The greening of Nowhere Wood

It is a cold and wet April in Nowhere Wood, which is full of birdsong and flowers.

The trees are becoming green with new leaves. Leaves grow silently that we can miss their unfolding, noticing only when they are fully opened. If you look carefully, you can see new leaves opening today.

New leaves grow from buds. Buds are covers that protect the developing leaves from damage during the frosty winter days.

New horse chestnut leaves - Spring 2024 new leaves are a special shade of green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New leaves are a special shade of green called Kelly Green. Later in the year the leaves become a darker shade of green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Why do plants make new leaves during the summer, ready for the next spring?
  2. What happens to these new leaves in the autumn?

Read more about leaves in the A year in the life of a sugar factory.

 

Safety in numbers

cluster fliesThese animals look like cars parked in the autumn sunshine. They look harmless enough, but they have some gruesome secrets.

What are they and what are they doing? They are called cluster flies, and they are warming their bodies in the sun, before flying to feed on the fruits of the wood.

They are having adventures in time and space in Nowhere Wood.  Life in the wood is dangerous and the animals are busy being alive: feeding, drinking and staying warm.

The animals certainly look like flies: with one pair of wings, a large head and huge compound eyes. Look closer and you might see their mouthparts, sucking water from the surface of the leaf.

cluster flies
cluster flies on leaf in Nowhere Wood, October 2021

The flies have lived their whole lives in Nowhere Wood. Their mothers laid their eggs in the soil last autumn. In the Spring, the eggs hatched to release larvae into the soil that burrowed into the bodies of earthworms.

They spent the early summer feeding on the worms before pupating. The adults emerged in the early summer, killing their earthworm hosts.

 

 

The flies are in a hurry to breed before it goes colder, later in the month. They are becoming mature enough to produce the next generation of flies.

Then the cycle of ‘being and becoming’ will begin again.

There is safety in numbers. The main predator of these flies is a type of wasp. There are twenty pairs of eyes looking out for danger and when one senses the wasps, they all fly away.

Life is so uncertain in Nowhere Wood. As well as wasps, the air contains the spores of dangerous fungi, that can infect and grow inside the adults,  eating them up from the inside! In spite of the dangers, enough cluster flies survive to breed to be present in the wood next year.

Life is an uncertain adventure for the cluster flies, the earthworms, the wasps and the fungi. Everything is connected in Nowhere Wood.

  1. Suggest why cluster flies need to warm their bodies in the morning, before they can fly.
  2. Suggest why there is safety in numbers.

Goodbye, for now

Time travellers to Nowhere (3)

We are in Nowhere Wood, about 300 million years ago, staring at a forest of tree ferns, watching them make oxygen. Over the years, these tree ferns have made so much oxygen that its concentration in the air has risen to about 35%, (compare that with the 21% found in the 21st century).

There is so much oxygen that the lightning strikes produce frequent explosions in the air, causing forest fires. Nowhere Wood is a dangerous place to be, sometimes.

 

 

The animals are using the oxygen to grown large: some millipedes are 1.5 metres in length and 0.5 metres wide. Some dragonflies have 70 cm wingspans.

 

 

 With all of this food available, there are opportunities for new  carnivorous lizards to appear, including Hylonomus. This is one of the first creatures to have a new  eggs with membranes inside, a characteristic later shown by all birds.

 

 Also the flesh-eating Anthracosaurs first appeared at this time. These are the direct ancestors of the dinosaurs, that appeared millions of years later.

In Nowhere Wood, everything is connected together, in space and in time.

 

So many adventures in space and time, so much opportunity for the evolution of new forms. All of which depends on the formation of sandstone in Nowhere Wood.

  1. Imagine what it was like to live in Nowhere Wood 300 million years ago. What would be the same and what would be different.
  2. How do you think the world will change in the future?

Safety in numbers

A year in the life of a sugar factory

The leaves of plants are everywhere in Nowhere Wood, helping to keep the wood alive. Leaves are organs: collections of living tissues and cells, having adventures in time and space. This is the story of a year in the life of an oak leaf.

Leaves are factories for making sugar from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide from the air. No human factory can do this, which is why we, and all other organisms, are so dependent on plants. Leaves are the producers of food.

In is late November and the cells that will divide to make the new leaf are protected safely inside the scales of the bud. Early in March, when the days warm and get longer, stem cells within the bud start to divide many times, producing all of the cells of the new leaf. To start with, the cells are very small and all look the same.

Soon, the cells take up water and get much larger. They escape the protection of the bud and the new leaf emerges. The new cells no longer look the same: they are on different journeys of development, becoming all of the different cells and tissues that make up the leaf.

 

The leaf is a factory for making sugar. Like any factory, it has a source of energy and transport systems to get the raw materials into the factory.  It also moves the manufactured sugar out to the places in the plant where it is needed. The heart of the factory is the production line where sugar is made. These are called chloroplasts and the leaf has millions of them, all making sugar whenever the sun shines. The Spring and Summer are sugar making seasons.

Gradually, in the autumn, when the days get cooler and shorter, the sugar factories are shut down and abandoned. The chloroplasts lie in ruins as everything useful is recycled back into the branches of the tree. All that remain are the frameworks of cell walls, turning brown as they dry in the autumn air.

 

Finally, the oak tree makes a special layer of cells that separates the old leaf from the stem, and the leaf is ready to fall when the wind blows strongly. The fallen leaves are not wasted, becoming energy stores for the organisms that feed on them. Next year’s buds are forming and wait for spring and the production of new leaves.

If leaves are factories form making sugar, then trees are factories for making leaves.

