Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 5, 2016

The World of Little Things

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).  Ross Gardner 2016.

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Ross Gardner 2016.

With the words ‘A Greater World of Little Things’ rather fresh in the mind, my attention was easily drawn to an unlikely abundance of life in somewhat unusual circumstances.  Allow me to set the scene.

This week is Leigh Art Trail week, a long established art event that takes place each year in Leigh-on-Sea down on the Essex shore of the gaping Thames Estuary as it prepares to let out into the North Sea.  My partner, Lola Swain, is an exhibitor, displaying her beautiful ceramics at a venue in the town.  This venue, accessed by a short flight of wrought iron steps, led a former life as a small factory which forms, with its neighbouring units, a smallish quadrangle.

An apparently unremarkable place for the naturalist you might think, with much of it receiving scant direct sunlight.   Needless to say, given the general theme of this blog, this was not exactly the case.  The damper qualities of this often shaded location are clearly much favoured by certain things.  The first of these that I noticed was the emerald green spray of a Maidenhair Spleenwort mingled with a sprig of Herb-robert, both of which had found a space between the asphalt on which I was standing and the abutting base of a metal hand rail.  This was, as I soon discovered, one of several species of fern to be found, including a Hart’s-tongue that had found an ideal spot nestled beneath a piece of guttering.  A modest collection, yes, but Southeast Essex is not exactly renowned for its pteridophyte flora.  Looking down onto the concrete floor below and I saw mats of liverwort, thriving where rainwater stands for long enough to afford them the moist conditions that they require.  Here and there were small mounds of mosses and herbaceous plants making the most of the opportunities provide for them.  It occurred to me that the whole place was mimicking hollow within in some limestone cliff or similar naturally formed recess.

A great little world indeed and don’t even get me started on the little things that must throng within it – all those rotifers, nematodes and such like living on the damp surfaces and perhaps even the odd waterbear….

 

Hart's-tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium).  Ross Gardner 2016.

Hart’s-tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium). Ross Gardner 2016.

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