Saturday, 18 March 2017

Ightam Mote area Kent - 14th March 2017

Just a few days on since my last blog and the mild weather this last week has brought forth several more delightful Spring flowers, bringing an uplift to the soul after months of Winter blues.

This half day was a visit to the National Trust's Ightam Mote and its estate and nearby Kent Wildlife Trust's Ivy Hatch nature reserve, all in a few hours before work.

I was hoping to find some early Rue-leaved Saxifrage on the old walls around the Mote but it was too early yet. However, I knew that the boggy streamlets running into the lake would now be full of an early flowering Spring plant.

This tiny plant is Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, quite common and easy to find.

 It has no petals, but the golden anthers catch the sunlight and look like golden specks of Spring.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium


Not quite what I was expecting in Spring, but interesting nonetheless.

I don't have time to identify fungi now, but I'm fairly sure this is a type on Inkcap fungi

The grassy bank below the ticket office was alive with tiny Spring flowers.
Very noticable in the Spring sunshine were patches of Barren Strawberry. 
If you go looking for them, bear in mind they're not much bigger than about 1cm across!

Potentilla sterilis

Violets are now coming out in large numbers almost everywhere.

The first to flower is usually the Sweet Violet, which this one is. Most are the usually violet colour, but occassionally you come across white forms like this. There were large patches of the white form flowering here.

Viola odorata

The next Violet to flower is usually the Early Dog or Wood Violet and several patches of this species were also in flower on this grassy bank, along with numerous Primroses as well.

I've included a stitched photo to show the parts of the flower you need to look at to identify these for yourself. Leaves and flower stems are also useful for identification purposes!

Violets aren't really that hard to get a grip with except when they hybridise, then you can get a headache trying to work out what you have found! To help out, I've ordered from the BSBI the Viola Handbook which covers all the hybrids in the Viola family in the UK. I hope it increases my knowledge with Violas, an intriguing and beautiful Spring plant.

Viola reichenbachiana

The last plant I photographed in the house grounds was this tiny flower that is usually associated with kissing at Christmas! Yes, it's a Mistletoe. This one was about 8' off the ground in an apple tree in the orchard.
Of course, later in the year, the pollinated flowers turn into the familiar white fruits we see at Christmas.  I still wonder how their seeds get into trees; I can only imagine the berries are eaten by birds who pass them while sitting in trees?

Viscum album

As I drove out of the estate I saw a few more wildflowers had come into flower, so I parked at the top of the hill (where safe) and walked back to see them.

This is the aptly named Cuckooflower (also known as Lady's Smock), so called as they tend to bloom when the first Cuckoo calls are heard.

Oddly enough, my partner heard a Cuckoo call today, so the old saying still holds true.

Since this day, Cuckooflowers are now coming out in force all over Kent and East Sussex, a beautiful roadside flower.

Cardamine pratensis

I've included a photo of the complete plant to show its leaves and height. It's usually about this tall (3') but can be only a foot tall if conditions are poor for it.

Another flower I spotted from the car were patches of Moschatel, a tiny woodland flower, but the carpets of light green leaves made them easy to find.

Adoxa moschatellina 

Also known as Town Hall Clock with flowers on 5 faces of a cube shaped flowerhead.

After leaving Ightam Mote, we drove the short distance to Ivy Hatch nature reserve, managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust. It's their smallest reserve, but what makes it special is that virtually all of it is a bog. This is a threatened and rare habitat in Kent.

This venue is well known for its colony of the invasive (and now banned from sale) American Skunk Cabbage, escaped from nearby houses and now running rampant across the bog. See the photo below.

They look like a giant bright yellow Lord and Lady's that are common in our woodlands.

Lysichiton americanus

Here and there were bright splashes of another yellow Spring flowering plant, the Marsh Marigold.

For years I only knew it by the name of "Mollyblob" and recall buying one from a garden centre for my pond many years ago.

