Nature walk reveals oncoming autumn


The swifts have gone, the swallows are gathering and there’s definitely a different feel to the air. Summer is slowly slipping into autumn and the signs are all around as I discovered on a riverside walk at the weekend.

The emphasis has moved from flowers to fruit as plants prepare to disperse their seeds as part of the annual reproduction cycle.

Some, like the rosehip, are fully ripe and red to attract the birds and small mammals, while the rowans are similarly red but still remain too hard for them to eat – Nature’s way of spreading the harvest.

Others like the elderberries, haws and sloes are formed, but still green, and still have a bit to go before they become edible.

The rasps are mainly over, other than those growing in the shade, and the brambles are still green, but it looks as though there is going to be a good crop.

There seems to be more sloes around this year than for some time, so all us makers of that Christmas enhancing beverage sloe gin, are in for a treat after a few lean years.

While walking under some sycamore trees, I couldn’t help noticing that the leaves were rustling louder than usual in the stiff breeze as if they were dry and brittle.

Many were coming down in the wind and it seemed that autumn had come early. I picked one up and quickly saw that it was covered in black spots ringed in yellow.

Like many members of the maple family, they are commonly attacked by this fungal infection called tar spot.

It is a leaf spot disease caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerinum.

The spots are unsightly, and the disease can cause slightly premature leaf fall, but it has no long-term effect on the vigour of affected trees.

Another tree which caught my eye beside the path, was an alder.

I paused to photograph one which was displaying what I thought was its unusual reproductive system of having both male and female catkins on one branch.

I then thought it’s a bit late in the year for that, but the tiny cones looked to be accompanied by purple flowers.

I later discovered that these purple “flowers” were caused by another fungus – Taphrina Betulina, the same type of thing which causes “witches brooms” on birch trees.

It is a type of gall and is quite rare on alder. It just goes to show that even on a day when there doesn’t seem to be much about, looking closely at everyday things can often produce surprises.

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