Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ightam Mote & Betsham 25/03/16

Ancient stone buildings are always worth a good look at for botanical finds though it's a bit early yet for most. However, with an early Easter holiday, we headed out for Scotney Castle, a beautiful National Trust property with many botanical interests, both wild and cultivated. However, that was not to be as the traffic jams were so bad we diverted to NT Ightam Mote instead.

This was also packed but at least we got a spot in the main car park. Later on, people had to park a long way up the approach road. As we walked down the path to the old house, we had a good look on the walls surrounding it. I could make out Rue leaved Saxifrage rosettes, but it was too early for flowers.  I did find some attractive mosses though. Thanks to my Twitter followers for the IDs.

 Bryum capillare

Tortula muralis

While very interesting, nothing on the walls was flowering, so we headed up around the grounds to see what we could find. First up was the apple orchard. On the apple trees was some wild Mistletoe, a parasite, but great to see.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get as close to the tree as I would have liked to photograph it as there was a fence up to stop visitors from muddying the place up.

I did manage a half decent shot even at range. This is the fully open female flower!

The male flowers have small yellow petals, but I didn't see any of those out yet.

Viscum album

Small streamlets crossed the path, making their way down into the main stream that feeds the house lake.
In these wet areas, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage abounded. These flowers don't have petals, but the tip of the plants and anthers are a golden yellow, giving the effect of petals from standing height.

Here's a macro shot of the flower.

There's also a rare Alternate-leaved version, but I've yet to find one.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

 Some planted Cherry Laurel was starting to flower which have big spikes (racemes) of flowers which smell nice as well


That was it (Botanically) for the house and grounds so we headed out to the estate for a walk.

It was a glorious Spring day, with beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, as it turns out, the only such day over the whole Bank Holiday. So it was in just a jumper that we headed up into the woodland path above the Mote.

Bluebells were very numerous, but only a few were flowering. It will be quite a sight when the main population flowers.

These are native Bluebells. There are many sites being invaded by hybrids with Spanish Bluebell. I'll detail the differences in a later blog when most are flowering.

Hyacinthoides-non scripta

Wood Spurge was coming into flower. The leaves you can see on them overwinter and the flowers grow in Spring from the top in a bright green spike.

Big stands of them can be great to see as most Spring plants are relatively small.

Here's a close up of the flower, again they are petal-less, but this time they are also mildly poisonous with milky white sap if you broke a stem, like most Spurges.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

 Wild Primroses abounded and they attracted the attention of several Dark-edged Bee Flies, a bee mimicking fly that eats only nectar.

However, their offspring are deadly and the adult lays eggs in solitary bees nests. The Bee Fly larvae hatch first and gobble up the eggs of the solitary bee.

Their wings beat so fast that in most photos they appear wingless! Thankfully it stayed still for its photo!

 Bombylius major

 It was such a pleasant day to be out and about, the crowds were in Ightam Mote house and the estate walk was almost deserted (being muddy I think).

 Here's a view of the walk with Hazel catkins in the foreground.

It's always worth looking around the base of Hazel, as Toothwort, a pale pink parasite of Hazel, should be up now and about to flower. No luck here though.

Corylus avellana

The tiny flowers of some early Barren Strawberries glowed in the sunshine. They really are quite small. As thier name suggests, there's virtually no fruit on these after flowering, though they do of course set seed.

Potentilla sterilis

Here and there were patches of violets. These can be quite tricky to identify as there is an overlap between Sweet, Early, Hairy and Common Dog Violets (and Heath Violet in some places).
This was an Early Dog Violet. When out, note the sepal shape, whether the stem is leafy, details of the spur, shape of the leaves, whether they send out runners - and there's more!

It does get easier with practice!

Viola reichenbachiana

We finished the walk and began to walk down the hill on the road back to the car park. By the road I spotted a clump of Moschatel or Town Hall Clock in flower. These uniquely in the UK, have flowers that are cubed with 5 sides flowering, hence the name!

