22nd February 2021 – Blossom with history and my first firecrest

It’s an overcast day in South Norwood Country Park but I’ve brought my camera, ever hopeful. Picking our way through the mud, my friend, her dog and I come across a small tree with flowers emerging snowy white just as the sun makes its presence felt. I’m pretty sure this is not a Blackthorn; for starters there aren’t any thorns, and the group of trees where I’ve picked sloes in the past is far less developed. These flowers remind me of a tree growing on the edge of Sydenham Hill Wood which was blossoming about this time last year and has purplish leaves. Unresolved plant identifications niggle away at me and it’s time to deal with this one.

Back at home I think I’ve identified the mystery trees as varieties of Cherry/Myrobalan plum (Prunus cerasifera) which originate in SE Europe. The purple-foliaged one is probably Pissard’s Plum, named after a French gardener who brought it to France from Persia/Iran in the 1880s. Using a 1916 map, it looks like it’s growing on the site of a long-gone Victorian house called Oakover so that would fit with its history. One of my botany gurus agrees with my identifications and I puff up just a little when he says well done.

I wander up the road to see if Pissard’s Plum is in flower now too – it was this time last year – but find that the bronze-coloured buds have a way to go. Presumably last week’s very cold weather is responsible for the delay. I’m so pleased this mystsery is pinned down but there’s still some other garden plant relics in this area of the wood which I’m looking forward to getting to grips with.

Later I’m walking with my daughter in the wood when something in my peripheral vision stops me. We have fantastic views of a Firecrest searching for food on the pewter-smooth bark of an ash sapling. The bird’s dark eye-stripe is clearly and reassuringly visible for a few minutes before I’m dragged away still bubbling with excitement.

The deep satisfaction of learning something new and ending a mystery is in sharp contrast to the immediate thrill of seeing an animal or plant for the first time. One planned one unplanned but both so rewarding.

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