Sunday, 22 August 2010

Honey trap

What did British butterflies do before Buddleia davidii came along? The bush is the one sure guarantee of drawing the insects to your garden, yet it only arrived in Europe from China in 1869 when Pere Armand David, that amazing naturalist who was also notable for unusual facial hair - see small pic, sent one to his friend and fellow-naturalist Adrian Franchet in Paris. The plant shares David's name with that of the obscure but delightful-sounding Rev Adam Buddle, a 17th century country parson in Essex who was an expert on mosses and wrote a very good British flora which unfortunately no one would publish in his lifetime.

His is a moral tale for anyone who feels that their talents have not been warmed by the lamp of fame. Thanks to Linnaeus, who named the 100-strong Buddleia family after him, he is now remembered by one of the best-known and loved garden (and bomb site) plants in the world. It has to be added that the US states of Oregon and Washington consider Buddleia davidii a noxious weed because of its formidable invasive powers, but I (and I am sure most people) side with Oxford botanists whose monograph on B.davidii describes its arrival in the UK in 1890 as "in every sense a useful introduction, exploiting a previously unfilled niche, and its development of an associated fauna as well as the attractiveness of its flowers to nectar-feeding insects makes it a welcome addition to the British flora." The Americans may be forgiven, though, as they came up with the very good alternative name for the plant, Orange Eye (look carefully at the florets in the picture above).

Enough of this learning. I mention the Buddleia because we took my Mum and an elderly cousin for lunch yesterday with my Aunty who lives in Boroughbridge (next to the amazing 'Roman ruin village' of Aldborough) and there were Small Whites dancing all over her Buddleia's honey-scented fronds. I was very pleased to get a picture, even though the SW is a common butterfly, as we overwhelmingly get its relative the Green-veined White at home in Leeds, and I haven't photographed a Small White in an age.

The moth trap's contents were very boring last night, but among them was this Mother of Pearl with its antennae neatly folded behind its back. It is unusual in being classified as a micromoth in spite of its size, and notable for that lovely opalescent sheen. I have wanted to mine an opal since reading a children's book called The Opal Seekers at the age of seven, but have yet to visit Australia. One day...

PS in case anyone follows up the reference: I just Googled The Opal Seekers and it wasn't the more recent book with that name by Patricia Shaw, but this (which does indeed sound a rattling good yarn). Extract from the online catalogue of Paul A Whyles Secondhand Books (

Harris, Ray - The Opal Seekers. Children's Press (Collins), not dated, inscribed 1957. When Geoff Mason was given the big Minton sports car for helping M. Henri Montserrat after an accident, he little realised what a large part it would play in his life - how it would transport him and his friends to Western Queensland in search of a particular limestone ridge to look for a fortune, and how it would be largely instrumental in saving his life. And that meeting with M. Montserrat was fortunate in other ways too... Excitement piles on excitement from the moment Geoff finds his home in flames and his uncle hurt. Then there is an armed chase through the night and a train hurtles down the track between pursuers and pursued. It is a thrilling story and Geoff, with his English friend, Blue, and the stalwart aborigine, Dogfoot, battle against almost insuperable odds in their search for opals. How the boys win through holds the reader's attention to the last page.

Indeed! Now here's the moth:


sarah meredith said...

Hi Martin - at the risk of sounding like crazed stalker-fans, I just read this most recent post aloud to Greg and we both agreed that even though the main subject matter of your blog is moths, your entries have the wonderful quality of starting one place and taking the reader on a lovely journey somewhere else totally unexpected! We are at the farm by ourselves this weekend - the offspring being involved in a play in the NYC Fringe, which we have already seen twice - and, like southern England, it is raining here, though not enough to keep the farmers indoors. Two tractors just went by. xxs

MartinWainwright said...

Hooray! You can't comment enough, so far as I am concerned. Pesky Americans, banning Buddleia eh. I always though Oregon was bit peculiar. Sorry you have rain. We are basking in sun, P trimming things as fast as I can plant them, all made even nicer by the thjought of it raining in London.

Actually I like London and Londoners, of whom P is of course one. It's the concentration of power there which makes me happy that they are being soaked.

Get Greg and Tom to try out the Pere David beard and tash look...

xM (and P)