Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

Saturday was Silverdale Field Day and despite gloomy forecasts the weather managed to stay dry through until quite late in the evening and everything went off well – a great relief. On Sunday TBH was doing a little of her own beating of the bounds, helping to supervise a D of E expedition around Austwick in the Dales. I’d been planning for this all week – I would take the kids to Martin Mere to have a go at their orienteering course, although we had to be back by mid-afternoon to ensure that A could attend an event with the Brownies (a badge was at stake, arriving late could not be countenanced). But then Sunday morning was drab and damp, the kids were quite happy to chill, watch telly, have a lengthy bath, make jigsaws and well…we never got round to setting off.

Since then my friend The Proper Birder, who at the time was exploring the dunes on the coast south of Southport (six different orchids to be seen apparently), has told me that the weather further south in the county was superb. Drat and double drat.

Not to worry: whilst we were eating lunch S suggested (well – if you know S you’ll know that demanded would be more accurate) that we go to an indoor play area in the afternoon. I offered this suggestion to A and B, but they outvoted their brother. Only a walk in the woods would do. I’m not sure whether they genuinely preferred the idea of a walk in the woods or whether they were being charitable, what with it being Father’s day, and my fondness for a walk being common knowledge. I don’t suppose that it really matters what their motivation was – it made me happy either way, and we all enjoyed our walk, even little S.

These flowers can be found on a shrub close to where we entered Eaves Wood, or, as A pointed out, also in our garden. Its Tutsan, and I’ve posted pictures of this plant, at various times of year, on several occasions before. Here’s some of what I said in May 2008:

Tutsan, from the French toute-saine meaning all healthy. Herbalists laid the leaves over wounds and it does have antiseptic properties. Tutsan has a reputation for inducing chastity. Apparently, men should drink infusions made from the plant, and women should spread its twigs below their beds. The leaves when dried are reputed to smell like Ambergris and so it is also called Sweet Amber.

One of my posts featuring this plant is one of the handful of posts which, with no apparent rhyme or reason, has a search-engine drip-fed life long past its sell-by date.

It is a plant which I find fascinating.

I like the way, as here, you can find unopened shiny yellow buds, the showy flowers and a flower seemingly becoming a berry. Also red berries and through much of the year older, dried, black berries. One day I might actually get round to drying some leaves to find what they smell like. I shan’t be able to compare the scent to ambergris. (In case you were wondering, I certainly was: a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish colour produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or excreted by sperm whales – thank you Wikipedia.) But, assuming that there really is a similarity, it would be interesting to find out how what the Chinese called ‘Dragon’s Spittle Fragrance’ smells.

I’ve posted photographs of an insect like this before too. I think its a capsid bug, I’ve found images of the same bug on the internet labelled globiceps cruciatus, but whilst I think that this is probably a globiceps bug, I’m not sure that it’s that particular one.

Having dragged me away from the Tutsan, the kids had their own agenda to pursue – a spot of tree climbing. All wasn’t quite sweetness and light however, since each had their own idea about which characters they should imagine they were – A said Robin Hood and his merry band (soon to feature in the school musical), B said Tom and Elena (from the Beast Quest books – the height of quality literature as far as B is concerned) and S thought Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. Whilst they ‘negotiated’, I found some peace in this speedwell…

…which I think is thyme-leaved speedwell.

But then I thought I might manage to get to grips with dandelion like flowers….


…by taking careful note of the leaves…

So…strong red mid-stem, no long hairs, but never-the-lass hairy. Slightly wavy edge. No red spots – hang on, maybe one or two – could this be spotted cat’s-ear?

Whilst I took that photo this fellow came hurtling past and alighted expertly on this grass stem. You wouldn’t see a finer acrobatic performance in any circus.  It’s a grasshopper, as opposed to a cricket, notice the short stumpy antennae…

..but which kind of grasshopper is still beyond me.

And nearby…

..another dandelion like challenge. Slightly paler flower. And…

Definite red spots, but rounded leaves without teeth. Could this be mouse-ear hawkweed again?


Along the hedgerow on Townsfield ground elder was flowering, and was busy with wasps…

And wasp imitators…

I’m reasonably confident that the near one is myathropa florae, and that the other…

..is a drone fly eristalis tenax.

Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

4 thoughts on “Sweet Amber, Dragon’s Spittle and Wasp Imitators

  1. Is ground elder related to elderflower that’s used to make elderflower cordial, do you know? Would it work to make elderflower cordial?

    I’ve eaten ambergris in a pudding before. It tasted musky.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I think that the brief answers are: no and no. I’ve read that ground elder gets that name becuase of the resemblance of its leaves to those of its namesake. Seeing them flowering together on this walk made me think that it might also be because they flower at the same time in the same sort of places and both with heads of creamy white flowers. I don’t think that ground elder cordial would do you any harm but I don’t think it would have the same delicious taste either.

  2. beatingthebounds says:

    Hi David, thanks. I use an Olympus SP-560UZ. I sometimes think that I would like a DSLR, but the Olympus is versatile, compact and was relatively cheap so I shall be sticking with it, for now at least. (And probably until my big win on the premium bonds which will happen any day now I’m sure.)

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