Building with Light

Originally published July 2009

Hello everyone! Here we are at the time of Midsummer; the Solstice has been and gone and we are enjoying the longest days of the year. Birds seem to be surviving on three hours sleep a night, night stalkers are limited in their hunting time and we can walk to, and very nearly from, the pub in daylight! However, to ponder on perhaps the most important effect of the extended daylight hours, and its bearing on our very own Quarry Wood, I will need to go back to basic school science, so bear with me.

TQW 2009In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams described the Earth as an ‘utterly insignificant little blue-green planet’, but to those of us who still regard Mother Gaia as our home it is extremely significant, as are the colours! The creator of Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android was quite correct in that the Earth is predominately blue and green as seen from space; the former being our oceans and the latter representing the most momentous natural factory we will ever have the privilege to see in operation!

At this point the school children will be jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air and shouting out the word chlorophyll… and of course they would be right! Before all that lascivious flowering and pollination business can take place, plants have to grow, and it is the green molecule, conspicuous by its overwhelming presence in plant cells, which does the hard work. Chlorophyll (from the Greek khloros green and phullon leaf), converts carbon dioxide and water into glucose which is either used directly by the plant for growth or converted into starch and stored for further use.

Could it be any better? Well yes it can, this process actually produces oxygen as a waste product! How is this done I hear you cry! Well, you did ask…

For all of you grown-ups this is another way of writing that carbon dioxide and water is taken in to the chlorophyll molecules and, in the presence of sunlight, turned into sugar and oxygen. The whole process (as the younglings are now screaming out loud) is called photosynthesis or as the Ancient Greeks would have it, building with light; a beautifully poetical description of a scientific wonder!

TQW 2009

As you walk through Quarry Wood do contemplate the leaf decked tree canopies, our ‘fabulous ferns’ (see Oct 2008), the cushions of luxuriant moss and the surface of the (rapidly diminishing!) pond where the duck weed grows so thick it forms a bright green roadway through the woods. Wherever you look you can take comfort in the knowledge that the plant kingdom is taking advantage of our therapeutically long days and providing us with the first links in our incredibly over complicated food chains.

TQW 2009

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

So there it is; this time the Latin has been replaced by Greek and my usual delve into mythology resulted in a combination of Douglas Adams and the Bard. Woodlands truly are magical places! This month pictures were provided by Abbie Stanton who captured the essence of Quarry Wood so wonderfully in a series of photographs taken last year for the Powdermill Trust.
As always, put me right at

Paul Johnson



Images: Abbie Stanton at Quarry Wood for Powdermill Trust


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