There is a unique fascination about sharks that seems to grip both young and old alike. Whether its their cold, bloodless eyes, or their ability to sense prey from the slightest drop of blood, there is something about a sharks ruthless ability to hunt down and attack its prey that captures the imagination.

While the smaller sharks can do an excellent job of looking mean, its the larger ones that you need to keep an eye one - especially if they rip you in half with a single, playful bite!

Of course the bigger the shark, the more scary it is - just look at the film 'Jaws', but what is the worlds biggest shark?

Well, if you are looking at an all time record you will need to go back in time 28 to 1.5 million years ago. There - during the the Cenozoic Era  - you could meet the largest ever predatory shark, the exceptionally dangerous Carcharodon megalodon.

This utter beast of a shark is estimated to be around 16 m (53 ft) long, with a mouth approximately 2 m (6 ft) wide.

Today the world's largest living predatory shark is the infamous 'Great White' shark, with the biggest individuals known to have approached or exceeded 6 metres (20 ft) in length, and 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lb) in weight

It is one of the primary predators of marine mammals as well as a variety of other marine creatures including fish, pinnipeds, and seabirds. It is now the only known surviving species of its genus, Carcharodon, and is ranked first in a list of number of recorded attacks on humans.

However, the largest shark in the world alive today is the the Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus. Unlike either if the first two sharks mentioned, this giant species is a slow-moving filter feeding shark.

The largest confirmed individual was 12.65 metres (41.50 ft) in length and the heaviest weighed more than 36 tonnes (79,000 lb), however there have been unconfirmed claims reports of considerably larger whale sharks.

The whale shark is found in tropical and warm oceans, lives in the open sea with a lifespan of about 70 years.

Originating from about 60 million years ago, they feed mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton, microscopic plants and animals. However, the BBC program Planet Earth filmed a whale shark feeding on a school of small fish.

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There is nothing even close to a specimen banana plant to bring that exotic, tropical feel to your garden. And now, with ever hardy varieties becoming available, the reality of growing a banana all year round - without cold protection - is becoming more of a reality. Unfortunately, suitably hardy bananas can be both elusive to find and expensive, but if you decide to grow hardy bananas from seed all this can change.

Growing Hardy Bananas from Seed

Hardy banana seed can be sown at anytime of year so long as you can break its seed dormancy. To achieve this, soak the seeds for 24 hours in warm water before planting.

Using either a seed tray of modular tray, fill with a good quality seed compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’. Then using a dibber – or an old pencil as in my case - sow the hardy banana seed ¼in deep. Backfill the hole with a little more compost then water thoroughly. Allow the excess water to drain then seal the tray inside a polythene bag in order to keep the compost moist. Now place the tray in a warm area while the seeds germinate. Be aware that germination is slow and erratic and even at a temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius banana seeds can take 1-6 months to germinate.

It is worth mentioning here that most banana seed will respond well to fluctuations in temperature. If you have both the time and the facilities, consider give your seeds alternating temperatures of 19 hours cool and 5 hours warm. You will find that some species will respond well to larger fluctuations of temperature – between 35 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees Celsius, while others are better with less severe fluctuations 25 Celsius – 15 Celsius or even 20 Celsius -15 Celsius. However, do not go much below 12 degrees Celsius as this can place your hardy banana seed back into dormancy.Perhaps the easiest way to produce your fluctuating temperatures is keep your seeded trays in a heated propagator. Switch it on during the day and turn it off at night. If your night temperatures are too cold then have the propagator on a night and turned off during the day.

Tropical species of banana will do better with a constant temperature between 20 and 35 Celsius - depending on the variety. Fresh seed will always be the best, although it has been known for banana seed to germinate at room temperature after being stored for 2 years! There are still a lot of unknowns with regards to germinating banana seeds, but the following research may be of help to you.

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 35 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

Musa Helen's Hybrid 21%
M. Sikkimensis 23%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 0%
M. flaviflora 3%
M. Formosana 4%
E. Glaucum 1%

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 25 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

E. Glaucum 24%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 30%
M. Sikkimensis 34%
M. Helens Hyb. 11%
M. Flaviflora 7%
M. Formosana 0%

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 21 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

M. sikkimensis 3%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 27%
E. glaucum 18%
M Helens Hyb. 30%
M. flaviflora 15%
M. Formosana 2%

It should be noted that further germination will occur so long as you have the patience to wait for it – including the difficult Musa Formosa which eventually germinated about 50% of all seeds sown.

As each seed germinates, lift carefully from the tray so as to prevent any damage to the juvenile root system, and transfer it to a 3 in pot of good quality, free draining compost. Pot on as required because the larger the container the larger your banana plant will grow.

Grow on in warm well lit conditions. During summer they can be stood outside or planted in the border but should be brought into well lit frost free conditions for the winter when it should be kept moderately dry. Some discolouration of the leaf ends may occur through the winter months but this won't harm the plant.