This is a native plant often found in wet boggy areas, by stream, lake and pond edges in the county.

Caltha palustris

That was it for flowers here, but I did find a large clump of Liverwort fruiting along the bog edges. Quite an odd sight and one I had not seen before.

Pellia epiphylla
(Thanks to Steve Lemon - KBRG for ID)

That concluded our day. However, I will take the opportunity to include a few other recent finds from this week that wouldn't warrant their own blog.

On the 13th March we visited National Trust Emmets near Ide Hill, just for a walk really. This place really comes into its own when the swarms of native Bluebells come into flower - which isn't yet!

Emmets has many unusual and rare ornamental plants and trees, but I tend to photograph only the wildflowers and insects when the opportunity arises.

This is Wood Spurge in flower. It doesn't have petals but the pale green flowering parts are very attractive and various more showy foreign family members are sold to gardeners every year.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

And here is the first Wood Anemone I have found flowering this Spring, again at Emmets, yet in the few days since our visit, the country road verges and woodland floors of the county are now carpeted with them, a wonderful sight.

Anemone nemorosa

Here's the final flower for the blog, the diminutive, extemely small Lesser Chickweed, found on the 15th March flowering at Bloors Wharf, Rainham Kent. It lacks petals and rarely opens this fully!

Not quite in total focus, but then it's probably 1mm across!

Related to Common Chickweed, it is much smaller and is often noticed as a patch of pale green foliage in short grass. Often found in coastal areas.

Stellaria pallida

So the time for hibernating is over, get out and about and enjoy the Spring wildflowers now coming out in large numbers everywhere.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Early Spring Plants in Kent as at 12th March 2017

It's been a very slow start to Spring in Kent, following a prolonged cold snap in January and February. Most plants are flowering 2-3 weeks later than they did in the preceeding three years.
Thus it's been quite a challenge to find anything to write about, but as I do write this, Spring has finally arrived in Kent. Each week now, more species will come into flower.
Today's blog details those found in the last 2 weeks at various sites.

I'll start off with a trip to the Sandgate and Folkestone Leas area on the South coast of the county.

This is a garden escape long naturalised on shingle here. It's Three-cornered Garlic.

It has drooping sprays of white flowers with obvious green lines running down the petals.

And if you crush any part of it you get a lovely Garlic smell akin to being in a French restaurant perhaps!

Allium triquetrum

I found the plants flowering below, in the car park at Sandgate and also along the base of the sea wall. It's Danish Scurvygrass and is very small! It's supposed to be found on the coast, usually in a spray zone as it is very tolerant of salt.

It has now colonised hundreds of miles of main roads throughout the country due to us salting them during the Winter. Very soon the A2 near Dartford Heath into London and many other places will turn white with their flowers.

Cochlearia danica

This Common Whitlowgrass is one of the first early Spring flowers to bloom but most people will never even notice them.

This is because, for the most part they are less than six inches tall and in places can be just one inch tall complete with flower!

They love to grow in places where other plants can't such as nutrient poor soils on concrete, pavements, roads, car parks and so on.

They're already going to seed in places and within a few weeks the basal rosette will also die off, leaving no trace of them to be found until next year.

Erophila verna

I found this Cow Parsley flowering on Folkestone Leas. It's a very common plant that in a month or so will line all the rural road verges in the county. It's one of the lucky plants tthat sets seed before the council mowers move in, usually in early June.
This is the first one I have seen flowering in the county so far in 2017, I suspect due to bing sheltered under trees on the coast, reducing the effects of those hard frosts we had.

Anthriscus sylvestris

Here and there along the Leas I found Lesser Celandine in flower. This species has gone from none flowering to hundreds within a week. They really are blooming well now around the county.

There are actually 4 subspecies of this wildflower; 2 of which are garden escapes with bigger flowers, this one subsp fertilis and a subsp verna with small flowers and tubers growing in the leaf axils.

You really need seeds to tell them apart though.