They grow in the dappled shade of woodland and are one of the ancient woodland indicator species.

Again, the flowers are only a few inches tall so you could easily miss them. As they age, the flowers often turn white.

Adoxa moschatellina

The final flower of note here, was a 5m patch of flowering Lesser Periwinkle. These have naturalised within the woodland and many other places, though usually within sight of gardens.

Greater Periwinkle have a line of hairs along the leaf edges, otherwise they look pretty much identical.

Vinca minor

We left Ightam Mote and had a pleasnt slow drive through the lanes. In the Chiddingstone area I noticed lots of wildflowers by a roadside ditch, so I parked up and walked back to see what they were.

There were several hundred Lesser Celandines flowering. These are a common Spring plant but as it gets warmer, their numbers grow, until some verges turn completely yellow with their flowers. Note they only fully open on a sunny day!

Ficaria verna

Also growing by the ditch was one of the most delicately beautiful  Spring flowering plants, the Cuckooflower. Also known as Lady's Smock and by several other local names.

They are a member of the Cabbage Family and thus have 4 petals, but they range in colour from white to deep lilac with purple veins.


Cardamine pratensis

At another stop, I found some beautiful silvery Lichen. The red dots on the tips are the fruiting bodies that will release spores when ripe.

Cladonia polydactyla 

Nearby was another interesting moss, not in "flower" this time, but different from the others being taller and bushier. It was still under 3"tall though!

Not identified.

Time was getting on so we drove home.
However, with later evenings now, there was time for me to go out again for a short time locally.

Recently, I had found a lone naturalised Blue Anemone on a roadside verge in New Barn, but the flower was closed as it was a rainy day. I returned now to find the flower open and looking great, though only about 4" high.

There was a garden nearby with these growing in it but it had managed to seed itself over several yards of concrete onto a grass strip by the road. It's the first I've seen naturalised.

There are two types of Blue Anemone, one hairy beneath the leaves, the other not, so have a look! This one was hairy.

Anemone apennina
I then drove on to Betsham nearby and scoured the rural road verges for flowers of interest. I was most surprised to find what looked like a Garden Grape Hyacinth growing on a field edge/roadside with no other introduced species and no gardens nearby.

When I got home later, I found that the leaf tips were hooded (as shown in the photo) characteristic of a Compact Grape Hyacinth. Pending confirmation with the County Recorder, this is the first one of this species ever found naturalised in Kent.

I think, given time, most ornamentals can escape to some degree or other into the wild.

Muscaria botyoides - SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW

I drove a bit further along this country lane and stopped where safe and explored an arable field edge.

Here I found two Seven Spot Ladybirds doing their Spring dance.

 Coccinella septempunctata

I then found another pair of Ladybirds about half the size of the 7 spots. These were 24 Spot Ladybirds. The amount of spots can vary, but orange legs and head give the game away for their ID.

Subcoccinella vigintiquattuorpunctata

There were hundreds of Red Dead-Nettles around and also White Dead-Nettles like this one.

Their leaves look like Stinging Nettles, but there is no sting to these.

The Early Bumblebee frequents them a lot at this time of the year, so they are a valuable food source for early bees.

Lamium album

Another common arable "weed" is the Pineappleweed, so called because if you crush a leaf it smells strongly of pineapple.

A member of the Daisy family, it's quite similar to Mayweeds except it has no ray florets. Look closely at the photo and you can see several open tiny yellow flowers in the centre.

Matricaria discoidea

This is Common Mouse-ear, not quite open yet. It can be mistaken for Common Chickweed which looks similar. If in doubt, check the stems. Chickweed has 1 or 2 lines of hairs up the stem, Mouse-ear is hairy all around the stem.

Cerastium fontanum

The final "weed" I photographed was Annual Mercury, this is a weed of towns, gardens and pavements, as well as arable fields.

The female flowers do have small white petals, but these are the petal-less male flowers.

Mercurialis annua

That was about it for this day. With the longer evenings, there's more scope to visit more than one venue on a day out, and better still, the clocks go forward this weekend!


