08 August 2016

Book Review: Ladybirds by Helen Roy and others

A few years ago I blogged about raising some ladybirds from eggs that I'd found in the garden. This really began an interest in all ladybirds for me. I saw this book had been published a few years ago, and was eager to learn more but the price was a bit high for me. I managed to get it earlier this year as a used book and it's been my bible ever since (as the Ladybirds of the UK Facebook group sometimes find out).

This book contains so much research that I thought, at first, it may be too advanced for me. After I finished reading the book the following quote, attributed to Albert Einstein came to mind:
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

However, this book is written so well, by a group of people who really know what they're talking about, that I had no problems understanding the topics. I learnt so much about ladybirds and where we're at with our knowledges of these beautiful beetles because the text was so accessible. They followed another quote attributed to Einstein: 
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler".

The book lets us in on the life cycle of ladybirds, their environment, their natural enemies, ladybird pattern variation, population and evolutionary biology, and ladybird distribution. These are accompanied by a margin glossary that explains words alongside the relevant part of the text as well as lots of tables and diagrams.

The book also has a detailed key to adult British ladybirds, followed by a key to all adult British Coccinellidae, and a third key on the lavae of British ladybirds - all with the aim of providing enough detail that can be viewed without harming the ladybird you're trying to identify.

The book closes with a chapter on how to study ladybirds, for example housing and feeding them, close examination, and how to write up your findings in a report.

I was amazed at the level of detail that has gone into this 142 page book. It doesn't feel cluttered, it flows logically, and it's enjoyable to read.

If you want to learn about British ladybirds, then this is the ultimate resource.

PS. Make sure you record your sightings at: iRecord! The folks over at the ladybird survey (some of whom wrote this book) are very quick to respond to records and really appreciate each record sent in. I recently had a chat with Peter Brown (one of the authors) and he not only answered my questions, but provided a report that was written using the records that have been sent in.

29 July 2016

Tree Flowers: July 2016: Vine-Leaved Full Moon Maple

This maple, Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium', is a cultivar of the species that was introduced to Britain in 1864 from Japan. The cultivar was named, in Britain during 1876, for its large and lovely leaves - with leaves (folium) like vine (viti).

While the leaves are impressive, it's the flowers that attracted me to this tree when I photographed it in April of this year.

The deep red petals are small and the big yellow anthers protrude out of the flower. As the flower becomes fertilised the fruit starts to develop, while the petals remain for a time. It's beautiful to see these different stages, which I have tried to show in the photograph above.

Being a tree of cultivation, there are no major uses of the tree other than for how it looks, although the wood is said to be used for furniture and engraving in Japan. From these colourful and interesting flowers early in the season to the multi-coloured foliage in the autumn, this is a fine ornamental tree that can grow to around 10 metres in 20 years if optimally placed and cared for and is known to grow in a spreading habit.

More, David, and John White. Illustrated Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. London, UK: A&C Black, 2012.
Coombes, Allen J., and Zsolt Debreczy. The Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees. S.l.: Ivy Press, 2015.

04 July 2016

Book Review: An Orchard Invisible by Jonathan Silvertown

Spanning 17 chapters, this book takes us on a journey from seed evolution to dispersal, from inheritance to gastronomy, all the while keeping the topic light and enjoyable.

This book is not only filled with surprising and interesting facts, such as: the earliest seed plants in the fossil record being from the Devonian period, which was around 360 mya, but the author has a knack for explaining difficult concepts in a way that does away with prerequisite reading.

Each chapter begins with a line drawing of a plant that will feature in the upcoming chapter, along with a poem or quote that shows the appreciation of seeds goes much deeper than being just a source of food. The chapters are reasonably short and feature well chosen quotes from the scientists throughout history.

I've been meaning to read a book about seeds for quite some time and I'm glad I stumbled upon this one a few weeks ago (Edit: It was weeks when I wrote this post - which I see was November 2015!). It's the sort of book that provides enough information to satisfy, but also plants a seed (pun intended) that makes you wonder how much more there is to learn about these wonderful containers of life.