Saturday, 6 June 2020

Lesser Butterflies in West Kent - 25/05/20

Unfortunately I have to keep this venue secret as it's mainly about Lesser Butterfly Orchids and they are now gone from all of West Kent except this one venue. So, to protect them from theft or inadvertent trampling, I will keep this blog generalised in regards to location.

All of this was unbeknown to me as I headed out for a relatively local walk in the west Kent downland. I didn't even know Lesser Butterfly Orchids were even found in West Kent so I hardly expected to find any. In fact the purpose of choosing this venue to explore was some 10 years old records for Fly and Man Orchids and some older records for Birds Nest Orchids, so I hoped to re-find some of these.

It was a long walk uphill from the car to this wood, but I eventually got there. It was a hot day too, around 25 degrees and the walk made me perspire. As I walked along a narrow overgrown path I spotted something down a slope. From a distance it looked a bit like a Star of Bethlehem or perhaps an Allium, but I stopped and looked for a while (my eyes aren't as good as the camera's) and I pondered as to whether to go down a steep slope for a look as I would have to clamber back up again and I was already tired!

It only took a few steps down the slope for me to realise I was looking at a Butterfly Orchid. The excitement mounted, even Greater Butterfly Orchids were not common.

I got down low to it, being careful that there weren't any other plants I might trample in doing so and was amazed to find the pollinia were parallel, thus showing this to be a Lesser Butterfly Orchid.

Platanthera bifolia

Here's a photo of the whole plant.

I then found more plants as my eyes adjusted to the gloom. These are normally found under Beechwoods, but here, on the steep scarp slope of this hill, Yew dominated. This evergreen tree cuts out a large percentage of sunlight, meaning that even in sunny conditions like this day, it was dull and gloomy underneath the foliage.

Look at the size of this plant with over 30 open flowers and massive basal leaves (caused by the gloomy conditions no doubt).

In total I found 5 flowering plants and four non flowering rosettes.

I later found out that only 3 plants had previously been seen in this wood and this was at the other end of it almost a kilometre away, so it was a significant discovery nonetheless.

A couple more habitat photos showing how dark it was there and as a result how little vegetative competition there was for the orchids. It seems they don't like much competition.

 Look hard, there's Lesser Butterfly Orchids in both photos.

Much of the rest of the wood was a mess of unmanaged brambles or carpets of Dog Mercury and Ivy. Under the Yew trees was about the only area free of vegeation in the whole wood.

I added extra records for such as White Helleborine and this Man Orchid, another giant in the heavy shade.

Orchis anthropophora

It was so dark here I had to use a flash.

On the way up/down the hill to this wood, I photographed some other plants too. Here's a few of them.

Welted Thistle
Carduus crispus

Common Poppy
Papaver rhoeas

Scarlet Pimpernel
Lysimachia arvensis f. arvensis

Field Rose
Rosa arvensis

Smooth Sowthistle
Sonchus oleraceus

Some views.

An amazing day, though I completely failed to re-find the old records preciously mentioned at the start of this blog, but this was more than made up for by the Lesser Butterflies and I revelled in their splendour for quite some time before leaving for home.

On 31st May 2020 my partner and I took a long walk near Meopham (pronounced Meppum) in Kent and came across  few Greater Butterfly Orchids in flower. I thought I would add the photos here so you can compare them to the Lesser Butterfly Orchids shown above.

Platanthera chlorantha

Take care, stay safe,

Sunday, 31 May 2020

TQ5872 Bean, Kent - Surprises near to Bluewater - 23rd to 24th May 2020

I don't know why I picked this monad to survey. I had done some of it only last year, so didn't expect to find that much not already found. However, this time, I thought that I would properly explore the piece of Darenth Woods that fell within this square and the adjoining area too. Here's what I found in the woodland part on the first day.

White Bryony is pretty much everywhere now with its big leaves, coiling tendrils and greenish flowers, there's nothing much else that looks like it.

It was abundant around the woodland edges.

Bryonia dioica

This grass was on Watling Street on the northern edge of the woods. It's a one sided spikey looking grass and is called Rough Dog's Tail.