For related articles click onto the following links:
MUSA BASJOO - The World's Hardiest Banana
MUSA LASIOCARPA - The Chinese dwarf banana
THE DARJEELING BANANA - Musa sikkimensis
THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’


Tomato blight is a disease caused by a fungus-like organism which spreads rapidly in the foliage and fruit of tomatoes - typically in wet weather, causing them to collapse and decay.

In particular, it is a serious disease outdoor tomatoes, but not as common on tomatoes grown in greenhouses.

Blight is specific to tomatoes and potatoes, and some ornamental relatives of these two crops are also susceptible. Cases have been recorded on some ornamental Solanum species as well as bedding Petunias.

Symptoms of Tomato Blight

The initial symptom of blight on tomatoes is a rapidly spreading, watery rot of leaves which soon collapse, shrivel and turn brown. During humid conditions, a fine white fungal growth may be seen around the edge of the lesions on the underside of the leaves. Brown lesions may also develop on the stems. If allowed to spread unchecked, the disease will begin to attack the fruit. This is recognised by brown patches appearing on green fruit. If infected, the more mature fruits will decay rapidly.

How to Control Tomato Blight

Perhaps the biggest problem with blight on tomatoes is with its cousin the humble potato. With the majority of potato varieties being highly susceptible to this virulent fungus, the late summer air is full of pathogenic spores just waiting for a suitable host plant to infect. It's Unfortunate that the closely related tomato plant more than readily fits the bill.

This can be a particular problem with tomatoes, especially when grown outside in the more temperate regions of the country. With the late cropping of most true outdoor varieties – and even later cropping if glasshouse varieties are grown outside – the ripening fruit will often coincide with the seasonal incidence of ‘Late Blight’. If the late summer season is particularly hot and humid, your tomato crops will probably stand little hope of survival and your years worth of work can end up as another pile being burned at the local incinerator.

Because infection is so dependent on specific combinations of temperature and rainfall,  periods of high risk  can be predicted accurately. To find out when your tomatoes are at their greatest risk it is worth contacting your local horticultural advisory service. You will be able to access these warnings (visit the Potato Review website), but because this information is more for the commercial grower you must rely on a more restricted range of protectant fungicides containing copper (Bordeaux Mixture or Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control), as the more effective systemic products will not be approved for amateur use.

As a safety net, when wet weather is forecast from June onwards, begin applications of protectant sprays as a matter of course.

For related articles click onto the following links:
How to Grow Giant Tomatoes
HOW TO RECOGNISE POTATO BLIGHT - Phytophthora infestans


Tomatoes are the mainstay of sandwich fillers, healthy salads and the starting point for many popular dishes. The trouble is that the tomatoes you buy in the supermarkets are grown to a set of standards - none of which seem to include flavour! So don't be surprised when you cut open your shop bought tomato and find that it is watery and tasteless! You don't think so? Then try eating a naturally produced tomato that has been grown in soil rather than scientifically produced in inert rockwool and fed on drip irrigation!

So, how do you grow tomatoes from seed?

The fact is tomatoes are one of the easiest crops to produce, and so as long as you have a place outside that gets some sun then there is no reason why you can't grow your own.

To make the most of your new seasons tomato crop you can start off your seeds early indoors or in a heated greenhouse – usually about six to eight weeks before the last frosts are anticipated. In Great Britain this would usually be around May.

If you are not sure when would be a safe time to put them out where you live a good guideline would be to put your tomato plants out when average day temperatures are reaching over 20 degrees Celsius and nights aren't dropping below 10 degrees Celsius. Be careful though, because if you start too early your seedlings can outgrow their pots resulting in weak, "leggy" plants. If they end up being planted outdoors in this condition then valuable time is wasted while the plants devote energy to recovering their health, rather than to normal growth and flower production.

Sowing the Seed

Tomato seed is quite easy to handle and is best germinated using a standard seed tray filled with John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost. Space the seed evenly and then cover with about 1.5mm of compost. Tomato seedlings will usually germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C . For the best sowing times, see the recommendations listed in 'greenhouse' or 'outdoor' cultivation below. Pot tomato seedlings on when they are large enough to handle without the need to touch the stem.

Just by handling the leaves, transplant them carefully into 3 inch pots using John Innes No.1 potting compost. If only a few plants are required, sow two seeds into a 3 inch pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. Take care not to let the plant and seedlings get cold as frost, cold winds and draughts will cause the plants to turn bluish and in most cases die. If you live in a cold area wait a few extra weeks until the air temperature has risen. Check the compost at all stages for dryness. This is vital in the initial stages of germination as drought can cause poor germination or failure to germinate at all. If this is the case, add a little clean water from below, being careful not to over water. Too much water can kill seedlings just as easily, as it can spread water borne fungal diseases such as 'damping off'

Greenhouse Cultivation

For greenhouse tomatoes first pick a recommended variety such as 'Santa', 'Matador', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Supersteak' and sow as directed on the individual seed packet. This will generally be from late December/early January onwards and straight into 3 inch pots.

Plant the young plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your greenhouse border make sure you have dug in plenty of organic compost during the winter.

