Secret life of plants
Whatever my moans about the weather I must admit that this year has produced a rich harvest. Hedgerows are red with rowan berries, rosehips and haws, and my garden has produced bumper crops of beans and peas. The peas are a bit of a problem though – they have ignored the bamboo canes I arranged for their support and even spurned the supplementary bits of twigs, preferring to lie flat. This makes picking them difficult. It seems even vegetables make choices.
We’ve just returned from Wales, visiting stepson and daughter-in-law who live on a smallholding in the Snowdonia forest. Chris has just finished converting their small stone barn into a house. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I was sitting in their roomy living room, gazing up into the roof where the A frame and rafters are exposed, when I spotted something intriguing. Slung across the beams, obviously not part of the supporting structure, was a long tapering pole with – and this is the interesting bit – bands of spiralled twisting at irregular intervals, like a screw thread or the twists of a narwhal’s tusk.
It was, they told us, the central trunk of a 20 ft. larch, and the spiral patterns had been caused by honeysuckle climbing the living tree, tightening its grip and, as the trunk bulked out, biting into its very flesh. The land and climate there are particularly suited to honeysuckle: it grows in great mats along the ground between the trees and, as opportunity arises, uses the trees to struggle up towards the light, just like lianas in the rain forest and, it would appear, with similar vigour. Chris tells me that it especially favours the straight wands of coppiced hazel: on these the incising can stretch the whole length in a regular spiral. The resulting canes were much prized by country people as wonderfully decorative walking-sticks.
I remembered the David Attenborough TV series “The Secret Life of Plants” that used time-lapse filming to show plants “behaving”, and particularly the bramble – a real thug of a character – lashing out with its long spiny shoots to grab space and light. The honeysuckle has always seemed a gentler character, but now I appreciate its steely strength and determination. I always look out for it in our local woods where it’s common but not rampant. In Spring it’s one of the first to burst into leaf. Now I shall look at it rather differently.