I later found it in massive amounts on the main road junctions for Bluewater nearby.

 Cynosurus echinatus

There were some lovely displays of Stnking Iris, even in very densely shaded areas under the trees.

Iris foetidissima

Field forget me not is a very common plant, but it's not often I see one where all the flowers are pink instead of blue.

Myosotis arvensis 

Early Purple Orchids went to seed a few weeks ago so I was very lucky to find one with some flowers still out (though covered in cobwebs). I was even luckier to find a total of 99 spikes in flower or gone to seed as well. Try as I might I couldn't find the 100th spike!

Oddly, these have not been previously recorded from this monad before.

Orchis mascula

Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade was also now in flower and found in a typical coppiced area where more light came into the woods.

Solanum dulcamara

It's rare to find Heath Speedwell in north Kent on the chalk, so it was great to find a patch in the same coppiced area as previously mentioned.

Here, the chalk is covered by a mildly acidic clay cap which covers many hilltops in the area. As you go down the hill, the clay becomes thinner and chalk is exposed, giving rise to acid loving plants on top of the hill and calcareous loving plants down the slopes.

Veronica officinalis

Its leaves are quite different to most other speedwells as shown below.

The next day I returned to the same monad but recorded in a completely different part of it. The habitat was mainly road verges and "waste ground", thus the flora was very different to that found in an ancient woodland.

Wild roses were abundant with most being the common Dog Rose with its familar arching stems, big prickles and large usually white flowers. This one below stood out as different being pink and the flowers were much smaller. A look at the stem revealed bristles and thorns.  This is a Sweetbriar rose.

Rose rubiginosa

Sainfoin growing in this area is usually the result of amenity sowing and this was found on a road created in 2003. Nearby were also Lucerne and Goat's rue, all now naturalised long the roads here.

Onobrychis viciifolia

This is another alien introduction that had its origins in amenity sowing in 2003 here, it's Fodder Vetch which looks like an overgrown Tufted Vetch with two tone flowers instead of all purple/blue ones.

Vicia villosa

This was the area I found the Fodder Vetch in, behind the pole in the bushes. But then I found something else growing there too, hidden away on this roundabout completely out of view of passing traffic and completely native.

Man Orchids!

As the photo shows, I found an amazing 29 spikes of flowering Man Orchid here. As it is a critically endangered species, that was good news indeed. Here's some of them growing quite happily amongst an old lorry tyre and other rubbish.

This was an unkknown site for them, so it is a new record for this species in this square.

Orchis anthropophora

Here are the little "men" dangling down, each spike may have 100 such flowers.

I then had another nice surprise of three Bee Orchids on the opposite verge, another new record for this monad.

Ophrys apifera

Next to these was another nice looking and uusual wildflower.

This is a Common Broomrape.

It is parasitic on other plants and chooses many to attach to, not just one species like some Broomrapes do.

Orobanche minor

In the "waste ground" areas, I found Wild Strawberry.

Fragaria vesca

I then looked at an "island" of land between two roads, one being a main approach road to Bluewater the other a local road.  I was very pleaed to find there over 100 more Man Orchids along with Yellow Vetchling too, both Kent RPR (rare plant register) species. I've reported these finds to the Kent Wildlife Trust and I can but hope that they may be adopted as a roadside nature reserve given the impressive number of endangered orchids present.

I checked Google Earth and the site was created in 2003 for new roads connecting Bluewater to local roads. Subsequent satellite photos show it rapidly scrubbing over with probably only 10 per cent of the island now left as open grassland. Hopefully, management will be put in place to keep this from scrubbing over more and thus losing this new colony of man orchids soon after it began.

These attractive flowers below belong to one of the culprits that rapidly swamp out grassland plants like the Man Orchid. It belongs to Dogwood, until it in turn loses out to Beech or Oaks.

Cornus sanguinea

Of course, I found a lot more plants than mentioned and in another month or so there will be a lot more different species. Pyramidal Orchids will dot the road verges here too for example, very soon. It goes to show that even supposedly well known areas can throw up some surprises. I guess keeping local was one advantage of the recent lockdown to help me find them instead of going off somewhere miles away.