Footnote: just after publishing this blog, my County Recorder informed me the above Muscaria botyoides was in fact a bog standard Garden Grape Hyacinth, which have been widely recorded in the wild. M.botyoides apparently have strongly recurved petals which you can see at:

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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Kent Wildlife Trust Queendown Warren Reserve 17/03/16

This reserve sits on a dry chalk valley in the North Downs, South of Sittingbourne. It used to be renowned for its variety of orchids, but these have diminshed over the years. However, there are still lots of plants of interest along with butterflies, insects and more.

It's too early in the year to see any orchids, but the single Lizard Orchid is already growing its rosette. I don't know why it hasn't spread over the years to form a colony as it's flowered the last 2 years for sure. Elsewhere in Kent, Lizard Orchid colonies have doubled in size over a few years, so, overall they seem to be doing well in Kent.

Himantoglossum hircinum

But at this time of the year, the grassy banks of the reserve are dotted with Violets. It takes a while to get the hang of identifying the different types though. It's easy to think they are all Sweet Violets, which flower first, however, with the topsy turvy weather, Dog and HairyViolets are also out now.

These little beauties were actually Hairy Violets, with quite hairy leaf stems and leaves longer than broad.

Viola hirta

Further along the bank I found some Sweet Violets.

These may or may not have a scent, but their leaves are rounder, with a heart shaped base and their stems have very tiny hairs, hardly noticable and no leaves on the flower stems, and the sepals are quite rounded (amongst other identifying features).

 Sweet Violets are the most likely to have a white form, and here's an almost all white one. It looked pure white to the naked eye, but the camera sees it better than I can. There is a hint of lilac in the petals.
White flowers are always difficult to photograph when the sun is out as well, as the photos tend to bleach out the petals.

Viola odorata

I was lucky enough to spot a really tiny white flower in the turf, which was a Barren Strawberry, so called because their fruits are really tiny and not worth eating.

You can tell these apart from Wild Strawberry in that Barren Strawberry petals have gaps between them and their leaves are dull green, not glossy. Each leaflet has an even row of points at the tips, whereas Wild Strawberry leaflets have a distinctive point and glossy leaves. These will flower a bit later in the year.

Potentilla sterilis.

This little Ground Ivy is reaching for the sky!
They really are small but will grow substantially as Spring progresses. Rabbits don't seem to like them either, so the heavily grazed reserve will have plenty of this species to see.

They are very common but delightful to see on a cold Spring day.

 If you crush a leaf it smells like gone off mint, so maybe that's why rabbits leave them alone!


Glechoma hederacea

I was tempted to carry on down the bank to the lower areas to see the rosettes of the numerous Chalk Fragrant Orchids that grow there. However, time was pressing and we diverted into woodland at the Northern end of the reserve. Spring is a great time to be in managed woods, as most wildflowers will flower before the leaves come out on the trees to make the most of the available light.

These large leaves belong to Ramsons, often referred to as Wild Garlic (even though that is really another plant). All parts of Ramsons smell heavily of garlic and when in flower you can smell them before you see them.

It will be a few weeks yet before this one flowers, but when they flower en masse the woodland is covered in a white carpet which is quite a sight to see and smell!

Allium ursinum

A very common sight now are masses of Lesser Celandine. They grow best in lightly shaded woodland, but road verges and even lawns have their fair share.
A beautiful Spring flower, they started flowering in North Kent in late December!

Ficaria verna

Here and there around the County, Cow Parsley is coming iinto flower. We are still a long way off the swathes of flowers adorning road verges, but the odd flower has now come out.

Anthriscus sylvestris

The icing on the cake though was the sighting of the first Wood Anemone I have seen this year. Just a few out but a lovely sight. It looks like they have 6-7 white petals but in fact they don't have any petals, they are white sepals. Maybe sepals withstand frost better than a flimsy petal?

The underside of the sepals are a lovely shade of pink and sometimes you can find an almost pink version top and bottom of the flower.

