection of fruits removed from recently collected herbarium specimens (see below). It will be interesting to see if these seeds are still viable, but if not the Dutch seeds will enable a range of trial plots to be grown so keep your eye out next spring in the area adjacent to the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden.

Seeds of black nightshade supplied by the Natural History Museum from recent herbarium collections.

Seeds of black nightshade supplied by the Natural History Museum from recent herbarium collections.

Nov 172015
 
Male blackbird eating berries of common yew Taxus baccata.

Male blackbird eating berries of common yew Taxus baccata.

The idea that a story about a male yew tree producing a female branch would go viral and attract massive media attention would have seemed highly unlikely a month ago. Nevertheless, this is exactly what happened with the Fortingall Yew when it was noticed that a group of three yew berries (technically called arils) were present on a branch within this otherwise male tree. The first coverage was in the Scottish Mail on Sunday on the 1st November and then most of the major newspapers picked up the story during the following week. To date the story has featured around the world and has made the pages of such unlikely publications as The Spectator and The Economist. There was even an appearance on the satirical BBC programme Have I Got News for You.

One result of all this media coverage has been the many comments from people. Among these there have been some intersting observations of the poorly understood phenomenon of partial sex change in yew trees. At least one person pointed out that this is not a new observation, although that was never claimed. A Polish study published in Dendrobiology in 2004 that looked at nearly 3,000 yew trees found that less than 1% had both sexes on one tree. Yews with both sexes have been reported from time to time for over 100 years, but they certainly seem to be pretty rare.

Perhaps the most exciting comment was from Janis Fry who got in touch to say she had seen a female branch on the Fortingall Yew back in 1996. From comparing notes it seems likely we have both observed the same branch, so this raises the possibility that the branch has been female since at least 1996. Janis said that she has been studying yew trees for over 40 years and in all that time she has only seen 12-15 trees that display both sexes on one tree.

Yew berries showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.

Yew ‘berries’ showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.

Although the mechanism of sex determination in yew trees is unknown, scientists have noticed a correlation between conifers that have the sexes on separate trees and the production of fleshy fruits. Yew is a nice example of this. The fleshy aril is evolved to attract birds with its bright red colour. The theory is that the reproductive benefits of having animal dispersed seeds outweighs the cost to the female tree of investing so much energy in producing large edible fruits. It seems that the yew ‘berry’ is a key product of evolution that enables yew trees to have separate sexes. There are other examples of this strategy in the collections at the Botanics. The Chilean Plum Yew (not a yew, but a distantly related conifer in the genus Prumnopitys) normally has the sexes on separate trees and has edible green ‘plums’ on female trees. Curiously, a male tree here at the Garden was observed to produce a few fruit in recent years, mirroring the situation with the Fortingall Yew.

All this interest in yew trees and their curious sexual habits has been a golden opportunity to promote the ongoing project to establish a yew conservation hedge around the Garden. This work involves the phased replacement of the existing hedge with a new yew hedge composed of around 2,000 plants raised from wild collected seed and cuttings that will encircle the Garden and provide a resource for research into yew genetic diversity across its wide native range. Ultimately, trees could even be returned to areas where yew is under threat of extinction.

Oct 232015
 
Yew berries showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.
Yew berries showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.

Yew berries showing the distinctive fleshy aril that surrounds a single seed.

The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is a tree of international renown as potentially the oldest individual tree in Europe. It has been suggested that it could be as much as 5,000 years old, but this is not universally accepted and needs some qualification. For a start this is an estimate based on a girth measurement of 56 feet by Thomas Pennent in 1769. In old yews the definitive evidence in the form of annual growth rings has long since rotted away. The word ‘individual’ becomes important in qualifying this assertion as we now know certain trees clone themselves and can greatly exceed 5,000 years. Nevertheless, it is still a remarkable thought that this invidual yew tree could have been growing before the Great Pyramid of Giza or Stonehenge were even begun.

The first thing visitors notice about this ancient tree is that it is surrounded by a small enclosure built of stone with sections of iron railings giving glimpses of the ancient hulk within. The whole experience is reminiscent of a trip to the zoo. This unfortunate state of affairs came about as a way of putting off unscrupulous souvenir hunters who would help themselves to parts of the tree.

Male cones on the yew are small and spherical and shed copious pollen when they mature.

Male cones on the yew are small and spherical and shed copious pollen when they mature during winter and early spring.

Closer examination reveales the Fortingall Yew is a male tree. Yews are normally either male or female and in autumn and winter sexing yews is generally easy. Males have small spherical structures that release clouds of pollen when they mature. Females hold bright red berries from autumn into winter. It was, therefore, quite a surprise to me to find a group of three ripe red berries on the Fortingal yew this October when the rest of the tree was clearly male. Odd as it may seem, yews, and many other conifers that have separate sexes, have been observed to switch sex. Normally this switch occurs on part of the crown  rather than the entire tree changing sex. In the Fortingall Yew it seems that one small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.

Part of the conservation yew hedge that will ultimately encircle the Garden with over 2,000 individuals yews from ancient trees and wild collections.

Part of the conservation yew hedge that will ultimately encircle the Garden with over 2,000 individuals yews.

Three seeds have been collected and will be included in an ambitious project to conserve the genetic diversity of yew trees across their geographic range including Europe, the Caucasus, Western Asia and North Africa. The project will see the exisitng perimeter hedges at the Botanics replaced by a conservation yew hedge grown from cuttings and seed collections made from wild populations and significant ancient trees like the Fortingall Yew. The first phases of planting went in the ground in 2014 and on completion the hedge will encircle the Garden with a remarkable genetic resource of over 2,000 individual trees, each of which will have a story and can be traced back to their origins in Britain or beyond. This hedge could well be the largest conservation hedge of its kind anywhere in the world.

