Friday, 27 December 2019

Botanical Highlights from 2019

Every year my partner and I find some amazing botanical treasures, but with each new find the one before fades into memory until they become forgotten, even after a short time. Thankfully, as a botanical recorder, I can jog my memory by looking back at my record sheets to renew my aging memory, so here are some of the highlights of our finds from 2019.

16/05/19 - Vicia panonnica Ssp panonnica 
Hungarian Vetch- as described in BSBI News, Aliens and Adventives


On this day I found a substantial colony of V. panonnica on both verges of the B260 for a hunded metres or so east of the A282 bridge (nr Dartford).
There were hundreds of plants in flower, which at first I thought were anthocyanin deficient V. sativa plants (Common Vetch). I posted some photos on Twitter of it and a botanist suggested V. panonnica which it subsequently turned out to be.
However, this was not a first for VC16 West Kent as described below.

In 1977 V. pannonica (Hungarian Vetch) was found by G. Joyce on a motorway slip road in TQ57L and refound in the 1990s by Eric Philip presumably at the same location. This description would likely be one of the slip roads from the M25/A282 onto the A2 at that time.
It is unlikely that this would be on the B260 as it crosses high over that road. However, in the late 1980s, the A282 was widened and the bridge carrying the B260 was realigned and lengthened. This required the import of large amounts of earth and sand  to complete. The sandy soil can still be seen today around the bridge area even though there is much scrubbing over. Either side of the bridge area, the soil reverts to thin turf over chalk.
I believe it was during these works that V. panonnica was introduced to the B260 verges. It could have been from amenity sowing when the works were complete or from seeds picked up by machinery working on the motorway below.
Also of note, is that this same area has hundreds, possibly over a thousand Lathyrus aphaca plants which are absent from the rest of the immediate area. This possibly lends weight to the theory that both plant species arrived by amenity sowing after the roadworks were completed.
V. panonnica has not been found anywhere else in East or West Kent. It resembles a sturdy Vicia sativa Ssp. segetalis but is hairier and mostly has more leaflets as well. Of course the dirty white flowers with brown veins is distinctive in itself.

27/04/19 Ophrys sphegodes 
Early Spider Orchid
 Myself and my partner found 9 flowering plants along the sea wall in TR0826 and TR0825 Littlestone Warren.
This new colony of orchids was between two known colonies; the massive population at Samphire Hoe and the single plant left at Dungeness, many miles to the east and west. I'm amazed I got any in focus photos as Storm Hannah was belting through this day and the wind was gale force.
This find plugged the gap between those populations and was a significant discovery as they had never been recorded in this area before. A few more plants were found by others a few days later when they went to see them.

Here's a habitat photo for them.

14/06/19 - Himantoglossum hircinum 
Lizard Orchid
Imagine finding one of these in full flower jut a few hundred yards from where you live. You've walked this area many times and never seen this orchid here before. In this case, I was walking along looking to add Ophrys apifera (Bee Orchid) to the monad records and suddenly stumbled upon this! 
There was something prophetic about named storms for me this year. I was only out for a short walk locally as Storm Hector was battering the UK, unusual for June The storm put me off going further afield, so I wouldn' have found this without that diversion. Tale a look at the lizard orchids' individual flowers; they were all blown to face the same direction from the strong persistant wind this day and the next.
 Unfortunately the record is just within TQ56 which includes the well known plants at Lullingstone.
I found the plant only about 100m away from TQ66 with the last definite record for this species being found there in 1924. It was also only about 300m away from TQ57 which shares a record with the famous botanist Robert Pocock who found it in Dartford in 1800.  1921 was the last record here too. As such, the discovery of this plant suggests an expansion of H. hircinum to that of almost a century ago, an encouraging sign. Another plant discovered in the London Borough of Bromley by a railway station also seems to confirm this.

23/08/19 - Lathyrus hirsutus
Hairy Vetchling

Swanscombe Marshes have been well documented by botanists pending the whole peninsular being re-developed, or so one would think. However, there were two monads (1km x 1km OS map squares) to the east that had been missed. So I set out this day to put that right.
At first I thought these were a late flowering Common Vetch, but a closer look showed their colours to be totally different with almost white wings and keel set against a deep pink/purple standard.
After some research when I got home, I found them to be Hairy Vetchlings, a first for me and a rare plant in Kent. Unknown to me at that time was that they had been recorded nearby, but not in the monads I had found them in.

Being small and thin, unsurprisingly they were difficult to photograph, especially in the breeze around this day. They were scrabbling up and through any adjacent vegetation and if they could support themselves would be about three feet tall. But of course they can't and their tendrils clasp any plant nearby for support, and most were less than a foot off the ground as a result.

