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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  1. I always learn a lot about plant identification from your blogs! In the past, I have been too quick to name a plant without looking at it more carefully!

    1. As I learn more about wildflowers, I suddenly find I know less than I thought. There are sub species to many common plants and also variants, common in Bee Orchids for example. Stops me getting bored though, as no two plants seem to be identical!


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