Batsford Encounters

On Saturday in sunshine and with a blue sky we visited Batsford Arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh.

We were drawn there to see the amazing Magnolias, they did not disappoint, they were stunning. Some of the trees are huge and the variety of flowers both in size and shape and colour was fantastic.

Magnolias have been found in the fossil record between 36-58 million years ago. They are an ancient, primitive flowering plant. Unlike modern flowers they don’t have a separate petal and sepal , they are combined and it is called a tepal.

Magnolias existed before bees and they rely on beetles to pollinate them. The beetles are attracted by a pungent smell and eat the protein rich pollen while pollinating.After pollination seeds develop in a cone like structure.

There are 210 species in the magnolia genus. Magnolias are named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol.

They may be primitive but they are very beautiful and the displays at Batsford are amazing.

Another plant that catches the eye on this walk is the Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) This is native in the Pacific North west in America. It is found in Wet woodlands and swamps. At Batsford it is planted along stream banks. They are also a feature at Cambridge Botanic Gardens.

They have an unpleasant pungent smell to attract flies, midges and beetles to pollinate them.In the flower there is a chemical reaction that makes heat that also attracts these pollinators. They grow slowly and can live for 80 years.

A much smaller flower, a feature of damp meadows which was nodding in the breeze is the beautiful Snakes Head Fritillary. These chequerboard petals look unreal as they nod amongst the grass. They were once so common they were picked in bunches by children and sold in London ( like the wild daffodils) The draining of wet meadows and ploughing caused their decline.

It is the county flower if Oxford and can be seen at Iffley Meadows here. With management they can recover . In 1983 there were 500 plants now there are 42,000 flowers in April. Sounds worth a visit soon !

Flying and hovering about were several bees , which turned out not to be bees but bee flies . They were dark edged Bee Flies ( Bombylius major)

These look like and buzz like a bumble bee but they are flies. They have a long proboscis which is used to find nectar in flowers like primroses and violets. There were banks of both these flowers at Batsford.

They are a little gruesome in their reproductive strategy. The female coats her eggs in sand and flicks them into the burrows if solitary mining bees. The larvae feed on the stored pollen but when the solitary bees larvae are almost full grown they attack them and feed off the body fluids , killing them !

A true bumble bee that was also busy amongst the pollen was the Tree Bumble Bee ( Bombus hypnorum)

Batsford is a place to return to through the year as it constantly has new wonders appearing . I’m heading back to see the amazing handkerchief tree in May. Even the pheasants were extra beautiful .

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