With the cattle now removed to their winter quarters and the autumn colours fading and falling from the trees some may feel that the Sudbury riverside loses its appeal. It is, however, all about looking and listening and then it is easy to spot the gloriously plumaged kingfisher moving along the river and suddenly riverside days are not so dull after all.
At this time of year there is also a wide range of fungi to interest and delight the walker. These are the fruiting bodies of growths that are unobtrusive for much of the year. Some of them are edible but for those without expert knowledge most are best admired, rather than eaten, for obvious reasons.
At this time of year plants have also completed their life cycles and are more or less dormant, waiting for lengthening and warmer days before recommencing growth. There is, however, one plant on the riverside that bucks this trend. As the festive season approaches, Butcher’s Broom is not only evergreen but also carries conspicuous scarlet berries. It is a very interesting small shrub that remains unobtrusive for much of its life on account of its small size and preference for shady areas. Although it belongs to the lily family in appearance it doesn’t resemble a lily in any way whatsoever. Its name reflects the fact that, in the past, bundles of stems were used to scrub butchers’ chopping blocks because they are tough and very spiny, characteristics which are also absent in the lily family.
Butcher’s Broom is unbelievably slow growing and the specimen on the riverside has taken over twenty years to attain its modest form, presumably growing from a seed or a small piece of stem washed down by the river. Tiny flowers are followed by small green berries which develop into large scarlet orbs which appear to grow straight out of the leaves. The unusual characteristic of this evergreen shrub, however, is that it has no proper leaves although anyone looking at it would be forgiven for stating that it very clearly has. The leaves are, in fact, modified stems which accounts for the flowers and berries growing from them. The true leaves surround the flowers and take the form of insignificant papery bracts.