Ficaria verna

Along the sea wall were assorted Dandelion like plants starting to flower. This one is easy to identify by its blistered leaves and prickly collar under the flowers.

Bristly Oxtongue

Helminthotheca echioides

My partner then found this plant, which oddly enough, most people didn't even notice growing out of the sea wall.

It usually grows on chalk cliffs, either near the edges or on the precarious slopes.

It's Hoary Stock, related to the Stock plants that grow in gardens, but this one is a rare native of our shoreline.

It's on the Kent Rare Plant Register as there isn't much suitable habitat left.

I left the blue bit of litter on the plant for the photo to show just how much we all care about the environment ..........

Matthiola incana

Last year I found all white flowering variants of this plant in the South Foreland area near Dover.

On Folkestone Leas at its Western end were a fine display of Winter Heliotrope. These start flowering sometimes in late December, so there isn't much time left now to see them.

They are an introduced garden escape and they have colonised  miles of roads throughout the country, forming dense blankets under which not much else can grow.

Petasites fragrans

As their name suggests, they have a pleasnt scent.

There's a native relative of this plant detailed further down in this blog.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Sea Campion in flower, and I hadn't expected to find any out this early. However, these were high up on a part of the sea wall and maybe this protected them from frosts, being warmer a few feet off the ground than directly on it (so I'm told).

Silene uniflora

This is Alexanders, pretty much light green all over with small white petals. Brought over in Roman times, it has now spread profusely around all of the Kent coasts and several miles inland in places.

Insects like the flowers and soon they will attract lots of beetles, butterflies and bugs.

Smyrnium olusatrum

This was the first I've seen flowering this year, yet I saw one in flower on 31/12 15!

The next part of the blog moves on to 12th March and an area near Cobham, Kent, comprising of woods, open rides and grassy areas, primarily on an acid soil.

There still wasn't too much to see, but Red Dead-Nettles never fail to make me think "Ahhhh"

Very soon, butterflies will emerge from hibernation and last year, Small Tortoiseshells ignored all other Spring flowers in preference for these tiny blooms.

Lamium purpureum

Then below, there is the White Dead-Nettle which can flower all year round. There has been a break of about a month or so where I haven't seen any flowering this year.

This plant is preferred by the Bumblebees and today I saw several Tree Bumblebees feeding on them.

Lamium album

Ivy-Leaved Speedwell is another tiny plant, but it becomes noticable as it form dense mats of flowering plants, often under trees. It's another Spring plant that disappears by May and there are two subspecies to look out for. The first is shown below, subspecies hederifolia. The flowers are relatively large, usually more blue than lilac an the anthers are also blue to deep blue.

Veronica hederifolia subsp hederifolia

This is the second subspecies, lucorum. The flowers are very small, often pale lilac or even all white, with cream, white or very light bue anthers. Once you've seen both, you'll realise the tiny flowers of lucorum are very distinctive and sets it apart easily from its near relative above

Veronica hederifolia subsp lucorum

A sure sign of Spring is the appearance of Violets. The first to appear are the Sweet Violets with rounded sepals, leafless stems and heart shaped rounded leaves. There's even a scent, though I've yet to detect it!

I also saw today, a patch of the white colour form which is not that unusual.

Viola odorata

This plant is obviously not in flower, but I've included it to show that even the mundane has a hidden side.

We all know about Common Nettles, usually called Stinging Nettles. Well this is the Small Nettle, which could also be called a Super Stinging Nettle for it is positively adorned with hundreds of tiny stinging needles!

Urtica urens

It does look different from the usual Common Nettle. The terminal leaf notch is pretty much parallel to the rest giving it a rounded appearance. Common and Fen Nettles (sometimes called the Stingless Nettle) both have a longer end tooth on the leaves. There are other difference, but the plant needs to be in flower to see them. A while yet!

Here's the first Blackthorn flower I've seen to date, as at 12/03/17

They make a nice display and a fantastic display in some places, such as rural roads on the Romney Marsh.

