Sunday 9 April 2023

A to Z challenge 2023 – I is for . . .


A to Zchallenge 2023 – I is for . . .

My theme for this challenge is Nature in all much of her wonderful diversity. My posts will reflect the fact that I am resident in the south of England.

All photographs in this post are the property of the writer.


I is for Ilex (holly)

Holly flower buds

Ilex ‘Golden King’ is an evergreen tree with variegated spiny leaves of green and bright gold. Occasionally it produces all gold leaves.

New leaf growth is red 

It is one of the best variegated holly varieties and will thrive in shade, although the leaf colour is better in full sun.

Immature berries
We have always asked a lot of the plants we choose for our garden, colour, scent and beauty for most of the year, but above all, we want them to attract insects and birds. Obviously, we don’t always get it right. Hakuro Nishiki is a case in point – it is the dumb blonde of the UK plant world.
Berries ripe and ready to eat
 In spring ‘Golden King’, which, despite its name, is a female tree, has small white flowers which provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators. The flowers are followed by crimson berries in the autumn.
Blue tits and other small birds seek out insects
Holly berries are a good food source for thrushes and blackbirds. In cold winters they often attract redwings, Britain’s smallest thrush. Redwings (Turdus iliacus) start arriving in the UK from September with the majority reaching these shores in October and November and leaving again in March and April.
Blackbird, ready to feast
Flocks of redwings, ranging in number from 10 to 200 and often accompanying fieldfares, travel across the country looking for food, usually only visiting gardens when it is very cold. Then they fly in and consume vast quantities of berries, often taking command of a food source and denying
the local residents a chance to feast.

A casual observer can mistake redwings for thrushes, but the orange-red patch below each wing and creamy stripe above the eye distinguishes them from our native thrushes.

Redwings migrate during night hours from Iceland, Russia, the Faroes and Scandinavia.

Going . . .

. . . going . . .

 . . . gone!

There is a small resident breeding population of between 50 and 100 pairs in the Scottish highlands. 

Ichneumon wasp

Hiding in ivy

One sunny October day we noticed an insect we’d never seen before, so we photographed it and proceeded to try and identify it. It was about 1” (2.5 cms) long and we discovered that it was an Ichneumon wasp.

It may look a fearsome beast and you could be forgiven for thinking that it had a mighty sting, but, in fact, the Ichneumon wasp does not present any threat to humans.

It is widespread in the UK and is seen from April to November in a variety of habitats from hedges and woods to parks and gardens. The female uses her long ovipositor, which looks just like a stinger, to lay eggs in other insects and spiders. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the host, eventually killing it.

This little wasp seeks shelter in hollow trees or under rocks, or anywhere that gives protection from threats and also allows them easy access to food. The one we saw was making use of brickwork near our front door.

It is a parasitic wasp and more than 20,000 species have been identified worldwide, mostly in temperate climates. It is closely related to bees and ants but, unlike them, lives a solitary life of about ten months.

As a parasitic predator it feeds on other insects and their larvae. It uses its long proboscis to reach the internal organs of organisms. It also has strong mandibles, which it uses to pierce the outer carapaces of its victims. It may also feed on pollen, nectar and aphid secretions.

After mating, the male dies and the female spends several weeks laying hundreds of eggs. Thereafter, she also dies.

It sounds exhausting! 


  1. Holly berries are edible? I did not know that.
    Lol at migrating from Iceland and northern Scotland to England for warmer weather.
    Good sleuthing with the ichneumon wasp. Bloke wasp dies after mating and chick wasp dies after giving birth. Jobs are done, old age is reached and no malingering afterwards on a government pension

  2. I've mislead you, Andrew - I meant ripe and ready to eat for birds. They are toxic to people and possibly fatal to children if eaten in large quantities. Please don't eat them!

  3. We had a holly tree but it was too big for the place hte previous owners had planted it - they kept it clipped, F is not into topiary to keep inappropriate trees in small gardens, and anyway it never ever had berries so it got the chop. Some of it was carved into wooden spoons with interesting contrast between the very white inner wood and the dark sap wood on the outer rings. It makes a super fine finished surface - silky smooth. At least something about holly is not all spikes. (We replaced it with a huge rambling rose - let's hope the rosehips are a better food source for avian visitors than that holly ever was.)

  4. Topiary is interesting in the same way as bonsai . . . in the same vein as binding feet . . .

  5. We used to inherit two giant holly bushes - more like trees - with our small garden. After living with them for a couple of years, we had them removed as they were a constant source of annoyance. Now perhaps if we'd had a larger garden ... The blackbirds enjoyed the berries, though, but there were plenty of those in the - also inherited - Cotoneaster, so no complaints there!
    The Ichneumon wasp does look fearsome indeed. Glad to hear it's harmless! xxx

    1. I think some people don't consider the eventual size of trees before they plant them. You can get away with it in a big garden, but not otherwise . . . and most of us don't have big gardens!

  6. I should get a pack of the wasps for my basement to eat the spiders. No offense to spiders, but I don't want them in my house.

  7. I prefer spiders to stay outside, too.

  8. Beautiful photos. I especially liked the one where the birds swallows the berry.

    Ronel visiting for I:
    My Languishing TBR: I
    Infinite Knowledge: Thoth

  9. They eat the berries so quickly.


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