• wildwoodlandlearning

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

The humble nettle doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to plants but they are pretty fantastic and thriving with life at the moment, so, I thought I'd find out more about them and share it with you.

There are a few different kinds of nettles, Dead Nettle (purple flower and leaves), Henbit Nettle (also purple flower) and the Common or Stinging Nettle which is the one we're having a closer look at.




Not all hairs on a nettle contain venom.

Nettles are fairly recognisable, we learn to watch out for them from a young age as it's wise to avoid bumping into them. The leaves are long ovals on female plants and broader, ace shapes on male plants. All leaves are have distinct serrated edges and are covered in tiny hairs. A nettle’s sting is like a needle. It’s a hollow hair which is made of silica and contains a venom, composed of histamine and other chemicals The hair is extremely brittle and it only takes the lightest of brushes to break off the point and inject its unlucky victim.




Nettles support over 40 species of invertebrates (animals with no backbone)! They are home to lots of caterpillar species such as the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillar. The nettles in Linn Park are covered with these caterpillars at the moment, they're great to watch, munching their way through the leaves.




Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

This is a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, one to look out for.



Nettles support ladybirds, aphids, chaffinches, bullfinches, sparrows, hedgehogs, shrews and frogs and toads.

If you look at a patch of nettles in Spring/Summer for just a few minutes, you're sure to see a variety of life.






Cuckoo Spit on a Dock plant

If you see a white foamy liquid on a nettle, it's called Cuckoo Spit. Inside the foam lives a little insect called a Froghopper or Spittlebug.


This photo shows Cuckoo Spit on a Dock plant. It is thought that if you get stung by a nettle, placing a Dock leave over the sting will sooth the sting. Whether this is actually true is unknown but the cool, moist leave is sure to bring some relief, placebo or otherwise.





Nettle crisps made by Linda :)

For the foragers out there, teas and soups can be made with nettles, it has a similar taste to spinach. Nettle crisps are a great one to try, fry the leaves in a little coconut oil, they crisp up beautifully. If you are out picking nettles, remember to always wear gloves and check the leaves aren't home to any insects. :)


So, in short nettles are cool. The stems can even be used to make rope and ecologically friendly yarns to make clothes! Is there nothing this plant cannot do??



Love,


WILD

  • wildwoodlandlearning

Updated: Feb 15

One of the incredible things about getting out in nature is how all our senses become heightened.



This week I have been thinking about the value of really focusing on listening when you are out in the natural world. Making a point, of stopping, still and just simply listening. Letting our busy world slow down and take the time to marvel at the wonderful sounds all around us. When I do this I find lots of interesting things to see, explore and discover and deepen my connection with nature. I’ll give you some examples of some of my favorite sounds to listen out for just now. I bet you’ll have lots of different sounds you hear too!


Birdsong

Taking the time to be still and listen is a great way to spot birds, often when I think nothing is about stopping for a minute to listen opens up a world of interest. Birds calling to each other or parent birds calling to their young, birds making their alarm calls when predators are near. I often spot the woodpecker because I hear its claws scraping on the bark high up in the Scots Pines even before its typical rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Once you spot where the noise is coming from it gives you the opportunity to look & to explore a new nature story.

Bees Buzzing

Just now I listen out particularly at the wild raspberry bushes to hear the sways of bees, busying themselves constantly. I find watching bees fascinating. Doing their busy important work pollinating the trees and wildflowers with pollen. Once you start looking there are so many different kinds of bees to see and some great resources available to identify species. I see a lot of Tree Bumblebees, Buff Tailed Bumble Bees, Early Bumblebees. With their pollen baskets all loaded up. Listen to them buzz and see how many you can spot.

Psithurism

This brings us on nicely to our tree to look out for this week as it is a master of Psithurism: which is ‘the sound of the wind whispering through the trees’. I love to just stop, close my eyes and breathe in the noise of the leaves rustling. It’s one of my favourite calming sounds. Have you ever noticed that different trees make different sounds? Here's a short video of psithurism.


