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.
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.
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).
White flowers are always difficult to photograph when the sun is out as well, as the photos tend to bleach out the petals.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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