An Amazing Place, Ranscombe Farm, Kent - 17th May 2016

Managed by Plantlife, the only UK organisation with reserves for wildflowers, Ranscombe Farm is close to the M2 and urban concentration of Medway. Yet when you enter it's like stepping back in time with fields full of flowers within the crops, wide weed filled crop margins and orchid filled ancient woodlands. The views are pretty good too!
Plantlife Website

First up was a meadow filled with Buttercups, Dandelions, Speedwells and lots of Cut-leaved Cranesbills.

Geranium dissectum

Various moths fluttered out of the grasses as we walked. I think this is a Burnet Companion, difficult for me to say only seeing the underside.

Hop Trefoil were abundant, looking like miniature hops. These have more than 20 flowers in the head with a rolled over reflective lower petal, helps tell them apart from the similar Lesser Trefoil which had fewer flowers and straight forward pea type flowers.

Trifolium campestre

We then entered Mill Hill woods and found this lovely White Bryony. It climbs over everything and has enormous leaves, but the flowers are quite intricate close up aren't they.

Bryonia dioica

There's usually some Man Orchids to be found here, but I missed them this time. I did find some lovely looking Columbines. These seem to be garden eascapes that have somehow seeded into these woods, but they look good all the same. There are several clumps of native forms around at well in the usual dark blue colouring. Natives also have strongly hooked spurs at the back of the flower which these didn't have.

Aquilegia vulgaris

Germander Speedwell have very bright blue flowers are are quite distinctive from the other Speedwells. They grow just about anywhere except deep shade when the Wood Speedwell takes over.

Veronica chamaedrys

We then left the wood and entered Brockles Field, recently acquired by the reserve, it is still transforming from arable grassland to meadow. I've only been coming here a few years and I've already noticed the variety of wildflowers improving each year.

Here's a bog standard Red Clover. I've included this to show even the mundane can be beautiful. What most people think is one flower is actually loads of flowers!

Trifolium pratense

I then came across my first Common Broomrape of the season. These are parasitical and this one was attached to Clover roots. They do a good job stopping certain plants taking over a meadow and are to be welcomed. Beginners can mistake these for orchids with the single flower spike, but they are completely unrelated.
There's other types as well such as Knapweed, Ivy, Bedstraw, Yarrow and Hawkweed Broomrapes, however, they are all rare or uncommon. Always look at the plants next to the flower spike it will help you identify the Broomrape. Just to confuse everyone, these may have yellow or white flowers as well!

Orobanche minor

From here we entered the famous Kitchen Field. This, without doubt, has the most rare arable weeds on the reserve and more! A credit to excellent farming management for wildflowers.
 In the photo, Brockles Field is top left.

I had hoped to refind the rare Blue Pimpernel, but I couldn't find any, maybe I was too early in the season for them. However, the familiar and much commoner Scarlet Pimpernel was out in numbers.

Anagallis arvensis

This field is full of Cornsalad. There are a few species and it's rather difficult to tell apart until they are in seed. Each species has seed with different characteristics and you need an eye glass to see them to work out which species it is. No seeds here yet!

Valerianella species

The beautiful tiny Field Pansy was present in numbers as well. Perhaps one of the prettiest arable plants around?

Viola arvensis

By the path I noticed something not so common, a Field Pennycress, I'm sure you can work out how they got their common name!

I'm always baffled as to why they have such tiny flowers and such big seeds!

Thlaspi arvense 

This photo shows two colour forms of Field Madder. It's usually green and I don't know why you sometimes see red leaved forms. I wonder if they turn red if the plant gets stressed from drought or disease? I really don't know but they look good in red!

Sherardia arvensis

At the Northern edge of Kitchen Field are the rarer plants like this Ground-pine. It really does look like a miniature Christmas tree! It's usually around 2-4" tall. As you can see it likes to grow on chalk, usually disturbed ground, here by the farm and in the wild by the scuffing of the ground by rabbits.

Here's a close up of the flowers, which seem disproportionately large compared to the plant. Imagine a full grown pine tree with a flower this big to scale! Wonderful little plants.