The Silver Birch

The Silver birch is a tall slender, gentle looking tree that can grow up to 30 meters. But this dainty tree is actually one of the most hardy trees there are. It has a very slight trunk, slighter branches and even slighter twigs that can seem like they are threadlike. With its thousands of small pointy leaves weighing down the flexible branches it weeping frame makes the unmistakable sound of the rustling leaves of the Silver Birch tree in the wind.

Have a look at our video below for ways to identify the Silver birch and check out it’s identification traits below.



Identification Traits


Leaves: Look out for its small glossy green triangular shaped, pointed leaves.


Bark: Very distinctive smooth white silvery bark higher up, then prominent grey/green scars, cracks and knobbly bumps towards the base. Branches and the inner bark beneath the white are both a russet – reddish brown colour.

Shape: Slender tall and dainty, with branches laden with leaves weeping downwards swaying in the wind.

Value to Wildlife

The Silver Birch is a pioneer species and can be found growing in pretty much any habitat. I have 3 growing in my garden that have self-seeded themselves.

As the trunk and leaves are so slight a woodland with Silver Birch in benefits as the sun light can get through the tree to the ground below. Meaning wildflowers can thrive. (Compare this to the ground beneath a Beech tree). A Silver Birch can be home to over 300 types of insect life, including aphids feeding on the leaves and in turn ladybirds feeding on them. It is home to many moths including Buff Tips and Angle Shades. Its papery seeds in July are eaten by Greenfinches and Siskins.


Witches Broom Gall on Silver Birch Tree
Witches Broom Gall

A common feature on Silver Birches is the Witches Broom Gall, which is caused by parasites like a fungus or by insects laying eggs. The tree responds by gluing lots of its twigs together in great big hard clumps!

The Silver Birch has extensive root system which allows it to gain a lot of nutrients to sustain the life within it, so for a ‘dainty’ tree its bark is incredibly strong. A birch tree only lives for around 100 years, and when they do fall you will notice the inside of the tree rots before the bark leaving a ring of its strong bark remaining.



Birch Polypore Fungus
Birch Polypore Fungus

It’s ability to find and retain water makes it a favourite with fungi and there are several fungi species only associated with birch for example the Birch Polypore and Birch Bolette.

Finally the Silver Birch in Scots folklore is seen as a symbol of renewal and purification, it’s always a pleasure to see and to hear it out in the woods.

Good luck in spotting it!

WILD

  • wildwoodlandlearning

Updated: Feb 15


The Elder tree is one which is at the heart of Scottish Folklore and Mythology, sometimes referred to as the 'Mother of the Woodlands' due to it's protective, medicinal and culinary qualities.

Elder are fairly small, growing up to 15m in height. It can be found across the UK in woodland and hedgerows.

The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals, such as dormice and bank voles, eat both the berries and the flowers.


Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white-spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine



The Elder flowers grow in large clusters of tiny white flowers. They can be used to make Elder flower cordial or Champagne. The flowers are edible when cooked, Elder

flower fritters are a popular dish to make with them. The flowers are mildly poisonous so make sure they are cooked before eating. :)


When pollinated by bees, flowers will turn to fruits in August/September. The berries can be used to make Elder berry wine or jam.

The berries can also be used to make dye. The purple/blue colour they produced was used by Harris Tweed to achieve the desired colours for their yarns.


The leaves of the Elder can have 5-9 leaflets which are oval shaped and toothed.


Elder bark

Elder bark is grey/brown with a look of cork. The wood has a soft, pithy centre.

If you find any dead Elder wood, branches or trees, you will notice a fungus growing on it called 'Jelly Ear'. This fungus is dark brown/purple, dome shaped, has a jelly like consistency and a velvet touch. It's advisable not to touch any fungus so have a close look if you do find some.

Jelly Ear on dead Elder wood

Elder wood is great to craft with and makes a superb whistle or pea shooter. It's simple to hollow out due to the centre of the wood being soft and spongy. You can do this by using a skewer or stick. Here's a link to some brilliant things you can make with Elder. https://richardirvine.co.uk/2017/01/elder1/


Elder whistle

Take Care,


WILD