Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's rhododendron time

click photo to enlarge
It's the end of May and the rhododendrons at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire are beginning to display at their best, their large, opulent, very un-English blooms drawing admiring glances from all who pass by. I admire them too. But, having lived in North West England, and having experienced the rhododendron-choked woods of the Forest of Bowland, I also admire the way that the rhododendrons in this Lincolnshire location are periodically controlled, cut back and cleared from areas.

I was reading recently that the horizontal growth and spread of a single rhododendron ponticum can cover 100 square metres. The Victorian landowners, who planted them as cover for their game-birds and as exotic and beautiful additions to their woods and country house grounds, didn't realise the environmental headache they were bequeathing to future generations. These rapidly growing plants quickly spread, denying native plants their space. They have few natural enemies - insects don't like them and rarely damage them, birds are scarce around them for lack of insects, and mammals don't eat their leathery, poisonous leaves. The few rogue sheep or cattle that do usually become sick and often die. In an area of lowland heath such as Woodhall Spa they are particularly problematic because silver birch, a short-lived tree, is common. Consequently when such a tree dies its space is quickly taken and new trees cannot grow up through the rhododendrons due to the lack of light at low levels. If the shrub didn't have such eye-catching flowers rhododendrons would surely have been cleared from woods years ago.

I searched long and hard for this specimen for my photograph. I was looking for a flower in the dark recess of a bush with strong contrast between the light, bright bloom and the darker leaves and shadows. I also wanted a flower with a fairly regular, radiating "ruff" (as I call the ring of leaves). A slight, dark vignette has been added to my shot to emphasise the natural contrast.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 96mm (192mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On