Derek – Friday 23rd October 2020

Many of the sycamore leaves falling from the large sycamore by the fence have tar spot. These are dark brown spots, very evident on the yellow leaf, looking as if they have been sprayed on. Tar spot is a fungal disease, and the spots are the fruiting body, meaning they contain the spores. The spores are windborne and have a sticky coat that allows them to attach to new leaves in the spring and so continue the cycle. In decorative acers they are regarded as unsightly, but do the tree itself little harm, perhaps causing some premature leaf fall. Treatment would mean spraying the tree with a copper fungicide. How long that would last is a moot question as there are thousands of sycamores close by to cause a reinfection. Not that we are considering such drastic treatment. The spotty leaves are quite an attractive brown on yellow, in a paint splattered sort of way.

There are few flowers left. Marigolds continue through the rain and falling temperatures, and there’s Japanese anemones, their white flowers reminding me of hellebores. There’s a single red dahlia with a few blooms and a very tattered pair of red pelargoniums yearning for a little warmth. Viburnum tinus is the only flowering shrub, with sprigs of tiny white flowers.

A couple of years ago, we were given various plants after the Chelsea Flower Show, including a number of ferns. The ferns, I think, are Athyrium filix-femina. Filix-femina is lady fern in Latin, and that’s their common name. Why lady, you may well ask. I’ve found two reasons, one is because the spore bearing specks (sori) on the underside are hidden in what was said to be a female way. I don’t get that as you don’t have to look hard to find them. The other is because of the grace of the fronds. They are perhaps reminiscent of the feathers in Victorian hats.

The plant is the sporophyte, which means spore-bearing. The sori (singular, sorus) on the underside, each contain a number of sporangia. The sporangia contain the spores. When the spores are ripe the sporangium splits, releasing many tiny spores. If one lands on damp soil it grows into a small heart shaped plate of green cells called a prothallus. This is hard to observe in nature as it is very small, and even if you did see it, you’d be unlikely to realise what it was.

The prothallus is the sexual phase of the fern (or the gametophyte). It bears the sex organs. From the male organ, flagellated male cells swim through the moisture to fertilize the ovum. This grows into the sporophyte, the fern as we know it, and the prothallus withers away. This process is unlike that in flowering plants, where the reproductive process happens in the flower (apart from the transfer of pollen). The fern reproductive cycle includes a separate sexual plant.

On Saturday, the clocks go back as we head into the dark days of winter. This is a yearly game we play with ourselves. We don’t actually gain an hour of light, but simply give to the morning what we’ve taken from the evening by shifting the clock along.

Every so often people say why can’t we have summer time all the year, why mess around with the clocks autumn and spring. In 1968, 1969, and 1970 this was tried out as an experiment. I worked in the parks at the time and, although we got into work at 8 am, we didn’t start work in midwinter until about 8.45am when it was light enough. I recall parents didn’t like the dark mornings, wanting their children to walk to school in the light. Farmers didn’t like the darker mornings either, or people up in Scotland where it didn’t get light in the far north till 10 am. But statistics showed fewer died on the roads in those years, as dark evenings cause more accidents, outweighing any saved in the lighter mornings.

A complicated debate.

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