If you have used the border before for tomatoes, it is better to change the soil or sterilise it before using it for tomatoes again. This will help avoid soil pests and root diseases becoming a problem.

Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a grow bag or pot just remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag.

Outdoor Cultivation

For growing tomatoes outside, first pick a recommended variety such as 'Gardeners Delight', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Sweet 100' or try 'Tumbler' in a flower pouch or hanging basket.

Wait until approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost is forecast and sow as directed on the individual seed packet in 7.5cm (3in) pots.

When all risk of frost has past and when the plants are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open, you can plant them out. If you are planting into your border make sure you have dug in plenty of garden compost or peat during the winter. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a grow bag or pot remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag

Training Plants

How to train or when to pick your fruit will depend on the varieties and types of tomatoes grown. Cordon (indeterminate) varieties will need their side shoots removed, determinate varieties may stop flower production after several trusses, but upward growth can be carried on by training up the topmost side shoot.

Bush varieties will remain low and will not need their side shoots removal. Tomatoes require a lot of water and feed to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. Feed with a general liquid feed until the first truss is formed then alternate with a high potash feed. This will encourage more flowers and fruit.

For related articles click onto the following links:
How to Grow Giant Tomatoes


This is surely a question that has been asked an innumerable amount of times once the Christmas period is over, and why wouldn't it be? If you have taken the time and effort to secure the best specimen for your hard earned cash, then why not try and keep it for next years Christmas when it is bound to be bigger and better and for no extra cost!

Well, you can replant up a Christmas tree after Christmas, but it will only survive so long as two simple conditions have been met.

The first is that the tree still has an intact and viable root system.

The second is that the tree has been kept in a cool environment and watered when necessary.

Whether your Christmas tree has a root system or not, if it has been kept in a hot room over the Christmas period, or worst still, near a working radiator or open fire, then you have a problem. Your precious tree would have almost certainly dried out to such a point that it won't survive New Years Eve, let alone next Christmas! If this is the case, it will not worth the effort of planting it up for next year - you tree will effectively be dead.

With regards to Christmas trees it is all about preventing them from drying out. Why, because if they do dry out the tree will drop its needles.

Cut Christmas trees

To keep it simple, most Christmas trees sold over the Christmas period come without a root system so that they readily fit into most Christmas tree stands.

These are known as cut Christmas trees and will not produce a new root system - however deep you plant it!

To help keeps its needles on for as long as possible it is worth giving the tree a fresh cut at its base, and then keep it in a stand that holds water. That way, it has a chance of drawing up some of the water into its trunk and slow down the risk of it drying out and dropping its needles.

Bare-root Christmas trees

These are worth buying as by having at least some of its roots still intact will enable it to keep its leaves/needles on for longer. However the key factor here is how much root has been left on. Too little and the Christmas tree will suffer the same consequence as a cut tree. Just enough root and there is a chance that your tree will survive if planted up in a container of soil from the onset. Plant it up in a pot filled with soil/compost and remember to regularly watered. At the very least, this will help to keep its needles on for as long as possible.

Potted Christmas trees

A potted Christmas tree is one that has been grown in the ground, then lifted with some of its root still intact. Like the bare root trees, the key factor here is how much root has been left on. Too little and the potted tree will suffer the same consequence as a cut tree. Just enough root and there is a good chance that your tree will survive if left in its container.

Keep it outside for a couple of months after the Christmas holiday and with a bit of luck your potted tree with root into its pot. Then - should you wish to - it can be planted directly into the ground.

Pot grown Christmas trees

Pot grown Christmas are your best hope of having a tree survive after Christmas. So long as they are adequately watered and kept in a cool position over the holiday period, they should still be in a perfect condition to cope with the great outdoors. Kept in its pot, or planted in the ground - the choice is yours.

For related articles click onto the following links:
Christmas Tree


Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans related to lobsters, and there are two main species in UK - the native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), and the non-native American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus).

Originally the Signal crayfish was commercially bred in this country for the restaurant trade but about 25 years ago a handful managed to find their way into the waterways across England and Wales. Today, populations of Signal crayfish can be found as far south as Cornwall and are now making their way up into areas of Scotland causing devastation amongst our native populations of the smaller and less aggressive white-clawed crayfish. Not just confined to the water, Signal crayfish also have a habit of walking overland in a search for new feeding and breeding ‘grounds’ which is why they have been able to colonise such large areas of the country so quickly.

The Sgnal crayfish is a voracious predator and extremely damaging to sensitive environments as it will eat almost anything it finds including plants, other invertebrates, snails, small fish and fish eggs. It is also cannibalistic and quite happy to make a meal of its own young. The Signal crayfish also digs burrows up to three feet long into river banks where each year a single female can lay more than 250 eggs at a time. At a time of increased flooding risk, areas where there are significant numbers of Signal crayfish have seen their once stable river banks collapse.

Trapping crayfish for food in the UK only involves the signal crayfish, which can be up to 25cm long with claws extended. The native crayfish is never more than a few centimetres long.

Why eat signal crayfish?

