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

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Some Botanical Jewels from the Romney Marsh, Kent - 27/08/16

For this blog I visited Littlestone, Greatstone and the ditches and dykes of the Romney Marsh in South West Kent. It's a lovely under-rated area both for beaches and wildlife, never crowded and always peaceful, though in Winter, quite bleak as well.
But Winter is not yet here and I made the trip to the South coast of Kent to see what botanical marvels I might find.

My first stop was on the Romney Marsh. This is an area intensely farmed with widespread use of pesticides and herbicides, but the ditches (or dykes) that criss cross the marsh are filled with wildlife.

A single track road going from Brenzett towards Fairlight produced a few fine stands of Marsh Mallow, a RPR species in Kent. The Romney Marsh and the Leybourne area are the only places I know where to find it. Here's a habitat photo I took on the Marsh for this wonderful flower.

Related to the Common Mallow and the Musk Mallow, the Marsh Mallow has been picked almost to extinction in the county, as Marshmallow (like you get for deserts) was made from their crushed up roots.  Thankfully, it's now synthetic Marshmallows that melt on the tongue!

Althea officinalis

They are large flowers, large plants with big leaves, but unmistakably a Mallow!  I found a few hundred by farm buildings, then further on , they were dotted along a country lane, beside and in a dyke.

From there we made our way to Littlestone, a small coastal town. A few hundred yards back from the coast was this parish green, a memorial site complete with medieval canon!

This is heavily mowed. In previous years I have found a few Autumn Ladies Tresses here, but with the grass freshly mowed I didn't expect to find any. Combined with the lack of rain for several weeks, I wasn't hopeful of any being up.

I needn't have worried. They seem to like the very short turf and provided they aren't mown down when in flower will do just fine.

They were counted by a local (Owen Leyshon Marsh Ranger) and there were over 300 here this year. On a little green that's pretty good!

Of course, they are another Kent RPR species and aren't found in many places in Kent.

They are the last wild orchid to flower in the South East. The next will likely be Early Purple Orchids in April/May 2017.

Spiranthes spiralis

You might find them on short turf on the North Downs. Try places like Trosley or Kemsing, or any short turf area on chalk or sandy soils, you never know.

Their tiny flowers spiral up a single stem and are quite unique.

There are other types of Ladies Tresses, such as Creeping Ladies Tresses, but these are the only ones found in the South East of England.

A beautiful, though tiny,  wild orchid.

From here we drove the short distance to the sea. This grassy area by the beach huts at Littlestone has several rare species for Kent, such as Sheeps Bit. It's all pretty much dried out and dead looking now though. Perhaps if the Summer had been wet, it would look a lot different.

Follow the coast road towards Dymchurch and you go over a rough unmade road by the sea. Here is a narrow strip of sandy land between the sea and a golf course. There are many wildflowers here, and plenty of butterflies as well.

This is Common Restharrow, very common around the coast and in arable fields that are not sprayed.

Ononis repens

This is Ladies Bedstraw, a common plant of coastal and chalk areas, which is, as here, in seed in most places now. Up the coast at Sandwich you can find Bedstraw Broomrape which parasitises this plant and is very rare in the UK.

Galium verum

I came to a strip of wild land in between houses by the sea wall. In this small area were many plants of interest, like this naturalised Blue Eryngo, escaped from nearby houses. It looks remarkably similar to Sea Holly, a close relative.

Eryngium planum

This is a plant you may see in gardens, on waste ground, or like here, by the sea. It's a Garden Asparagus plant. It's feathery, thread like leaves and tiny flowers (followed by berries) are distinctive.

For such a large plant, it has really small flowers, about a centimetre long.

 Asparagus officinalis subsp officinalis

I was quite surprised to find Rock Samphire growing here at the base of the sea wall. I suppose sea walls mimic its natural rocky habitat, provided the seed can find a crack to germinate within.

Crithmum maritimum 

All along the sea wall on the inside edge, were masses of Thrift, but all were in seed now. I was very lucky to find a single plant still in flower.

They really are quite delightful little flowers, their pom pom heads made up of over 10 separate flowers. They are common on sea cliffs, shingle and coastal habitats in general, but are quite rare inland.

Armeria maritima subsp maritima

At first, I though this was another Marsh Mallow but by the sea. The all white flowers confused me. However, it transpired that it was a Musk Mallow that had been grazed, hence the lack of intermediate leaves, with only the thicker basal leaves giving the game away.

They are usually light pink in colour and this is the first all white variant I have ever found for this species.

Malva moschata var albiflora

This is another garden escape that can confuse. It's Soapwort, a freely occurring wildflower but a double form. As such it can only be an escapee called Bouncing Bett, which is a Soapwort bred to have a double row of petals. It was doing quite nicely in the sandy soils at Littlestone.

Saponaria officinalis

Littlestone and Greatstone have a large amount of garden escapes which have naturalised into the wild successfully. It's ironic that they thrive in sand, in desert like conditions, yet when planted in gardens, they are fertilised, put in good compost and watered profusely. They seem to do fine without!

Scattered, here there and everywhere, were these small Ragwort like plants. The give away is how stickily hairy they were and the off lemon scent on your hands after touching them.

They are Sticky Groundsel, another lover of coastal areas.

Senecio viscosus

From here, I drove a short way to Greatstone in the Taylor Road area to look for Jersey Cudweed.

By the road were numerous seeded Red Valerians but a few were still flowering, like this one in its usual colour form.

Centranthus ruber

But look a bit closer and you may find the white flowered version or even a pink version and many in between!

They are a very successful garden escape and have colonised shingle and sand to such a degree that the powers that be are thinking of trying to eradicate them. I wish them luck but think it's rather too late to do that now. They are prolific seeding plants and thousands have been flowering in this area now for many years. Thats's a lot of seeds waiting to germinate!

Also by the roadside were several stands of White Melilot. Common in waste areas inland but not so common by the sea. Notoriously difficult to photograph as firstly they are white, thus bleaching out in any sun, and secondly, they are long and thin and so blow about in the slightest breeze.

I was fortunate here in that the sun was now low and the plant had thrown out a horizontal flowering spike close to the ground, avoiding most of the breeze that is always present here.

Melilotus albus

In previous years I had photographed the rare Jersey Cudweed on the railway tracks at Greatstone. I was probably too late to do so this year given the dry, hot weather. But I had a look anyway!

I did find several plants, but all were in seed. I was then fortunate enough to find this one.

This is Jersey Cudweed, as you can see, it's growing right on the railway tracks.

It's quite unlike the other Cudweeds, both in leaf size and shape and in the florets, or capitula.

It can also be found plentifully at Canary Wharf in London!

Gnaphalium luteo-album

Here's a close up of the capitula showing the red tinged flowers. Most Cudweeds have straw coloured yellow flowers, making this one an easy one to identify.

It's also present at the RSPB reserve at Dungeness nearby, but unfortunately, not in an area open to the public.  I expect it to spread throughtout the South East in the next 10 years or so.

That was about it for this day. Another fantastic display of wildflowers to enjoy. Of course, I don't photograph everything, there is always much to see, even when sun baked and dry for weeks!

I'll leave you with a Menage a trois as the French say, in the not too far distant horizons from Littlestone.....