Thursday, 24 March 2016

Weird willow

As it was a glorious morning, Pete and I went for a walk to Ring Haw quarry, always a good spot to see the first hairy violets of the year. Sheltered corners were positively cosy in the sunshine, bringing out the first spring butterflies - a brimstone and two peacocks - as well as a basking lizard. We also heard the first chiffchaff of the year, bang on cue.

As expected the Goat Willows Salix caprea were flowering, plenty of males (top right) with their iconic golden bottlebrush catkins, and some of the more subdued females (bottom right). But we also came across one large tree that was very peculiar (left). The catkins were large, shaggy and a vivid bright green in the early morning sun - they were also popular with bees. On closer examination it became clear that this particular tree was hermaphrodite, with both anthers and stigmas developing in the same flower head. This phenomenon appears to have been known for several hundred years, but is remarkably unusual - willows are normally strictly dioecious - and this is the first hermaphrodite willow I've ever noticed.

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