Firstly,eating wild caught crayfish pretty much guarantees food that does not contain pesticides, fertilisers, hormones or genetic modification - or least you hope it doesn't.

Secondly, the American crayfish is causing problems for both the native crayfish and for British waterways. Signal crayfish out compete native crayfish because they are bigger, their eggs hatch earlier in the year, females lay up to 500 eggs (the native crayfish lays around 200), and they are less fussy about what they eat. In addition, the signal crayfish carries a fungal disease (Aphanomyces astaci, commonly called the crayfish plague) that kills the native crayfish. Luckily for us it is not harmful to humans. American crayfish also damage the local environment by burrowing into the banks of rivers and streams to build their homes. At the very least this causes erosion of the river banks - at worst, it causes their collapse!

What do you need to catch crayfish?

There are byelaws covering the trapping of crayfish, and what you can do depends on local circumstances - especially if there are native crayfish in your area. Contact the Environment Agency to ask about your local circumstances, or you can get a crayfish trapping advice pack from the National Fisheries Laboratory on 01480 483968. You will need Environment Agency tags on your trap for it to be legal.

The Environment Agency's concerns are that if people are allowed to catch crayfish for food, they will be sold to the restaurant trade, and because there is money to be made, some people might 'seed' rivers and streams that don't have signal crayfish, so that they can be harvested in the future. Crayfish traps are easy enough to buy on line or - depending on whether the Environment Agency allow it in your area - you can make your own trap. Just be aware that trapping crayfish is a summer activity. In winter, they will be hibernating in the river banks. And remember, they best time to catch crayfish is at night!

How to trap a crayfish

Keep in mind that Crawfish are picky eaters, and have no doubt about that! Therefore choose yoru bait carefully. Freshness is the keyword and it MUST be fish based. You can try chicken or cat food but you will not get the same results.

Crayfish also have large apitites, you take it into account when baiting your trap. When crayfish season it at its peak, a commercial size trap should have at least a pound of bait in it.

For the best results use salmon heads with gills, herring, shad, cod heads with guts. But make sure that it is as fresh as you can get it. If the bait is starting to turn, throw it away. Keep your bait frozen until you are ready to use it, then freeze what you have left if it's still good. If you don't have access to this type of bait and most don't you'll need to find some type of fish which is extremely oily and probably local. Carp works well, as do most of the fish you can catch with rod and reel. However, bullheads and catfish are not liked by crayfish.

While a lot of fish are not very oily in their flesh, their heads and guts will still work fine as an effective crayfish bait.

As mentioned before, don't bother with chicken, beef, pork, dog or cat food - they are a very poor substitue.  Also avoid using bait jars unless you have specially formulated bait to put in it. Bait boxes on the other hand will work well provided they are made out of at least 1/2 inch mesh.

Always check your traps the following day, and if you find anything elsi other than signal crayfish, let it go. Furthermore, don't leave a baited trap in a watercourse for more than 24 hours, in case something other than a crayfish gets trapped in it. Let any native crayfish go, but if you catch small signal crayfish, don’t put them back as it is illegal to put them back, once caught - you have been warned. Be aware that Signal crayfish are cannibals, and if you remove only big ones, there will be nothing to keep the numbers of small ones down. Perhaps the Environment Agency in Scotland have urged fishermen to kill signal crayfish on sight.

Look for areas which may provide cover for the crawfish such as rocks, roots, etc. Not only do these areas provide cover for the crayfish but the algae which grows in these areas is also a food base for the crayfish. These areas also give the crayfish a good place to hide while hunting for fish fry and any other moving critter they can capture and eat alive. It is pretty amazing how crawfish can catch even a six inch fish and hold it with their big pincers while they eat the poor fish while it tries to get away.

When taking them out of the trap, remember to keep your fingers away from their pincers. Either keep them in tubs of tap water for a couple of days to purge them of any food in their intestines, or remove them as per the video above.

How to cook crayfish

Boil crayfish in a large pan of water. You can tip them straight in as they are killed instantly.

Simmer for around 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave in the water for another 2 minutes. They turn pink when they are cooked, and look like mini-lobsters (which they are).

The edible parts of the crayfish are the tail and the claws.

First, pull and separate the head and tail. Next, pull off the legs, then grab the end of the flesh sticking out of the tail casing and pull. Sometimes there will be pink eggs - you can eat those too. But give it a bit of a rinse to get rid of all traces of intestines and food.

To remove the flesh from the claws, place them on a hard surface and hit sharply with the back of a knife to crack them open. Grab the end of the flesh and pull it out of the claw.

You can serve crayfish with rice, toast, mayonnaise and/or any number of sauces. It looks and tastes a bit like prawn. In fact, there are plenty of recipes out there.

For a meal for one person, you'd probably need the meat of 5 crayfish.


Charles Darwin was a gifted naturalist, a prolific writer and author, and one of the most important figures in the history of science. Born on February 12th 1809 in Shropshire, England, he was grandson to Erasmus Darwin - a famous natural philosopher, and Josiah Wedgwood - known for the industrialization of the production of pottery.