The leaves are quite distinctive and many leaves are up without their flowers yet. This is another flower that can carpet the woodland floor with thousands of flowers out at the same time. Add in Bluebells, Lesser Celandine, Early Purple Orchids and Greater Stitchwort, and the woods will become quite magical in a few weeks time.

Anemone nemorosa

Just the odd Bluebell was out but I didn't photograph them today as I had done so the other day (see Ranscombe blog)

Here's a taste of things to come!


Get out and down to your local wood, there's plenty to see even now and if you leave it too long, you'll have to wait another year to see them all over again. It's a great way to shake off those Winter blues!



 Blogs previous to March 2016 found here

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Short Walk at Ranscombe Farm, Kent, 15th March 2016

Ranscombe Farm is a fantastic place for wildflowers all year round in the Medway Valley with good public access. It is run by the only charity for wildflowers, Plantlife, of which I am a member.
Rather than wax lyrical about it, read about it from this web link.
Ranscombe Farm

We didn't have long for a walk, which is the usual in midweek due to work. The main car park is right by the A228 main road, which is also managed for wildflowers.

Right by the car was a rosette of the Man Orchid. These are Endangered nationally, but are fairly common in North Kent.

Orchis anthropophora

I then had a look along the main road verge which is also managed for wildflowers.

The first flowering plant was Hairy Bittercress, a troublesome weed in many gardens. They are very similar to Wavy Bittercress and can distinguished easily by Hairy having the seeds overtopping the flowers, which is rare in Wavy Bittercress.

Cardamine hirsuta

Another tiny flower along the road verge were many Danish Scurvygrass.
30 years ago these were only found around the coasts as they grow in saline soil. However, the continuous salting of our roads in Winter has led to an impressive spread of them inland along salted roads.
There are over a million in flower along the A2 between Dartford and Bexley at the moment.

Cochlearia danica

Wild Primroses dotted the verge and also the steep bank in the car park. The woodland on the reserve is also full of them. A lovely sight in Spring.

Primula vulgaris

Also along the road verge were thousands of Common Whitlowgrass flowering. These are only between 3-8" tall and easily missed, but here they looked like snow on the ground from a distance.

Erophila verna

As we walked into the reserve, I noticed catkins of the Hazel tree blowing in the wind. These are the male flowers of Hazel.

I had a closer look and found the diminutive female flower as well. It is these that turn into Hazel nuts in the Autumn.

Corylus avellana

We then came to an arable field edge. The management of Ranscombe Farm is such that herbicides and pestidices are lightly used if at all and a wildflower border edges many of the arable fields.
As such there is a huge variety of arable wildflowers here  throughout the year.

Today, there were Common Field Speedwells, Red and White Dead-Nettles, Dandelions and this Dovesfoot Cranesbill in flower.

Geranium molle

Later in the year there are rarities such as Ground-pine, Blue Pimpernel and many more.

We then came to some woodland which will soon be full of Spring flowers, including Early Purple Orchids.

However, for now there was a late flowering bush called Butcher's Broom. These have spiny leaves which are actually part of the flower, so that the flower appears to grow out of the middle of the leaf! They usually finish flowering by the end of February, so I was lucky to find this one.
They are very small, being only about 5mm across at most.

Ruscus aculeatus

Also in the woodland we noticed a few of the flower voted the Nations' favourite was just starting to come into flower, the Bluebell.



These can readily hybridise with the garden Spanish Bluebells which grow vigourously, outcompeting the native type, but I'll detail the differences later in the season when they are all flowering.

They really are a stunning wildflower, and when they come up in large numbers are a sight and smell that delight all who see them.

Big black clouds threatened, so we beat a retreat back to the car. An enjoyable trip nonetheless.

Plantlife have several reserves around the UK, why not check out their website and if likeminded support them by joining up?

When you see first hand the wildflower deserts that are our modern arable fields sprayed to be devoid of anything but the crop, you'll really appreciate the work Plantlife do.