Monday 22 January 2018

Fern croziers and birds' eggs such objects of beauty

Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

Young fronds of Soft Shield-fern unfurling are a common sight in hedgerows at this time of year.
Young fronds of Soft Shield-fern unfurling are a common sight in hedgerows at this time of year.

The natural world is full of objects of exquisite beauty and many of them are to be found in wayside hedgerows and gardens at this time of year; fern croziers and birds' eggs are just two such examples.

Soft Shield-fern is one of our most common native ferns in wayside hedgerows, woodlands and moist shady places. At this time of year new fronds open, first unfurling from the tightly-coiled, snail-like crozier and then flattening out in all their bright green splendour.

The beauty of the fern's crozier shape was often copied and may be seen in the curled ornamentation found in classical architecture, a shepherd's crook, the scroll on the head of a fiddle or violin, the ceremonial staff carried by a bishop, and so on.

Soft Shield-fern is nominally evergreen but its fronds become tatty in winter and by springtime they are a sad reflection of the freshness of the new growth unfurling at present.

And so to Blackbirds. Last week I was getting a few Bay leaves in our garden to throw into the pot to flavour a piece of back bacon being boiled for dinner. I keep the standard Bay bush clipped in a sphere. It doesn't give up its leaves easily and as the green ball vibrated with my pulling off of the leathery leaves a Blackbird exploded from its centre.

The dense ball of foliage revealed just a glimpse of eggs in the grassy cup of the beautifully-constructed nest. A few days later large fragments of the eggs were on the lawn so presumably the young had hatched and the parents had removed the egg shells from the nest.

Each curving fragment of egg was glossy in finish and a very pale, clear blue in colour sparsely marked with speckles, squiggles and fine mottling in a diverse pallet of rusty, reddish-browns.

And speaking of lawns, I see the wild grass Sweet Vernal is flowering. The word 'vernal' refers to springtime and the 'sweet' part of its name refers to the lovely aromatic smell that emanates from the plant as it dries after cutting. It is one of our early-flowering native grasses but its sweet smell does not have its full impact until the days become warmer.

With its hint of vanilla, the smell of freshly mown grass is the much-loved experience of early summer as grass cuttings wilt and dry in the warm air on a fine evening.

Wexford People

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