Darwin's scientific career began in 1825 as an apprentice doctor moved home to Scotland in order to study medicine at Edinburgh University. However, Darwin became disinterested in this subject and neglected his medical studies to spend time on his latest fascination for taxonomy - the classification of living things, and marine invertebrates  In 1828, Darwin was sent to Cambridge with the intention of studying for a Bachelor of Arts, but once again his focus became diverted, concentrating his energies on beetle collecting, botany, geology and natural philosophy.

Perhaps the cornerstone event of Darwin's life was a five year voyage around the world on the ship HMS Beagle. This voyage took place between 1831 and 1836, and while the ship's primary mission was to survey and chart coasts  to survey and chart the South American coastlines, Darwin was able to study the geology of areas visited, and amass a vast collection of natural history specimens.

Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, was probably the main inspiration for his later ideas. Of these, the most important and best known, was his theory of evolution by natural selection. Although, evolutionary ideas had been common since at least the 18th century, Darwin was able to describe how the process of natural selection (Darwin's theory of how which evolution occurred) by presenting overwhelming arguments and clear evidence of his position. This path of scientific discovery was backed by extensive 'evolution-based' experimentation.

Most of his experimental work on plants, worms, and barnacles has been well documented - including being published by the great man himself. However, there is one little-known experiment that Darwin undertook, The results of which could be truly ground breaking with regards to securing a future of our planet. It is also an experiment that surprisingly is still ongoing. The subject of this study was terraforming - something that would perhaps be more fitting in a science fiction movie! The story of Charles Darwin's greatest experiment is as follows:

Charles Darwin and Ascension Island

Back in 1836, the young Charles Darwin was coming to the end of his five-year survey mission on the HMS Beagle. Whilst aboard HMS Beagle, he called in on St Helena, an island of volcanic origin situated in the South Atlantic Ocean. Its existence - as well  as that of Ascension Island - depends entirely on what geologists call the mid-Atlantic ridge. This is a chain of underwater volcanoes formed as oceanic plates are wrenched apart.

It was previously in possession of the East India Company while Napoleon I was in exile there, but after his death in 1821, control of St Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. It was now an important and strategic British naval station

Darwin wasn't expecting much upon his arrival at St Helena, and even less for his next port of call.

'We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder.' Joked one of residents of St Helena before his departure.

When Darwin reached Ascension Island he described it as an arid treeless island, with nothing growing near the coast. Everywhere, bright red volcanic cones and rugged black lava signalled the violent forces that had wrought the island. However, the sparse vegetation inland did manage to support...

‘...about six hundred sheep, many goats, a few cows and horses, and large numbers of guinea fowl imported from the Cape Verde islands, as well as rats, mice and land crabs...’

Darwin also noted the care taken to sustain the houses, gardens and fields with good drinking water. These natural springs were carefully managed...

'...so that a single drop of water may not be lost: indeed the whole island may be compared to a huge ship kept in first-rate order.'

In commenting on this, he noted René Primevère Lesson's remark

‘...that the English nation alone would have thought of making the island of Ascension a productive spot; any other people would have held it as a mere fortress in the ocean...’

And he was right because the Navy was extremely serious about expanding. The trouble was that this shortage of fresh water was a serious problem as it impeded any further expansion by the Royal navy of this prized, imperial outpost. Luckily, a rather cunning plan was beginning to hatch at the back of Darwin's mind. A plan that would that could change the entire Island ecology, environment and climate!

In 1843, botanist, explorer, and future Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Joseph Hooker also visited the island. Then four years later, Hooker - with a great deal of persuasion and encouragement from Darwin - advised the Royal Navy that with the help of Kew Gardens, they should institute a long term plan of shipping trees to Ascension. Darwin's idea was fantastically simple, and a true insight into his genius. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The 'cinder island' wasn't just to be an enormous, government funded garden. Charles Darwin, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy had conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem!

So, from 1850 and continuing year on year, ships came each depositing a varied assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Argentina, Europe and South Africa. And it didn't take long, soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, and banana trees were in lush profusion at the highest point of the island, Green Mountain, creating a tropical cloud forest.

Professor David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle, is retraced Darwin's travels for a book he was writing. He tells of a letter that was awaiting Darwin on his arrival at Ascension Island from his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow.

'Darwin's voyage of discovery had already caused a huge sensation in London.' explains Catling. 'In this letter Henslow had assured him that on his return, he would take his place among the great men of science.'

How right he would be. Yet could Darwin's secret garden have more far-reaching consequences?

Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island's strange ecosystem. He had the following to say during a recent interview with the BBC.

'I remember thinking, this is really weird.There were all kinds of plants that don't belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened.'

Darwin's artificial forest captures moisture from clouds that drift over Ascension's peaks creating a damp oasis where there was once just aridity. Dr Wilkinson likes to describe the forest vegetation of  Green Mountain - Ascensions highest peak - as a 'cloud forest'.

Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of coevolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.

Dr Wilkinson exclaimed: 'This is really exciting! What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error.'

Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it 'find its own way'. However, to date, scientists have been deaf to the parable of Ascension Island.

'It's a terrible waste that no-one is studying it.' remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.

It seems that Ascension Island's secret will be safe for years to come or - with current concerns of climate change, deforestation and recent evidence of increased extinctions - will Darwin's greatest experiment help to save us all?



Clematis are amongst some of the most beautiful flowering plants that money can buy. The trouble is that some of the more impressive varieties will cost you quite a bit of money, while other more interesting varieties - such as the Clematis sieboldii shown above - are few and far between. However, help is at hand as you can take cuttings from any specimen that takes your fancy - if you can find it. Just remember to ask for permission from the owner first!

How to grow clematis from cuttings

Clematis will grow best from softwood cuttings carried out over April, May and June. Careful though as these cuttings should only be taken from the mid section of a length of vine. Why? Because the tips will be too soft and the base will be too hard.

Before you begin propagating, the importance of good hygiene should be considered and then remembered throughout the entire propagating process. With this in mind make sure that you are using fresh rooting hormone, a sterilised, sharp knife, and a clean container filled with freshly made up soluble fungicide.

Using 3 inch pots - preferably terracotta - fill with a good quality cutting compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Gently firm down the compost then top off with a thin layer of horticultural grit. Water the pots with a soluble fungicide and allow to drain.

Now you can prepare a section of clematis vine - start with a piece about 3ft long -  by cutting through it immediately above a leaf joint and again a couple of inches below the same node - the place on a plant stem where a leaf is attached. Repeat this until you have you required amount of propagation material.  Now, to prevent your freshly cut shoots from wilting, place them into a plastic bag moistened with water to help to keep your material fresh.

To help reduce moisture loss from within the cutting before they get to root, you can remove all of the leaves from one side of the cutting. If the leaves are very large then you may also wish to consider cutting these in half. How you decide to do this will depend on the size of the leaves and how many of them there are.

Completely immerse your cuttings in the fungicide mix, allow to drain off, then dip the base of each cutting into the rooting hormone powder. Insert each cutting into compost until the leaf joint is at the same level as the grit. label the pot.

Place your potted cuttings in a well lit area, but out of direct sunlight. Help to maintain a humid atmosphere place the potted cuttings under a propagator lid.

Applying basal heat of approximately 20 degrees Celsius will also promote new root growth, but it is not essential. Keep the compost moist and the cuttings should root in about 4 weeks. You can check this by looking for roots emerging through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Another good indicator is when the leaves appear to perk up.

If your cuttings have taken well, then they can be re-potted by the end of the summer, otherwise pot them up to a larger sized pot next spring. Your rooted clematis cuttings will still need to be grown on for another year before they are of a decent size to be planted directly into the ground outside.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CLEMATIS montana 'Grandiflora'
CLEMATIS MONTANA var. grandiflora
Clematis florida 'Sieboldii'
THE BLUE CLEMATIS - Clematis x jackmanii


Of all the insect groups, we are probably most familiar with the butterflies and moths. We see moths fluttering around our porch lights, and watch butterflies visiting flowers in our gardens.

However, there is no real taxonomic difference between butterflies and moths, and both are classified in the order Lepidoptera. This order contains over 100 families of insects worldwide, some of which are moths and some of which are butterflies. However, there are some differences in physical and behavioural characteristics that are easy to learn and recognize.

Below is a concise list of the most obvious differences, but as with most rules there are exceptions.

The physical differences between moths and butterflies

The most obvious difference is in the feelers, or antennae. Most butterflies have thin slender filamentous antennae which are club-shaped at the end. Moths, on the other hand, often have comb-like or feathery antennae, or filamentous and unclubbed. This distinction is the basis for the earliest taxonomic divisions in the Lepidoptera:, separating them into the following two groups:

The Rhopalocera - 'clubbed horn', the butterflies, and

The Heterocera - 'varied horn', the moths.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule and a few moths - the families Castniidae, Uraniidae, Apogonidae, and Sematuridae - have clubbed antennae. Some butterflies, like Pseudopodia paradoxa from the forests of central Africa, lack the club ends. The Hesperiidae often have an angle to the tip of the antenna.

Wing-coupling mechanisms

Many moths have a frenulum which is a filament arising from the hindwing and coupling (matching up) with barbs on the forewing. The frenulum can be observed only when a specimen is in hand. Some moths have a lobe on the forewing called a jugum that helps in coupling with the hindwing. Butterflies however lack these structures.


Most moth caterpillars spin a cocoon made of silk within which they metamorphose into the pupal stage. Most butterfly caterpillars, on the other hand, form an exposed pupa, also termed a chrysalis.

There are many exceptions to this rule, however. For example, the Hawk moths form an exposed chrysalis which is underground. Gypsy moths sometimes form butterfly-style pupae, hanging on twigs or tree bark, although usually they create flimsy cocoons out of silk strands and a few leaves, partially exposing the chrysalis. A few Skipper butterfly larvae also make crude cocoons in which they pupate, exposing the pupa a bit. The Parnassius butterfly larvae make a flimsy cocoon for pupation and they pupate near the ground surface between debris.