It will be a while yet before they are at their best.

Prunus spinosa

My final plant is just beginning to flower now. It's called Butterbur and grows in damp areas, often areas which flood in the Winter and dry out in the Spring.

You can see it's related to the Wintr Heliotrope above, but this is considered in some places in the UK to be native. It's been around i the wild a very long time in any case.

Petasites hybridus

There are of course, many more plants in flower than I have shown and in the coming weeks the list will grow larger until mid Summer when it all starts to slow down again.

Spring is a beautiful time to be in the countryside, why not have a walk somewhere local to you and see nature awaken from its slumber.


Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 01/01/17 - Swanscombe, Kent.

It's been a drab, cold time of the year, no surprise really, being Winter! However, the end of 2015 was exceptionally mild and wherever I went I always found some wildflowers. Not so a year later.
Parts of December 2016 were very cold and in North Kent we had several hard frosts down to -5 Celsius. Worse (for wildflowers) was that these temperatures coincided with thick freezing fog, meaning that layers of ice crystals decimated the less hardy flowers still out.

Anyway, back to the first day of 2017.
The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) now organise a wildflower "hunt" from 1st to 4th January each year. Data is put into a database and observations can be drawn from the results.
For full details go to:
It really is quite fun to do and gives me a purpose to go general recording at a time of the year when it's all too easy to sit in front of the TV watching the same old films and shows. The main difference to general recording is that the plant must be in flower, all else are discarded.

The photo above shows a garden Primrose, taken at 10pm in thick freezing fog. This was taken just before the New Year but wouldn't have counted anyway as it was planted. Only native or naturalised wildflowers count in the hunt.

The following is what I found flowering today. For the trip I decided to visit an industrialised/semi urban/semi countryside area of Swanscombe Marshes in North Kent, bordered to the North by the tidal River Thames.

So that I don't miss any, I'll post them in alphabetical order (scientific names) rather than the order I found them in. There were two main habitats to explore:
the first was a new road built across the marshes to a housing development. Turf had been laid on the road edges, but the banks were a blank canvass (left as dirt). As such, in the year or so since the road was built, seeds form the seedbank and those windblown have established and thrived in the new habitat;
the second habitat was the sea wall bordering a new housing estate and the River Thames. It seems to me that the harsher the environment in the Winter, the more likely I am to find flowers. Nature Reserves are often barren of wildflowers now, but brownfield sites have plenty!

First up was Yarrow. This is found everywhere from lawns to pavement cracks, field edges to meadows. It often flowers all through the Winter so it was not a surprise to find it in several locations today.

Achillea millefolium

 Along the road verges were numerous Common Oraches, a bland, petal-less species, common in waste ground and fallow fields. Atriplex can be tricky to identify, so always check the basal leaves and get a hand lens out to check the tiny achenes in the flower heads.

Atriplex patula

Spear-leaved Orache was also common, an easier one to identify, though some Common Oraches can have spear like leaves!

Atriplex prostrata

There are three species of Fleabane that look very similar to each other, all imported alien plants. Canadian Fleabane is still the most common to find here, and it's pictured below. However, check details of the flowers and plant to determine whether it could be Bilbao or Guernsey Fleabane, all look superficially similar!
I found loads of Canadian Fleabane here, but all had gone to seed. However, by the Thames along a wall I found some late flowering plants, maybe protected from the frosts by the salty air and adjacent wall?

Conyza canadensis

It can be very easy to overlook the obvious. I was concentrating at ground level and walked straight past these flowering male catkins of the Hazel tree. I only saw them on the way back to the car! I've seen photos of the small red female flowers out in Western areas of the UK, but i couldn't find any here yet.

Corylus avellana

In the rougher areas of rank grasses were plenty of Wild Carrot seed heads. They are very distinctive, as they curl up into a tight ball of seeds. However, look closer and you may find a fresh flowering shoot coming out of the base of the old, apparently dead, stem. Just like I did here.

