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Remember Remember the Whole of November

Updated on August 4, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

November derives via old French from the Latin word "novem" meaning nine. It refers to the fact that it was the ninth month of the old Roman calender, which began in March. The Anglo-Saxons referred to it as blot-monat meaning the month of blood, alluding to the slaughter of cattle during the month which they would conserve to keep them well fed through the coldest winter months.

Extremes of weather are common place in November in England with the wind and rain being interrupted by calm misty mornings. Should you be inclined to venture into the countryside, far enough to be out of ear shot of traffic, the silence can be eerie. At such times it is easier to relate to the medieval mind which held a great fear and respect for the spirits and goblins thought to roam the countryside..

Medieval people were very superstitious and there are still echoes of this in our every day lives. A good example of this is evident in the expression " touch wood" for luck. It derives from the archaic belief that spirits dwelled in oak trees. The trunks were touched in order to appease them. Birch was regarded as a sacred tree and crosses were carved from the wood while the foliage was hung around the necks of cattle to ward off evil spirits. Elder was planted among the burial places of murderers in the belief that the roots would soak up the corruption from the ground. There is hardly a part of our fauna which escaped the attention of folklore which adds interest to the subject.

One of my favourite rhymes associated with November is an attempt to predict the weather.



November will see the last of the leaves fall from deciduous trees as the winds disrobe them of their autmn splendour. All our summer visitors have left for sunnier climes, while many of our native creatures will be preparing for hibernation.

Hibernation is an energy saving devise that nature has evolved to see many of our creatures through the rigours of winter.By doing so creatures save 90% of the energy needed for normal every day life. Insectivores including all our native species of bats have little choice but to hibernate as insect activity diminishes. Amphibians are not true hibernators, for they are cold blooded creatures, but they do enter a state of torpidity. Their favourite locations are small mammal burrows, under garden sheds or in the gaps and crannies of paving stones, in the wider countryside they will choose logs in which to hide.

There are misconceptions concerning hibernation. One of them is the belief that hibernating animals should be kept warm when the opposite is true.Hibernation has complex affects on animals bodies. Chemicals that are produced change dramatically. The warmer the body is the more energy is required. For example an animal kept at say 15 degrees would burn more fat reserves than an animal would do kept at 5 degrees. Research has shown that the ideal temperature for a hibernating hedgehog is 4 degrees, maintaining a temperature just above freezing.

Another misconception is that animals go to sleep in November and do not wake up until the following spring. Bats will take to the wing during milder spells and hedgehogs are known to wake up at least once during hibernation and change nests.

Most trees face the grey drab winter alone in their nakedness { apart from evergreens} with the exception of young oaks and beech which cling doggedly to their copper-bronze, brittle leaves throughout the winter. The naked trees robbed of their autumn splendour give the impression that their roll in the countryside has finished for another year. However, neither the trees or the leaves have abandoned their usefulness as far as wild life is concerned. Throughout the summer the foliage has accumulated dead insects and bird droppings which along with the leaves will be turned into nutrients by a plethora of insects that thrive in the soil and dank leaf litter on the woodland floor.These nutrients are then returned to the tree through the roots and the annual cycle continues.

Winter Woodland Greenery

One of the woodland plants that remain constant during the drab months is the ivy which carpet the shadiest of banks, seeking out a host to climb, using sucker-like rootlets it will eventually reach the top of our tallest native trees. The Common Ivy

Hedera helix is the only British member of a large family of plants which belong to the Araliaceae. The majority of these plants grow in the tropical regions.Many people associate the common ivy with the poison ivy Rhus radicans which is incorrect for that plant is an American species that belongs to a another family of plants.

Although common ivy will thrive in dense shade it does need good light to produce flowers, hence its climbing habit. When the plant reaches the height where the light is strong enough the shoots attain different shaped foliage. The typical 3-5 lobed leaves give way to leaves with wavy edges that are more oval and can be almost egg-shaped. Another notable change is that the shoots begin to bind together as opposed to climbing. These shoots lack the " suckers " but do bare flowers. The small humbles have globular heads that begin to form during mid-summer onwards. Nature has deemed that the flowers develop slowly and they will only bloom from mid-September through to October. Many insects, in particular hover flies, bees and wasps are attracted along with the peacock and red admiral butterflies. Indeed, so many of these industrious insects can converge on the ivy that the whole plant seems to be moving.

When the berries are ripe and attain a black colouring during January and February they help to feed many species of birds, particularly wood pigeons and jays along with many other garden favourites, through this critical period of the English winter.

Unlike the honey suckle { wood bine } ivy does not " strangle " trees, nor is it a parasite as are fungi and mistletoe. In days gone by cups were carved from the thick lower stems, from which children drank milk in the belief that this would cure whooping cough. It was also held in high regard as a plant employed to ward of evil spirits and house goblins.

Although ivy does not directly kill trees, it can damage them by becoming to heavy for weaker branches. Foresters do not like ivy due to the extra work involved after the tree has been felled. The cladding of this tenacious climber having to be stripped off the trunk. However, conservationists are in favour of ivy for it is an important part of the British flora.

The old stone wall behind our cottage is covered with ivy which, during the spring, attracts many nesting birds. It is true that ivy needs to be trimmed back on a regular basis in order to keep it under control. Yet personally I believe it well worth the time and labour involved, for in return the ivy will attract the wildlife of which I am so fond.

FOOTNOTE---- Ivy is not a plant that you would desire growing on the walls of your house, and certainly not upon your roof, for this plant will readily lift the slates and may cause considerable damage !

This Is No Poison Ivy !



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you Shalini for your much appreciated comment.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      8 years ago from India

      Thank you, D.A.L.! That made for such a great read - you really do bring Nature to life!


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