Colouration of the wings

Most butterflies have bright colours on their wings. Nocturnal (active at night) moths on the other hand are usually plain brown, grey, white or black and often with obscuring patterns of zigzags or swirls which help camouflage them from predators as they rest during the day. However, many day-flying moths are brightly-coloured, particularly if they are toxic. These diurnal (active during the day) species evolved to locate their mates visually and not primary by pheromone as their drab nocturnal cousins. A few butterflies are also quite plain-coloured, like the Cabbage White butterfly.

Structure of the body

Moths tend to have stout and hairy or furry-looking bodies, while butterflies have slender and smoother abdomens. Moths have larger scales on their wings which makes them look more dense and fluffy. Butterflies on the other hand possess fine scales. This difference is possibly due to the need for moths to conserve heat during the cooler nights whereas butterflies are able to absorb solar radiation.

The behavioral differences between moths and butterflies

Most moths are nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (primarily during dusk and dawn), while most butterflies are diurnal (active during the day). There are however exceptions, including the diurnal Gypsy moth and the spectacular "Uraniidae" or Sunset moths.

Moths usually rest with their wings spread out to their sides. Butterflies frequently fold their wings above their backs when they are perched although they will occasionally 'bask' with their wings spread for short periods. However, some butterflies, like the skippers, may hold their wings either flat, or folded, or even in-between in the so-called 'jet plane' position.

Most moths also occasionally fold their wings above their backs, but usually when they are in a position where there is no room to fully spread their wings.

A sometimes confusing family can be the "Geometridae" (such as the Winter moth) because the adults often rest with their wings folded vertically. These moths have thin bodies and large wings like many butterflies but may be distinguished easily by structural differences in their antennae.

For related articles click onto the following links:


Loved by Popeye, hated by most children, spinach is most defiantly an acquired taste. Personally, I love it served freshly boiled. Why, because it brings out a delicious milkiness to its flavour, a quality that is perfectly utilised in the creation of eggs Florentine - one of my favorite dishes!

Be aware that spinach needs cool weather to thrive, but if you choose your planting times carefully and look for heat-resistant varieties, you can grow it anywhere in the country.

Growing spinach from seed

If you can, try and choose a site that gets full sun in cool weather and partial shade in warmer temperatures. Your soil should be light, fertile and moisture-retentive, with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. Dig in plenty of well rotted farm manures - a task preferably done late autumn - as this will help to ensure good soil conditions and to provide the nitrogen necessary for good leaf production.

Sowing spinach seeds directly into the garden as soon as the ground can be worked is the best way to produce a decent spinach crop. This can be done, normally anywhere from four to eight weeks before the last expected frost. Be aware that spinach seedlings do not transplant well so there is no real advantage to buying plants or to starting seed off early indoors.

Plant spinach seeds 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in wide rows. To maintain a continuous harvest, sow every two weeks until daytime temperatures start to average 75 degrees F. You can begin sowing for autumn crops mid-August in cool climates, later in warm ones.

Thin out spinach seedlings to 6 inches apart when the plants are 4 inches tall. You will need to be ruthless though as crowded plants are more likely to bolt (go to seed prematurely), and you can use the cuts in salads.

Keep the soil moist, and feed the plants a liquid fertiliser every 10 days until they're about 6 inches tall. Mulch established plants to help conserve moisture and deter weeds, and cover the area with floating row covers to discourage insects.

Cut spinach leaves as you need them from the outside of the plant, or harvest entire plants when they reach maturity and before they begin to flower. If you see buds starting to form at the center, you can cut the whole plant immediately as the energy of the plant will now be diverted into producing flowers and seed.



A healthy diet is very important if you're pregnant or are planning to have a baby. The best diet is one with a variety of different foods, but take care with certain foods because they can be harmful to both your health and the health of your baby. You also need to be careful with alcohol, medicines and drugs, so check with your doctor before taking any of these. If you smoke, it’s important to stop as soon as possible.

Keeping active during pregnancy is also a good idea, as it will help you to adapt to your changing shape by strengthening muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. Keeping active will also help to prepare you for the birth by strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain during pregnancy and childbirth.

You don't need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day in order to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. Be aware that you should also avoid certain foods in pregnancy.

You will probably find that you are more hungry than usual, but you don't need to 'eat for two', even if you are expecting twins or triplets. Have a healthy breakfast every day because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes, your doctor or midwife will advise you.

Fruit and vegetables
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and prevents constipation. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully. Cook vegetables lightly in a little water, or eat them raw but well washed, to get the benefit of the nutrients they contain.

Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
Starchy foods are an important source of vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal. These foods should be the main part of every meal. Eat wholemeal instead of processed (white) varieties when you can.

Sources of protein include meat (but avoid liver), fish, poultry, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts. Eat some protein every day. Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and cook it using only a little fat. Make sure eggs, poultry, pork, burgers and sausages are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them. Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as sardines or mackerel. However, there are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy.