Everything has its own season in Nowhere Wood.

  1. Think about how the leaf is a factory for making sugar. Where does its energy store come from? How do the raw materials get to the production line?
  2. The production of leaves is sustainable in Nowhere Wood. What do you think this sentence means?

Subterranean superheroes

All change!

When you next look into a mirror ask yourself if you are the same person as you were yesterday. Well, of course you are.

Even people who last met you ten years ago can still recognise you and call you by your name. Although they might add, “My, how you have grown!”

And yet, if we could see under your skin, we would find that you are not the same. One of the biggest mysteries in biology is how we can change all of the time, whilst still staying the same.

Your skin cells live for about two weeks, so every month they are completely replaced. Red blood cells live for about 100 days and about two million are made in your body in every second.

Some of the chemicals in your cells exist for only minutes or seconds.

There is an energy store called ATP, which is needed for muscle contraction. ATP is made and broken down within 15 seconds.  Cells need glucose to make ATP and this explains why muscle cells need a continuous supply of glucose to stay alive. This comes from our food.

Even large organs, like the liver, are replaced regularly. You grow a new liver every year. The cells in the alveoli of your lungs are renewed every eight days. Even the bone cells in our skeleton are replaced every three months. Your entire skeleton is remade every ten years.

 

So, when your friend sees you after ten years and calls out your name, there is not a single part of your body that was the same as when you last met. You have been completely remade and remodelled. And the same is true of your friend.

 

So, how can this be? New cells are made when one cell divides to make two cells. The information in the genome is copied before cells divide, so the new cells always receive the same information as the old cells.

The new cells use this information to grow bigger and to develop. So, you stay the same because of how your new cells use the information in their genomes.

Living organisms are alive because they actively remake themselves. No man-made machine can do this. Which is, perhaps, just as well.

  1. In what ways have you changed in the last ten years?
  2. In what ways have you stayed the same?
  3. Why do need to eat food everyday?

A year in the life of a sugar factory

Moving things on

The weather is warm and wet in Nowhere Wood.

These are perfect conditions for growing the fungi that spread  everywhere throughout the soil of Nowhere Wood. Fungi are Nature’s recyclers, feeding on the fallen leaves, fruits and wood.

Fungi feed on the wood of the dead oak trees, turning it into nutrients that provide energy and chemicals needed  to grow new fungal cells.  (These cells form long threads called hyphae). Some fungi can spread out over really large areas, several kilometres wide.

At this time of the year, the fungi are busy ‘ being’.

Then one night, silently and without warning, the fungi do something else.

They produce structures that we call “mushrooms” **.

Mushrooms are  fruiting bodies. They produce thousands of tiny spores.

Spores are small and light. They are carried on air currents to new places in Nowhere Wood, where they will germinate and grow into new hyphae.

Spores have often been found in the filters of jet aircraft flying at the edge of the atmosphere, so some spores can travel right round the world. When fungi produce spores they are ‘becoming’ something new: small, light and mobile versions of themselves.

Then, almost as soon as they arrive, it is all over. The fruiting bodies die and become food for other fungi and bacteria in Nowhere Wood.

This is how it is. The precious molecules are used, recycled and become part of the growth of new organisms. Nothing is ever wasted.



 

  1. All of the atoms in the world were made when the universe began. No atoms have been made or destroyed since then. Imagine what life would be like without Nature’s recyclers.
  2. You are a collection of recycled atoms. Think about how carbon atoms enter and leave your body. [Hint, carbon atoms are found in carbohydrates and in carbon dioxide.]

You can read more about ‘being and becoming’ here.

 

**Some mushrooms are good to eat, others are really poisonous and can kill us. It is hard to tell them apart unless you are an expert, so it is sensible not to touch or eat any mushrooms you find in a wood.

Climbing the walls

Squirrel wars

One hundred and fifty years ago, the oak woods near Nowhere would have been home to red squirrels. Now they have all disappeared.

The red squirrels have been replaced by grey squirrels that were introduced into the UK from the United States in the 1870s.

Grey squirrels spread to nearly all parts of the UK, replacing the red squirrels wherever they went. Now red squirrels are only found in a few places, where they are protected.

Grey squirrels are 60% better at digesting oak acorns than red squirrels, which seem to prefer hazel nuts. Oak acorns are much more common in Nowhere Wood than hazel nuts, and this favours the grey squirrel.

The success of grey squirrels at surviving and breeding in Nowhere Wood is due to the production of acorns, which varies from year to year.

Survival is a risky journey for any squirrel: the arrival of new competitors or interruptions to the food supply can pose real challenges.

 

Their lives are  adventures.

The word ‘adventure’ has two parts:

Ad means moving towards something.

Venture means attempting something dangerous or difficult, that is risky, with no guarantee of success.

Put the two together and you get the idea that the lives of all living organisms are risky journeys into the future, with no guarantee of success or survival.

If you like, you can think of life as:

organisms having adventures in time and space

  1. Think about the squirrels and the oak trees. In what ways are their lives adventures?  [Hint: think about what the word adventure means.]

 

Being and becoming in Nowhere Wood

Being and becoming in Nowhere Wood

 

All living organisms are doing two things at the same time. They are:

Being (they are keeping themselves alive) and

Becoming (they are moving towards the next stage of their lives).

The butterfly is being and becoming at each stage of its life.

All of the animals and plants in Nowhere Wood are also “being” and “becoming”.

  1. How are the oak trees in nowhere Wood being and becoming?
  2. How are you being and becoming

 

Counting the ways to stay alive