Dave the Dog and I did our usual today, and walked down our favourite walk from the back of the house, across a plank bridge, across two fields, past the playing field, and along the river path. The River Adour rises in the Pyrenees, wanders down to Tarbes, Tostat and beyond and then does an almost U-turn to exit stage left at Bayonne into the Atlantic Ocean. It is a wonderful river, more than a tad polluted by farm run-offs of nitrates and whatnot, but it is majestic and yet human-scale near us. Here, you can see that the foresters have been at work. There have been times when this pruning and coppicing has not happened, and the river has looked ignored. But this year, it is being restored to glory, with the trees trimmed back to 3 main stems, which will allow more light in, and create more views for the strollers, like me. Good job.
But, this year, one yearly visitor has been a bit tardy and also not at top notch. Purple toothwort or Lathraea clandestina has been slow off the mark, and doesn’t seem as splendid as last year somehow. But it still is a wondrous thing.
If you compare this photograph with how it looked last year, albeit in a different tree, and in sunshine, you’ll see what I mean.
It isn’t called clandestine for nothing. It certainly does know how to hide itself, usually in the cleft of a tree trunk, though it can also be seen in sprinkles on the ground. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to come back to the same tree every year, but chooses a new destination. Apparently, though now to be found in the UK, it was first identified in the wild in Cambridgeshire at Coe Fen in 1908, but has been cultivated at Kew Gardens since 1888.
The plant relies on bumblebees for pollination of its bisexual flowers which produce large amounts of nectar, making it a springtime treat for bees. Nineteenth century botanists were fascinated by it, wondering whether it was in fact carnivorous or even that the leaves might act as respiratory pockets for breathing. You can see the yellowish, scale leaves just beside the flowers in the photograph below.
It doesn’t appear to harm the trees that it chooses as hosts, and near us, it seems to stick to the same patch of damp, shady woodland even if it hops between the trees. A springtime oddity.