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yogurt are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs. Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible. For example, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt and half-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day. However, there are some cheeses to avoid.

Healthy snacks
If you get hungry between meals, don't eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose from the following nutritious snacks:

• Sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines and salad
• Salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
• Low-fat yogurt or fromage frais
• Hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
• Ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
• Vegetable and bean soups
• Unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
• Milky drinks or unsweetened fruit juices
• Fresh fruit
• Baked beans on toast or a baked potato

Preparing food safely

• Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – toxoplasmosis can harm your unborn baby
• Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis
• Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination – this is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli)
• Use a separate chopping board for raw meats
• Heat ready meals until they're piping hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry

You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs and sausages, are cooked very thoroughly before you eat them.



In order to answer the question of  '...what is the world's largest insect..?' you must first decide how you are going to measure it. Most people would consider the largest insect to be the bulkiest and in this case the champion insect is the Actaeon Beetle from South America. The male beetles can be 9cms long by 5cms wide by 4cms thick. Impressive!

However, if you choose to measure largest by overall size, consider the South American Longhorn Beetle (Titanus giganteus) these huge 'mini-beasts'  can be over 16cms in body length (not including antennae).

There is one other beetle, Dynastes hercules,  that also needs to be considered as it is also well known for reaching 16cms in length -  although it is not nearly as heavy.

If you are looking at overall length, the longest insect in the world is the Stick-Insect known as Phobaeticus Chani - meaning 'Chan's megastick'. This insect is more than half a metre with legs outstretched – 55.6cm between the tips of its long spindly legs.

Unfortunately, no living examples of the creature have ever been seen but they are thought to live in the tops of giant rain forest trees on the island of Borneo.

Surprisingly, scientists have only recently 'twigged' that the stick insect, which belongs to the Natural History Museum in London, is a new species.

Not including its legs, Chan's Megastick measures 35.7cm, winning the insect world record for the longest body. It beats the previous title-holder, Phobaeticus kirbyi, from Borneo, by 2.9cm.

In addition to its size, its eggs may also be unique in the insect world.

Each egg capsule has wing-like extensions on either side like a miniature golden snitch, allowing them to drift in the wind when the female drops them, thereby helping the species to spread.

ATLAS BEETLE - Chalcosoma atlas


Although roses were once popular throughout Europe during the reign of the Roman Empire, they soon lost their importance once the empire went into decline. Almost forgotten, it was the Crusaders of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries who brought them back from their Eastern travels reviving their popular interest. Before long the rose found its way back into the gardens of rich noblemen and wealthy merchants.

There was even some profit to be made with the return of this forgotten plant as their bright red petals were used in the production of rose-petal syrups and conserves. These were popularly sold on the pretence of 'dubious' medicinal properties, but later this formed the basis of the rose-petal industry and used in the production of perfumes.

During this period the most popular rose grown was the ‘Apothecary’s Rose’- Rosa gallica officinalis. It was also known as the ‘Red Damask which later became the famous ‘red rose’ emblem of the Lancastrian family.

It was this particular rose that underwent a natural colour mutation to produce the now legendary striped rose Rosa gallica versicolor (so called as it could revert at random into an all red state).

Just like the broken tulips of the Dutch Tulip mania period these striped petals would have caused an absolute sensation bringing it to the attention of the Europe's rich and famous. This plant is famously better known as the ‘Rosa Mundi’.

Rosa Mundi was first described in 1583, and according to 'The Garden Book' of Sir Thomas Hanmer (published in Eng­land in 1659) it was originally found in Norfolk '...upon a branch of the common red rose...'.

Rosa mundi image care of www.guildofwiltshireartists.com
However there is an earlier legend which states that the ‘Rosa Mundi’ was named after Rosa­mund Clifford, the mistress of King Henry II who reigned as England’s monarch from 1154 to 1189.

Rosamund Clifford (1150-1176), also known as the "The Fair Rosamund" or "Rose of the World", was the long-time mistress of King Henry II. Henry was forced to marry Princess Eleanor who, jealous of her husband's relationship with the fair Rosamund, is said to have had her murdered by poison.
After her death, Henry and Rosamund's family paid for a tomb at Godstow Nunnery near Oxford and put an endowment in place for it to be attended by nuns who were instructed to place Rosa Mundi flowers upon it on the anniversary of her death.

This became a popular local shrine until 1191 (two years after Henry died) until St. Hugh of Avalon - Bishop of Lincoln happened to visit Godstow Nunnery and saw Rosamund's tomb right in front of the high altar. It was covered with rose flowers and lit candles, and upon calling Rosamund a harlot, ordered her remains to be removed from the church. Her tomb was taken to the cemetery at the nuns' chapter house close by but it eventually became destroyed during the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries' between 1536 and 1540.

A large specimen of ‘Rosa Mundi’ is still a stunning sight in the height of summer and its semi-double flowers are among the largest of all the old fashioned roses. It is the oldest of the all striped varieties grown today, and because of it natural disease resistance it has lasted well through the centuries. If you have a good look around, it's still available today at most good plant retailers.