23/08/19 - Medicago sativa Ssp varia
Sand Lucerne 

The same day as the last species and in the same area I found an amazing variety of Sand Lucerne with all shades of petals from metallic black to yellow. However, the unusual thing and my reason for inclusion here was the following plant was the first I had found with different coloured flowers on the same plant. "Harrap's Wildflowers" book says this happens, but this is the only plant I've seen this phenomenon, and I've seen several hundred Sand Lucerne plants.


I do believe work is about to start on destroying this whole area for a theme park and yet more housing.
The next plant also has a small population on the Swanscombe peninsular, though I havent' found it yet. I'd only previously seen this species in Wales.
26/08/19 - Pyrola rotundifolia
Round-leaved Wintergreen
The eastern quarry opposite Bluewater has been out of bounds to the general public for many many years. It comprises of a vast disused chalk pit which is slowly being developed for housing. The first phase of housing was now complete and allowed entry to an area previously unreachable.
This plant which I really wanted to see, was easily found as there were hundreds of them all along a damp area several hundred metres long. Some were still flowering too.

There were of course many many more species that I could have written up, but I think keeping this blog concise keeps the finds to the most important ones that me and my partner found this year. I hope you enjoyed reading about them.
Take care

Monday, 16 December 2019

Glassworts Identification Meeting - Kent Botanical Recording Group - 06/10/19

The KBRG runs numerous field trips each year covering a massive range of wildflowers and habitats, giving those attending the chance to learn how to identify new species each year. The last field trip of the season is the Glassworts one, aiming to familiarise those attending with how to identify Kent Glassworts (Salicornia). Unfortunately, I could only commit to half the session so I missed out on some species, but here are those we found in the first part of the meeting. This day we met at Oare Marshes near Faversham to survey some nearby salt marsh. Only an hour before we got there it was raining very heavily and blowing a gale; but the rain had stopped and the wind died down to a gentle breeze with occasional blustery episodes and by lunchtime I took in some sun on a sheltered sea wall.

And we're off - along the sea wall. You can just see an indentation in the wall ahead which is an inlet and that's where we were headed. There were plenty of Bristly Oxtongue flowering here too (Helminthotheca echioides).

Below is the habitat for Glassworts in north Kent. This whole area gets submerged on a Spring high tide. Be careful in this type of terrain, as hidden under the fronds of Sea Purslane are deep muddy gullies! 
Next come some plants!
 I won't try to show you how to identify them individually as that is best left to the text books. Be cautious with your IDs though as this group of plants hybridise freely.

The first Glasswort we found was quite abundant and certainly colourful. It's usually found high up the shore near the high tide mark, Perennial Glasswort which has a woody stem.

Salicornia perennis

At the lower end of the shore was the unmistakable Long-spiked Glasswort with its very long segments. This one was rather flopped over, but I have seen them quite tall and erect in the gullies closest to the low tide mark.

Salicornia dolichostachya 

A bright yellow Glasswort was spotted, then lots more in the mid to upper end of the marsh. Yellow Glasswort.

Salicornia fragilis

Below - Lots of interest in what's been found. Our leader for the day was Lliam Rooney (@LliamRooney on Twitter), a very knowledgable botanist and fantastic photographer. See then scroll down to videos and Visit Lliam's Flickr site at

Although the  field trip was primarily to become familiar with Kent Glassworts for me and others, I took the opportunity to help out less experienced botanists too, by showing them the other saltmarsh plants commonly found in Kent. Species found and shown off included Golden Samphire, Sea Aster, Greater and Lesser Sea-spurries, Sea Purslane, Common Cord Grass and plenty more terrestrial plants on top and around the sea wall. 
I remember first learning about the different types of thistles on a field trip and I've never forgotten them since. It's much easier to learn being shown something by a botanist rather than looking at pictures in a book.

 Lliam hard at work - I seem to recall this was one of those pesky hybrids.

 Field trips are made up of a mix of male/female/young, middling and old; from brand new botanists to those who still amaze me with their wealth of botanical knowledge.

 Perhaps the most striking Glasswort late in the season is the Purple Glasswort for obvious reasons. It was also hugely abundant, colouring up the saltmarsh to a purple haze, much like the common Sea-lavender had done a couple of months previously.

Salicornia ramosissima

 Lunchtime by the sea wall.

That was it for me here as unfortunately I had committed myself to recording four nearby monads so I missed the second half of this field trip. Other species found after lunch included Common Glasswort (Salicornia europaeus) and One-flowered Glasswort (Salicornia pusilla) and several hybrids.

