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Mike's Blog - Day 235

An evergreen oak for you today, by the big metal bug,  Quercus ilex, the Holm Oak. Ilex is the Latin name for Common Holly. I suppose its leaves are a bit like the less prickly holly leaves you find on higher branches.

No mistaking it for an oak though, when you see it developing acorns. It never seems to produce that many, though, probably because it's native of the Mediterranean region and could do with a bit more heat, or an easier winter.

It was a student from the Psychology who was responsible for the mock sheep we had yesterday. It was an observational experiment to see how the flock responded so we helped her make it with from an old fleece and some hosepipe for its horns. The previous year another student tried a similar experiment. He drove a remote control car round the field to see what effect it had on them. It has very little effect and they ignored it. We thought the mock sheep would have very little effect too, but it totally freaked the sheep out and a we stood it by the trough and filled it full of food the sheep all ran to the far end on the field.

Normally they would have mobbed the trough and pushed us out of the way. After a long time they slowly returned, all standing and watching, but not one of them ventured to the food trough. After longer still two or three went a bit closer, but still didn’t take any feed pellets. Eventually one sheep did, then another, but mostly they held back. It took them several days to ignore the mock sheep, but they never knocked it over. During the following the weeks, the student placed the mock sheep in different places and managed to work out some of the hierarchy in the sheep. The big ram we had at that time of the year showed little interest in the flock and kept away to himself mostly. It seemed to be the oldest ewe that was the boss and who the others followed. That was good old Hissie, one of the first sheep we got when we started our own flock after the foot and mouth.

Thinking of the Psychology Department reminds me of another evergreen oak that grows in a sheltered courtyard there, a short distance from the garden. This is Quercus suber, another Mediterranean oak, especially Portugal.

Oak wood is often used to make barrels which give fine deep flavour to cognac, whisky, wine and so on. This oak is equally useful. It's “the Cork Oak”, and its bark is the source of raw cork.

Of course these days a synthetic cork or even a screw top are often used, but prior to that without this tree there was no real alternative.