Friday, 18 May 2018

Botanical Catch Up! Kent - April 2018

As usual at this time of the year, I have fallen way behind in writing up my blogs. The warming, lengthening days and the explosion of species coming into flower, means I spend much of my free time out and about recording and photographing. As such, here's a selection from April of some amazing rare and beautiful common plants I found.

First up is a special rare plant only found in Kent and Bedfordshire (to my knowledge), the Grey Mouse-ear. I don't think anyone really knows if it's a native or ancient introduction.

Cerastium brachypetallum

There were about 10 plants seen on a narrow compacted field edge on the Southern edge of Churchdown Woods, Fawkham.

When I first found this new colony, there were hundreds along the edge. The following two years, the field was heavily sprayed and I saw none at all, so I am pleased they weren't totally wiped out.

Here's a habitat photo for the Grey Mouse-ear, they were on the last bit of compacted soil before the trees.

Certainly in Kent, the usual Hawthorn tree is usually - just a Hawthorn tree. However, sometimes the leaves look wrong and on examination of the flowers, I found this to be Midland Hawthorn where all flowers have 2 styles. Normal Hawthorn only has 1 style in each flower. If you find flowers with a mix of 1,2 or sometimes 3 styles, it's a hybrid between the two.

Crataegus laevipes

Early Purples Orchids had just started flowering in the last week of April, as often the case, at the same time as the Bluebells.

Orchis mascula

Wood Melick is probably the easiest woodland grass to identify when it flowers.

Melica uniflora

A nice Tortoiseshell on a Buttercup.

I see these Common Field Speedwells everywhere, but this is the first white form I've ever seen (though there is a tiny hint of blue).

Veronica persica

All the above were in or around Churchdown Woods, nr Fawkham, Kent. The next selection is from Samphire Hoe and Dungeness on the coast at the end of April.

The first Kidney Vetch in flower on the natural cliffs of Samphire Hoe.

Anthyllis vulneraria

A nice stand of Wild Cabbage on the beach at Samphire Hoe

Brassica oleraceus subsp oleraceus

As in most years at this time of year, there were hundreds of Early Spider Orchids on the Hoe by the railway line. I particularly liked this shot as the Cowslip sets off the orchid nicely.

Ophrys sphegodes

However, I wanted to find some on the cliffs at the far Western end of the Hoe and I found plenty there as well

The star find here was this variant Early Spider, almost completely lacking in red pigments, though it was a weedy, small plaant!

Ophrys sphegodes var. flavescens

However, there was another wonderful Early Spider Orchid that I found. Normal looking flowers but a giant of a specimen.

Including the gone over flowers, I counted 14 flowers on this plant! This beats the 12 flowers I found on a Bee Orchid once.

The last unusual orchid was this one with deep coloured wings which are usually a pale green.

Here's a habitat shot of the cliff base habitat for these wonderful orchids.

From here we went to Dungeness, though time was now short.

Near the old lighthouse was what looked like a Field Mouse-ear, but it had a greyish appearance and was too hairy.  Nearby was a large patch of Snow-in-summer, a garden escape naturalised on the shingle.

I later had it confirmed that this is the hybrid between Field mouse-ear and Snow in summer. It has been recorded here before but was the first time I'd seen it. Of note is that there were no Field Mouse ear to be seen in the area.

Cerastium arvense x tomentosum = C. x maueri 

Near the Long Ponds were just two spikes of Field Pepperwort, a rare plant but often found in coastal areas in Kent.

Lepidium campestre

Near the power station were around 20 or so flowering spikes of Early Purple Orchids. It looked odd on shingle and not in a wood!

Orchis mascula

There were thousands of the scarce Shepherd's Cress on the old shingle ridges.

Teesdalia nudicaulis

Dotted everywhere like tiny puple dots in the short turf were thousands of Common Vetch. These were so small and stunted that I thought they may be Spring Vetch, but a closer examination showed they weren't. Many had 2 or more florets and the leaf and flower arrangement was wrong.

Vicia sativa

The prostrate form of Blackthorn was also on the shingle around the Long Ponds, it's quite odd seeing this as a prostrate bush and not in a hedgerow or as a small tree.

Prunus spinosa

That's about it, I've left out a lot of flowers but I hope you liked the selection.