Ajuga chamaepitys

I then found several of these and couldn't work out what they were. They were mostly about 4" tall and the flowers weren't fully open. Eventually I found this one fully open and realised it was Venus's Looking Glass, a really lovely arable plant Oddly, I'd seen it once before on another part of the reserve but it was much bigger and bushier, I think because it was later in the year and on soil not chalk.

This photo shows the deciding identifying feature of this plant which is the elongated calyx below the petals.

Legousia hybrida

While looking at them I noticed an unusal flower I'd never seen before with a small white single tubular flower. I took some photos but couldn't identify it until I got home to look it up. Again, this was a very small plant, no taller than 6"

I was extremely pleased to have found a Corn Gromwell, a rare arable plant that only appeared at Ranscombe last year. On posting the photo on Twitter, Ranscombe told me they had found 6 so far, so I was quite lucky to find one in a large field, especially being so small.
Common Gromwell to which they are related is a massive plant by comparison (which are common at Ranscombe and elsewhere and about to flower).

Lithospermum arvense

Kitchen Field borders the ancient woodland of Cobham Woods. Within the shade of the ancient Beech trees are some gems like this White Helleborine, a wild orchid.
The flowers aren't yet open, but when they do they will open up only a bit showing a yellow blotch inside the creamy white petals. They are shade lovers so are hard to photograph in good light.

Cephalanthera damasonium

Nearby were one of my favourite orchids, the Fly Orchid. This is a particularly tall one. If you look to the right of it you will see the usual size of about 6-8". As May turns to June you should find some with multiple flowers, though quite often the lower ones die off before the top ones fully open.

I found one of the smaller Fly Orchids right next to some
Germander Speedwell, a nice colour combination of flowers.

Ophrys insectifera

The path then left the Kitchen Field and skirted the woodland edge. I found this Cuckoo Bee on a leaf which as the name suggests uses the nests of solitary bees for its own uses!

Nomada flava

ID by @Ranscombe_Farm

Along here were still some fine displays of Early Purple Orchids. Although common in some woods it can also be found on meadows, though it's often a lot smaller out in the open for some reason.

Orchis mascula

Some late Bluebells nearby gave me the perfect set up for a combination photo, superb!

I mentioned Wood Speedwell earlier and here it was found in good numbers. Much paler than Germander and with an all round hairy stem. Germander has one or two distinct lines of hairs up the stem.

Veronica montana

Another shade loving plant was this climbing plant, Black Bryony. Like its White Bryony namesake it's a climber with big leaves, but the two species are unrelated.

Tamus communis

We then left the wood and walked along a field edge. The field was full of bright yellow Rape flowers so I surprised myself by finding a wild Wintercress along the margins.
These have distinctive stem leaves different to all the other yellow crucifers.

Barbarea vulgaris

As we turned a corner to return to our starting point I noticed numerous Common Fumitories in the field edge. These are a common plant in fields but really quite difficult to identify as there are a few species that superficially all look the same. You need an eyeglass and a mm tape measure to see the sepals, lower petal length, flower length and so on.

Fumaria officinalis

We then found a line of several hundred Wild Radish plants that weren't here last year, so I wonder how they got there all of a sudden!

This is the usual white form with a hint of lilac

But we also found several in a lovely reverse colour form with lilac dominating the white. Stunning!

Raphanus raphanistrum

Phacelia also grew along here which is a crop relict. It has quite beautiful intricate flowers and can't be mistaken for anything else really.

Phacelia tanacetifolia

The final plant I photographed was the Common Poppy, always a delight to see. Later on in the Summer, some fields will glow red with thousands of them.

Ranscombe has many of the UK Poppy species so always check them to see if you have found one of the rarer ones. The most reliable way to tell them apart is from a seed head. There's usually a couple of spent flowers around where you can check without pulling off the petals!

Papaver rhoeas

So ended a wonderful morning at Ranscombe Farm, a wonderful place, with something new to see each time we visit. I hope to be back in a month or so.

Take care


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  1. Looks a wonderful place! Always great to see such a variety of plants.


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