Country Diary: Have you found any Robins’ pin-cushions?

Now that the year is drawing to a close,

Such mellow tints on trees and bushes lie ... John Clare

Have you found any Robins’ pin-cushions this year? If not, do search the wild rose bushes for some conspicuous mossy red and green balls. A gall wasp, like a small ant, is responsible for these. Eggs laid on buds and young leaves of the wild rose in spring, eventually hatch. New galls grow immediately. Inside each fluffy gall are several grubs. The tissue inside each gall provides food for the developing larvae. We don’t find as many as we did years ago.

Whilst you’re searching the hedgerows, you can’t miss the glowing red berries of holly, ready to adorn homes this Christmas.

Snowberries too have developed from tiny pink flowers which bloomed between June and September. Now they’ve ripened to a dull white berry. Try eating one. They’re not poisonous, but have an ethereal taste which I find intriguing, if somewhat bitter. They resemble mint imperials – but not in flavour!

We’ve been aware of a magnificent horsechestnut tree for forty years or so, and just accepted it – until recently. Our companion Martin, observed if from Scalby Road, situated in the corner of the lawn fronting St Luke’s Church. He queried the seed cases, rather similar to those on walnut trees! Visiting the site, we appreciated the fruits were indeed different to those of our common horsechestnuts. We knew this particular tree bore magnificent ‘candles’ of pink-red blossom in May, but imagined it was just a variation of the more common white. Actually, it’s the red horse-chestnut – aesculus carnea, a smaller tree than the white. Its leaves were darker green, with the smaller leaflets broadest in the middle. The fruits were more oval with few spines or none at all, and were green to pale brown in colour. The large ones bore a glossy brown conker within. It’s thanks to Martin for this new observation.

Tigga was well camouflaged amongst the dead leaves of cream, gold and russet brown, as we called at Burton Riggs Reserve. The ‘trumpeting’ of Canada geese, along with greylags and swans were the main features of the placid waters.

Gone were the vast majority of ragwort, flowers and only odd specimens of knapeweed, creeping thistle, white dead nettle and yarrow remained. The Anglo-Saxons believed yarrow could heal wounds when pounded with grease. It was also used to drive away evil and sickness!

Near the water’s edge on waste ground flowered scarlet pimpernel. Opening from around 8am to 3pm, and shut during dull or wet weather, it’s known as ‘poor man’s weatherglass’.

A small specimen of weld remained, with a long, seeding stem. Its flowers move to face the sun. When crushed and soaked in water, it yields a liquor which produces a brilliant yellow dye for linen, wool and silk, hence its alternative name of dyer’s rocket!