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Botanical Recording in Marden, Kent - 08/04/18

Marden is best known for its nature reserve containing thousands of Green - winged Orchids and the monad this is in is heavily recorded for plant records. However, as is often the case, the monads around and outside of the reserve had very few records. So I set about finding some to even things up a bit. Early Spring isn't the best time for high numbers of species, but I do find species that have disappeared by the time the warmer weather comes (sometimes called ephemerals).

One such Ephemeral is the humble Common Whitlowgrass, which is in abundance during March, but has completely disappeared in Kent by May.

Erophila verna s.s.

Trees are always worth looking out for and their "flowers" make them easier to identify at this time of year.

You will often find this tree next to (or in) water and this was by a wet water filled ditch.  It is of course the Alder tree. 

This photo isn't pin sharp, but I prefer to photograph flowers on the tree and not pick them off and it was a breezy day!

Hanging down are the male catkins that shed the pollen.

Left are the short, stubby female flowers that form into oblong cones in the summer and remain on the tree until well into winter.

Alnus glutinosa.

Just coming into flower now were Garlic Mustard, a food plant for the Orange tip butterfly caterpillars.

Their leaves are often visible through much of winter and are easily identifiable even without flowers. If in doubt, crush one and you can smell a hint of garlic.

Alliaria petiolata

One of the joys of Spring for me is seeing swathes of Cuckooflowers or Lady's Smock.

They like damp areas and many a rural road and some A roads are lined with them.

Of course, growing on the banks of roadside ditches means they escape the mowers so are still doing quite well in the south east.

Cardamine pratensis

In a typical habitat location, by the railway line, were drifts of Field Horsetail. Their green spindly fern like leaves will appear later.

Equisetum arvense

 A single flower of Shining Cranesbill was also in this area.

Their elongated calyx (bit beneath the petals); no notches in their petals, bright pink colour and reddening to the leaves make this one of the easier cranesbills to identify.

Geranium lucidum

One of the first Bluebells in flower in my area was found, unlike now where there are huge drifts of them caarpeting most woods around me.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

On the path I noticed lots of these bright red catkins. I'd need a very long ladder to photograph them on a tree as they belong to the hybrid Black Poplar tree, which is invariably over 20 metres tall.

Populus x canadensis

Wood Forget-me-not was appearing in large numbers. They have bigger flowers than both Early and Field Forget-me-nots and patent (sticking out) hairs all the way up the stem. They also lack hooked hairs on the calyx. When looking at these always check the hairs on the upper and lower stem and calyx, flower size, colour and shape. Keep a note (or photo in my case) and you'll be able to identify them all.

I would also recommend looking at the videos for Myosotis identification by Lliam Rooney  at which is the Kent Botanical Recording Group's page of the BSBI. There's several other species listed as well, have a browse.

Myosotis sylvatica

If Christmas is the time to be merry, then Spring is the time to be Cherry!

Cherry Plum is the first Cherry to blossom and does so before its leaves appear. It's flowers are almost identical to Blackthorn and both plants can have thorns. Look for reflexed (bent backward) sepals (under the petals) and green twigs to differentiate it from Blackthorn. Though I must admit, big thorns are rare on Cherry and all usually all over Blackthorn.

Prunus cerasifera

Railway lines are the perfect habitat for many plants, but increasingly for assorted garden escaped species.

These places are rarely sprayed or mowed and not improved.

This is the attractive (but foul smelling apparently) Flowering Currant.

Ribes sanguineum

Comfreys are a lover of waste ground as well, and it's not unusual to find garden varieties scattered about.

Apart from the colour of the petals, a key point to look for with these is how the leaves attach to the stem.

Look in a field guide and you'll see what I mean

 Symphytum officinale

Shown here is the main stalk with the leaf join running all the way down it to the next leaf, showing this to be Common Comfrey. It would help a lot if field guides put pictures like this in their books.

I can identify many plants without flowers, just from the form of the leaves.

Here's a good example of one easy to identify from the leaf alone, a Tansy.

Tanasetum vulgare

This trip was planned as a simple botanical recording trip and I didn't expect to find a species I'd not seen before somewhere else. Apart from the reserve with the  Green-winged Orchids, Marden isn't on a "must go to" list for botanical marvels.  However, I proved myself wrong by finding the next plant below.