Take Care

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent - 19/05/20

Lockdown has now been relaxed so that we can go anywhere we like outside for exercise or mental health, relaxation or even to sunbathe. This means I can now resume my botany excursions provided I maintain social distancing and don't go anywhere away from home overnight. That's fine by me as all of Kent and East Sussex is easily within an hour and a half drive from my home.
However, the problem now is that after being kept in for so long, everyone is heading for the popular destinations, so that all beaches are crowded as are all parks and "nice places to be".

Knole Park in Sevenoaks, is also now packed out daily, but it is a huge area and the remains of King Henry VIIIs deer park where he hunted when staying at Knole House (now a National Trust venue). Being fairly local we found a secluded back entrance to the park and had the area pretty much to ourselves. We even spoooked a solitary deer that thought it was all alone at this end of the park.

Being constantly grazed by (too many) deer means the sward is very short and most flowers are very small, though I did find some things of interest that deer obviously don't like to eat!

The first flower seen should have been well and truly dead by now, the Lesser Celandine. It just goes on giving doesn't it. They are flowering at their peak when the Bluebells are in full swing; some started flowering in late December and a few are still going in May
 Beautiful in the sunshine of a May day.
Ficaria verna

In a deeply shaded area under some Pedunculate Oak trees I spotted another early Spring flower still flowering - Cuckooflowers. They like damp areas and the ground still held some dampness in a ditch under these ancient trees. As a result of the shade, the flowers were almost white, whereas in the open they are usually pink.
Cardamine pratensis

I then started noticing some quite tall Euphorbias which were quite obviously Wood Spurge. The odd thing was that few liked being under the trees and hundreds were growing and flowering in the open under the blistering heat of the sun. It was quite apparent that the deer wouldn't eat them either, but then, most Euphrbias are poisonous to some degree.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

One of the tiny flowers in the acid turf were these dainty Heath Bedstraw plants, much more delicate than the usual Hedge Bedstraw seen on the chalk and neutral soils elsewhere.  This whole plant shown here was probably the size of a 2p coin.
Galium saxatile

We then came to a small pond. I say pond in the loose sense of the word. It had semi dried up and had become an area of semi liquid mud really. However, dotted on the surface and drying margins of this pond was the star species of this walk, Pond  Water-Crowfoot.

This photo below shows the flowers, but also that this plant has aerial leaves and behind the flowers, submerged leaves (now out of the water of course as it's drying up). That's very useful to know when trying to identify this tricky group of plants (there's several quite similar species to choose from).

A dropped petal shows the nectary at the petal base. This one is pear shaped and combined with the shape of the aerial leaves and that the plant also has submerged leaves, means it has to be Pond Water-Crowfoot.

Ranunculus peltatus

I was saved some time too by the Kent County Recorder having recorded this from here the year before, but I didn't know that at the time I found it. Get in the habit of photographing most parts of a plant to identify it later if need be.

Near to the pond was the smallest Violet flower Ive ever seen, smaller even than a Field Pansy. It had been bitten off by deer and had regrown a flower. It turned out to be a Common Dog Violet, but it was impossible to see in the field being so small.

Viola riviniana complex

Dotted almost everywhere was Tormentil, a small, usually 4 petalled flower, which is a relative of the (usually) 5 petalled Creeping Cinquefoil found everywhere that isn't too acid. Watch out for hybrids between the two as they readily "get together". The hybrids will usually have both 4 and 5 petalled flowers on the ame plant. With the soil being so acid here, all I found were simply Tormentil.
Potentilla erecta

A large patch of Wood Sorrel was under a tree on the return walk and some flowers were still out. With it being late afternoon, most were closing up and this was about the most open flower I could find.

Oxalis acetosella

So ended a pleasant May day walk in quite warm Spring sunshine (low 20s).

It's coming up to the best time for the child loving orchids and other chalk species, so I will be visiting some likely looking areas soon. 

Take care