The monads I was to survey were near the A299 Thanet Way and a surprise find was this Beetroot! Yes, the same type as you'd buy in a shop. I regularly see Sea-beet around which is a close relative, but this is the first time I've found the cultivated Beetroot growing in the wild.. I wonder if someone threw a beetroot out of their car cayusing it to root and grow?

 Beta vulgaris subspecies vulgaris

If the leaves look familiar, it's because you find younger ones in mixed salad bags in supermarkets.

Another nice surprise was a fine stand of Bugloss, an uncommon plant, but not yet rare.

Anchusa arvensis

This looks like a pond but was actually a dyke (Kent name for a ditch), mostly dried up or overgrown, but here was some open water.

Some throws with the mini grapnel (made out of a small kitchen whisk with some fishing line attached) resulted in several aquatic plants including this Ivy - leaved pondweed. As they collapse out of water, it was difficult to get one to lay flat for a photo.

Lemna trisulca

I recorded around 100 species in each monad and only just finished as dusk set in. An enjoyable day for sure with the first part learning about Glassworts in a group, and the latter part happily recording plants solo in places not recorded in before.

Take care

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Wildflowers of the Dover Patrol Memorial and from Deal, Kent - 14/09/19

The area about the Dover Patrol memorial belongs to the National Trust and comprises of some good quality chalk grassland.  The memorial itself is an obelisk and much historical informaiton about it can be found here:

Here's a  view of the memorial obelisk with a nice stand of Weld and Wild Teasel (Reseda luteola and Dipsacus fullonum) in the foreground.

Being the second week into September I wasn't sure what I might find as many species had gone to seed, as shown above, and it had been quite dry too. Some of the best plants to be found were in the closely mown lawn around the obelisk itself.

This flower is very small and easily missed in longer grasses. It can be identified easily in that its leaves are of unequal lengths, it is Squinancywort.

Asperula cynanchica

This is quite common on good quality chalk grassland, such as that found close to me along the Darent Valley in north Kent and the Medway Gap too.

I usually associate Harebells with either sandy soils like at Dartford Heath or  occasionally on chalk, so it was nice to find a few in flower around the obelisk. It's on the Kent RPR too.

Campanula rotundifolia

When not in flower, this next plant is hard to find - unless you sit down on chalk turf and then you realise it's everywhere. It's the Dwarf or Stemless Thistle which is very common on short chalk turf.

Cirsium acaule

Below is a Small Scabious in flower, easily told apart from Field Scabious by having black bristle hairs under the petals. You can see them between the petals too.

Scabiosa columbaria

There are some nice views here too.

Of course, the floral superstar of the obelisk flora is our last flowering wild orchid of the season, Autumn Lady's Tresses. These have finished in many other areas, but I think a recent mowing has caused them to flower again here as most were under 3" tall but were still full of flowers.

Spiranthes spiralis

Wild Thyme was also in flower around the obelisk - another plant that is fine with even close mowing, as it grows so low to the ground.

Thymus praecox subsp. polytrichus

I was surprised to find Ivy Bees visiting the wildflowers here and ignoring plenty of Ivy nearby that still had flowers on them. 

Colletes hederae

My final floriferous find at the Dover Patrol was a few fine looking Goldenrod in full flower.
As usual, the coastal form was squat and bushy with a dense head of flowers up the stem.
Inland, they are invariably long and spindly with individual flowers up the stem.

Solidago virgaurea

From here we drove a short distance north along the Kent coast to Deal. At its northern end there is a footpath along the top of the beach that goes all the way to Sandwich. We parked up and followed this for a while.

This is a view from here looking north east to Ramsgate.


Sticky Groundsel is fairly common along our part of the coast but it's still nice to find some. Unlike its drab inland cousins, this plant has ray petals (like a Ragwort) but also lots of  glandular hairs. Rub them and it gives off a gone off lemon scent

Senecio viscosus

I was rather surprised to find a single bush of Bell Heather growing amid the shingle. I'd not ever seen it in such a habitat before, but a check on this area when I got home showed it had been recorded from the same spot many years previously. I wonder how it got here and why it hasn't spread?

Erica cineria 

Hedge Bedstraw and this Lady's Bedstraw were still flowering  here. A few miles north is found Bedstraw Broomrape which parasitises these species and is very rare. Perhaps it might be worth revisiting this area in May.

Galium verum

There were of course, many more wildflowers I could have featured, but I decided not to photograph any more as many had recently featured in my blogs in any case. Here's a view of the coastal path to end with, looking north.

 I hope you enjoyed the blog, take care.