 From standing height it looked a bit like a fleshy Common Chickweed, but the redness of the stems got me kneeling down for a better look. It was on a wet, bare patch of mud that no doubt dries out quickly to baked cracked clay!

Unfortunately. it's flowers were in bud with none open and I later identified it from my books to be the humble Blinks.

I hope I get back to see it in flower and take some better photos, though at the time of writing (30/04/18) it's absolutely pouring down with rain and will last around 24 hours, so I doubt any petals would be left!

Montia fontana

I thoroughly enjoyed my tip around Marden and I resisted the urge afterwards for a peek in Marden Meadows to see if any orchids were out, I'll wait until there's thousands!

Take care

Isle of Grain, Kent - 16/04/18

The easier to access parts of Grain are well recorded, however, there were a couple of monads with very few records, so my partner and I decided to walk to them to see what we could find. There were to the South and South East of the old power station (whose iconic chimney was recently blown up and demolished).

The large flowers of Oxford Ragwort couldn't be missed with lots in flower along the sea wall. It's a lover of wasteground, railway tracks and other such places.

Senecio squalidus

Its leaves are well separated and more pointy than the blousy lobes which Common Ragwort displays.


With the cold Spring, I was hoping to find some ephemeral species that would be missed later in the year. This Sticky Mouse-ear is one such plant. Its main characteristic is the hairy close knit heads of flower buds that other mouse ears don't have.

Cerastium glomeratum

I kept an eye out for the Sea Mouse-ear, very easy to spot as it only has 4 (notched) petals whereas all the others have 5.  However, whilst looking for tiny white flowers, I noticed a Mouse-ear that looked a bit different.  I was very pleased to find Little Mouse-ear, a species I'd only noticed a few days before at Camber in Sussex and had not seen one before then. I suppose having studied that one, I now recognised them, they look quite different to Common and Sticky Mouse-ear and are very small!

Cerastium semidecandrum

There was a cool breeze but it was nevertheless a sunny day and the insects were out in force.

A tiny 24 spot Ladybird on a rush.

Subcoccinella vigintiquattuorpunctata 

A Marsham's Nomad Bee (I think), one of the Cuckoo bees.

Nomada marshamella 

I wasn't surprised to find Field Horsetail growing in the cracks of the sea wall, but I was surprised to find Lesser Celandine growing there as well.

What a beautiful composition the two species make together.

Equisetum arvense
Ficaria verna

The flower below is Alexanders, an early flowering umbellifer that attracts all sorts of insects from flies, bees, hoverflies and this wasp. Oddly, I rarely see butterflies feeding on them
(or Cow Parsley come to that).

Ichneumon stramentor (wasp) on Smyrnium olusatrum

Much of the back of the sea wall is rank grass, grazed or cut with mostly dead nettle and chickweed among them.

Thus I was quite surprised to see a solitary Cowslip brightening the area up. No massive drifts of yellow here, but perhaps a single plant makes one focus on it to appreciate it all the more.

Primula veris 

The rather plain but very numerous Hoary Cress was just coming into flower. They're basically a dirty green plant with small white flowers, they look rather drab, perhaps that's why they get the name of...

Lepidium draba

Along the top of the sea wall was a bright green parsley, superficially like a stunted Cow Parsley but much paler with tiny umbels of flowers.

This is Knotted Parsley, a low growing member of the carrot family often found in coastal or waste ground areas.

Torilis nodosa

Another solitary bee on an Alexander's leaf, sunning itself. I think it's an  Andrea but which one I don't know.

Just above the high tide mark, I found plenty of Sea Mouse-ear, a pleasing find anywhere.

It's not growing in sand (this is the muddy Medway estuary!) but in shell grit.

This photo includes Common Whitlowgrass which are tiny themselves at only a few inches tall.

It gives a sense of scale as to how small the Sea Mouse-ear are.

Erophila verna


Cerastium diffusum

My final photo shows the habitat a bit better, shell grit and whole shells on a mini "beach".

Oddly, I failed to find any Common Mouse-ear in flower to make a full set, though I did find some in bud.

Hope you liked the blog, the Isle of Grain is always worth a walk with several habitat types from wood to saltmarsh, there's even Sea Clover to be found here later in the year.

I made up a collage of the Cerastiums I've seen to date which is quite interesting. Not mentioned above is the Grey Mouse-ear, but more about that species soon!

Take care