As it matures the hedge will display a range of characteristics reflecting the genetic diversity of the many individual trees involved and as such it will not look like any existing yew hedge. The Fortingall Yew itself will be represented in the hedge and so too, all being well, will its offspring via the curious ability of yew trees to change sex.

A visit to the Fortingall Yew on 12th October 2015 when three yew berries were collected from one discreet part of the canopy.

A visit to the Fortingall Yew on 12th October 2015 when three yew berries were collected from one discreet part of the canopy.

Sep 162015
 
Honey bee on Aster.

Honey bee on Aster.

During the summer of 2015 the Botanics had a major focus on bees with the Urban bees exhibition in the John Hope Gateway and various pollinator-friendly initiatives in the Garden. As part of this honey bee hives were brought to the small fenced-off meadow behind the East Gate Lodge. This has been the latest development that highlights the importance of pollinators in the Garden. Watching pollinator activity is fascinating and brings a new dimension to the garden. It is a reminder that plants need pollinators and that we do too as so many of our crops are insect pollinated.

For many years now the Garden has managed a series of hives in the Nursery, but unfortunately this area has no public access. The idea behind the new hives was to provide a degree of public access, whilst at the same time ensuring the safety of visitors and neighbours.

Working with Brian Pool, a local commercial beekeeper, hives were brought to the Garden in spring and will depart in the next few days. So the big question is how have the Botanics bees fared? The summer has not been kind to bees in Scotland this year. In the early part of the summer weather was very patchy and colonies across Scotland have struggled as a result. The Scottish Beekeepers Association issued starvation warnings to beekeepers as conditions have prevented bees from building up their honey reserves. Luckily the Botanics hives built up enough reserves to see them through until the weather picked up in late July.

Brian has been really pleased with how well the Botanics hives have done in comparison with many others. He has harvested eight boxes of honey from four hives, which in a difficult year is a good result. This experience demonstrates the high quality foraging opportunities the Garden offers bees. According to Brian this is more evidence “that bees in the city do rather better than there cousins in more rural areas” and with over sixty hives outside the city he is well aware of how hard it has been for bees this year.

Sep 162015
 
Celery seedling sown on 17th March 2015 as part of the Really Wild Veg growing trials.

Celery seedling sown on 17th March 2015 as part of the Really Wild Veg growing trials.

The wet summer may not have been much fun, but our celery has been loving it. One of the real challenges with growing celery on well-drained soils is keeping it damp enough so that it grows strongly and does not bolt early.

The three trial plots each contained eight plants grown as two rows of four. The harvest on the 26th August gave the following weights:

Wild – 368, 162, 178, 152, 133, 130, 159, 51 making a total of 1,333g with an average weight of 167g

Heritage – 197, 405, 155, 428, 141, 49, 283, 289 making a total of 1,947g with an average weight of 243g

F1 – 175, 197, 240, 436, 350, 147, 427, 412 making a total of 2,384g with an average weight of 298g

No pest or disease damage was noted in any of the plants and the only problem has been that by September a few plants had begun bolting. Interestingly, none of the wild plants have bolted.

Aug 282015
 
Brown trout electro-fished from the Scrape Burn during the Dawyck Botanic Garden BioBlitz.

Brown trout electro-fished from the Scrape Burn during the Dawyck Botanic Garden BioBlitz.

Over a 24 hour period from 5pm on the 24th July 2015 naturalists and the public joined forces to record as much wildlife as possible at Dawyck Botanic Garden. Specialists in lichens, fungi, mosses, liverworts, flowering plants and ferns based at the Edinburgh garden helped to swell the ranks of expert recorders to 30. They joined a team of people who amongst them included experts in spiders, slugs and snails, mammals, birds, moths, fungi and freshwater animals. This army of recorders was deployed across the site to leave no stone unturned in the search for species.

Now, just over a month after the event, we are finally in a position to give a full report of what was found. Inevitably some species are tricky to identify and second opinions sometimes need to be sought. So here is the breakdown based on the groups recorded:

Mammals 5; Birds 38; Reptiles and Amphibians 1; Butterflies 2; Moths 62; Hoverflies 4; Flies (other) 11; Beetles 3; Bugs 6; Bees, Wasps and Ants 10; Insects (other) 11; Spiders and Mites 15; Slugs and Snails 18; Woodlice and Crustaceans 3; Centipedes 1; Millipedes 1; Other Animals 2; Flowering Plants 124; Ferns 14; Mosses and Liverworts 144; Fungi 40 and Lichens 46.

Grand Total 561 species.

This BioBlitz is the third we have run and the sheer force of expert knowledge and number of people on the ground always seems to winkle out a few unusual records. This time was no exception and the notable records include the following species:

  • Dolichovespula saxonica – The Saxon wasp is a recent colonist from Europe that has been spreading north through Britain and is only know form a very few records in southern Scotland.
  • Andrena coitana – A small mining bee that is unusual throughout Britain and possibly declining in England.
  • Orthotrichum pumilum – A Nationally Rare moss that has only previously been recorded in Scotland at four localities.

Along with the experts around 200 visitors participated in moth trapping, sampling the Scrape Burn and joining a programmed of wildlife walks that ran throughout the day. The whole event was great fun, despite some damp weather, and really demonstrated that biological recording is something that we can all contribute to.