Daucus carota

White Dead-Nettles flower all year long. Frosts and snow will kill the flowers off but once it turns milder they pop back up again within a week or so. Sure enough, I found a patch flowering. Not the best photo, but I didn't fancy laying on the ground to get the perfect shot! Furthermore, it was raining by now. Unlike their namesakes (Stinging Nettle), Dead-Nettles have no sting at all.

Lamium album

On a newly formed bank of earth near to newly built flats, I found a surprise Swine-Cress in flower. These are very common in arable fields and pavement cracks, and the new habitat mimicked a recently ploughed field I suppose. The surprise was finding it in flower! The flowers are incredibly tiny, just 2-3mm across and rarely have visible petals.

Lepidium coronopus

In the 2016 plant hunt I found numerous White Melilots in flower along an industrial road here. A year later, I found just the one, with a rather pathetic small raceme of flowers, but they all count!
By now, it was wet and windy, so I found it difficult to get a better photo than this one.

Melilotus albus

Next up was a very dull plant. It doesn't have petals, it's all pale green and can be found just about anywhere. It is of course, Annual Mercury, a pesky plant of gardens, fields, waste ground and towns, it does get everywhere. However, while it may appear dull and boring, it provides vital food for insects at this time of the year. I spotted several tiny flies on the florets.

Mercurialis annua

 This was the first wildflower I spotted once I got out of my car, the abundant and mostly unwelcome Knotgrass. There are several subspecies not easy to tell apart, hence the term "agg" for aggregate. The flowers are less then 2-3 mm across.

Polygonum aviculare agg

I've combined a few flowers now, which will help you to spot the differences between similar flowers. When I started my interest in botany just a few years ago, it became quickly apparent that certain families of plants were going to be problematic. One such family is the Dandelion look alike plants. There are Dandelions, Hawkweeds, Hawkbeards, Cats Ears and Mouse Ears and Sowthistles and numerous sub species and hybrids to contend with. As such it can daunting to try to identify them. However, some are relativly easy and common and after a while you don't even think about them being difficult anymore, so don't shy away from this group, pick out the easiest and expand your knowledge bit by bit from there.

Both of these two were growing along the sea wall (above the high tide line).

Hawkweed Oxtongue                                                                                             Smooth Sowthistle
Picris hieracioides                                                                                                   Sonchus oleraceus

Ragworts are another potentially confusing group of plants, but thankfully, much easier than those above. I didn't find any Common Ragwort, but there were plenty of flowering plants of the two (alien) species below. They were most numerous along the road verges.

Narrow-leaved Ragwort                                                                                 Oxford Ragwort
    Senecio inaequidens                                                                                       Senecio squalidus

Another common plant found everywhere is Groundsel and here was no exception.

Senecio vulgaris

Hedge Mustard was common along the new road verge, it's long spindly but stiff branches and flattened seed pods distinctive.

Sisymbrium officinale

Along the sea wall, but away from the salt tides, were numerous patches of Common Chickweed, a very common plant in towns, gardens and fields. At standing up level I couldn't spot any flowers, so when I found a big clump, I got down low and found just 2 flowers out. Again, they are quite small flowers with tiny petals, so you need good eyes, or get down low to look if not (like me).

Stellaria media

 Scentless Mayweeds were numerous along the road verges, typical colonisers of new habitats and arable fields.

Tripleurospermum inodorum

My final find of the day was a Common Field Speedwell, which unfortunately look very similar to the Green Field Speedwell. However, the seeds are different and I was fortunate enough to find not only the seeds but some flowering as well. The petals were not fully open due to the rain.

Veronica persica

I think that tallies to 20 species in just 2 hours of searching. It's a good, fun excuse (if any were needed) to search for wildlife in our countryside in the depths of Winter. So why not get the family together and give it a go, there's still a few days left to do so.

A Happy New Year to All.