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.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Autumn Arable Wildflowers, Longfield, Kent. 20/09/2016

There is a large arable field just North of Longfield that has been left fallow for well over a year. I thought it might have some interesting arable plants now so I had a quick visit to see what I could find. Apart from being a nice open space, it doesn't look much does it. However, when the farmer leaves it a while before spraying, the seed bank in the soil comes to life. Longfield can be seen to the left of the photo.

Scarlet Pimpernels are almost guaranteed to be present and can be found in a variety of habitats from pavement cracks to shingle areas. However, arable field edges are their stronghold. Always keep a look out for subspecies, such as the rare Blue Pimpernel or a rose coloured variant.

Anagallis arvensis subsp arvensis

There were at least a thousand of these Small Toadflax plants scattered throughout the field, with their snap draon type small flowers being distinctive.

The flowers are mostly white, but look closer and you'll see pink and lilac shades as well.

Chaenorhinum minus


Yellow crucifer flowers of the cabbage family can be tricky to identify. This is Black Mustard, it's seeds being pressed tightly to the stem, topped by tiny four petalled flowers. Without seeds present, identifying them can be difficult!

Brassica nigra

I was quite surprised to find several Great Willowherbs in the field, usually a waste ground species. I guess the field being fallow for over a year has given seed the opportunity to grow and flower.

Epilobium hirsutum 

Here's another colonist from a nearby chalk meadow, Wild Carrot. As the flowers go to seed, the whole flower head curls up into a ball, very distinctive, as are the branched large bracts below the flowers.

Daucus carota

I then found my first rare plant, Dwarf Spurge, on the Kent Rare Plant Register. They are quite insignificant, as the name suggests, and easily missed.

I had found some about a mile away, but this was the first time I had found them here.

Euphorbia exigua

Here's the whole plant, it's past its best and going to seed now.

There were masses of Black Bindweed in the field, not surprising as these can often survive moderate spraying.

Fallopia convolvulus

Here's another plant I didn't expect to find in the middle of an arable field, Hedge Bedstraw. It really is surprising how quickly nature can come back if left alone.

Galium album

This is a common plant in fields, the Sun Spurge. You can just see the orange dots of a rust fungus that attacks these as they die off.

Euphorbia helioscopia

Another yellow crucifer was present in large numbers, Annual Wall Rocket. Key to identifying these are the basal leaves which are long stalked with broad side lobes.

If the stem is woody, consider Perennial Wall Rocket.

Diplotaxis  muralis

Common Fumitory is present in most arable fields. They are very tricky to identify. To do so take measurements of all parts of the flower, especially the sepals.  Note the shape and colours of the flower parts, better still, take detailed photos to work it out later.

I had time to do neither this day, so haven't identified it firmly to species level.

Fumaria sp

In one smaller area of the field, there was a different soil. Instead of poor soil on chalk, soil had been imported by the farmer to enrich it. There was a gone over crop of spring onions there.

The flora changed with the soil, and Common Mallow was prevalent.

Malva sylvestris

Then I spotted another Mallow within the group, much smaller with delicate white flowers, streaked with lilac.
It was the delightful Dwarf Mallow

Malva  neglecta

Here and there were bunches of Common Poppies. It's past the time when some fields turned red with them, but they are always nice to see.

Papaver rhoeas

Also in this area were plenty of these Redshank and the closely related Pale Persicaria

Persicaria maculosa

Knotgrasses were ever present and were barely noticed. But in this area I noticed these looked different, with red tipped tepals and long straggly stems, quite unlike the normal Knotgrass.

Just to check I picked some "normal" Knotgrass and compared the two, they were definitely very different.

My County Recorder later identified it as Cornfield Knotgrass, a first for the area and a Rare Plant Register find.

The tiny nutlet poking out from the calyx is distinctive as well as the red tipped tepals.

I'd not seen them before.

I guess the seed was in the soil that the farmer used to enrich his field?

Polygonum rurivahum

As I left this area, I headed towards the field edge and a hedgerow. Along the way I found some Lucerne still in flower. An attractive plant of the pea family, it is often sown as a fodder crop. It can also be found on many roadside verges in this area.

Medicago sativa subsp sativa

Here's a relative of Lucerne, the Spotted Medick. It's trifolium type leaves spotted with black triangles. You often find them in lawns!

Medicago arabica

Another common pavement "weed" present in large numbers was Annual Mercury. You may never notice its flowers unless you look closely, as there aren't any petals and the whole plant is a pale green colour.

Mercurialis annua

At the base of the hedgerow were several Wild Basil still in flower, a classic wildflower on chalk.
Marjoram was also present, but now in seed.

Clinopodium vulgare

Black horehound was also still going in the hedgerow, it's related to Dead-Nettles and is very common. If you crush a leaf and smell it, it gives off quite a rancid smell, but bees and insects seem to like the flowers.

Ballota nigra

I could have gone on quite a bit longer with flowers such as Bristly Oxtongue, Rough Hawkbit, Shepherd's Purse and so on. It just goes to show the diversity of a single field when given a chance and not sprayed into oblivion every year.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

RIverside Country Park Gillingham, Kent - 11/09/16

This blog is about a month out of date but I've finally got around to writing it!
I walked this country park on the banks of the tidal Medway recording plants as I went. The OS square to the West of the car park was under recorded, so that gave the trip a more defined purpose.

There's a reasonable amount of salt marsh to explore when the tide is low as it was today, and scrubby areas inland.

The most obvious flowering plant on the salt marsh edges was Sea Aster. They are like a saltwater tolerant version of the Michelmas Daisies.

There are two forms, one with lilac rays and the other with the rays absent.

I only found the rayed form here today.

Aster tripolium var. tripolium

Glassworts were common too. I keep missing the Kent Botanical Recording Society field trips that concentrate on this species. If I could have attended I would be able to identify each type.

Believe it not, this one was in flower! On the lower branch are two tiny yellow anthers poking out. They don't have petals at all.

Salicornia sp

This is another "flower" that gets covered in salt water twice a day on Spring tides. It's a Sea Purslane. It forms large colonies near the high tide mark on many estuaries in Kent.

Atriplex portaculoides

Another Atriplex often found in these habitats and of late, along salted roads inland, is the Grass-leaved Orache. This is always upright and often tall, as here. The leaves are pretty much uniform and strap like, making it easy to tell apart from the more complicated inland Oraches.

Atriplex littoralis

The final flower of the salt marsh I photographed was perhaps the most beautiful, it's Golden Samphire. It's relatively common along the Thames and Medway estuaries but is on the rare plant register as it is declining both locally and nationally.

Inula crithmoides

So I left the shoreline and headed inland to see what I might find. The scrubby land didn't look like it would offer much as it was full of brambles and nettles.

This is Common Ivy, found almost everywhere, but the flowers at this time of the year are an important food source for bees and insects.
Red Admiral butterflies also feed on them prior to finding a place to hibernate.

Hedera helix subsp helix

Creeping, Marsh and this Spear Thistle still had the odd flower up.

Cirsium vulgare

On one of the Creeping Thistles I found this Thistle Gall. I forget now which insect causes them, but I don't see them that often.

I found a small patch of Common Toadflax, a delightful native wildflower that also looks good in any garden. I have some self sown in my own garden as well.

Linaria vulgaris

My attention was drawn to a few bright blue flowers of Chickory that I spotted in the long grasses. A pleasant surprise as it hadn't been recorded here before and is another Kent RPR species.

Cichorium intybus

It seemed that the taller wildflowers did better in this habitat. This is Tansy, which is rather like a rayless Daisy and it has very distinctive leaves.

Tanacetum vulgare

Below is a close up of the fower heads showing them to be multiple flowers and not just one single flower. A boon for bees and insects.

This attractive pea is Lucerne, a common roadside plant in Kent and often planted in fields as a fodder crop along with other pea family plants such as Clovers.

Medicago sativa subsp sativa.

There is a yellow version as well, othrwise known as alfalfa with its well known seeds!

This was my final photograph here, a beautiful Common Flax. I found it by a small pond which has a walkway around it. Flax is another flower sown as a crop but there were no fields close by. I suspect it grew here as a remnant of a bird seed mix. Nonetheless, it was nice to see.

Linum usitatissimum

So ended my walk where I managed to record 87 species for the BSBI 2010-2020 atlas, several of which had not been recorded before.

Take care