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.....


Saturday, 17 September 2016

Rye Nature Reserve 16th August 2016

I'm well behind (again) with my blogs, so I apologise for that. Having had 34.4 degrees over the last few days and now down to low teens in temperature, the seasons are topsy turvy. Most wildflowers have gone over in the SE of England now, thanks to weeks of hot, dry weather.

So I hope this and the following blogs rekindle the flame for finding unusual (or plain usual) wildflowers in your area. Of course, if you are from the North it's been raining a lot so I guess your wildflowers are still going strong!

Rye Nature Reserve is in East Sussex, just West of Rye and Camber Sands. It's mostly a shingle habitat, which can make for interesting species. Most people visit in the Autumn and Winter for the birds, but I go there for the flowers.

As you leave the car park, you walk along the edge of the River Rother, a tidal estuary with limited salt marsh. Here you can find Common Sea Lavender and other salt marsh loving species.

Limonium vulgare

Here's a close up of the flowers, they are usually a light lilac colour but can be a deeper pink.

The leaves form a rosette and can be easily identified even when not in flower. I have seen them, as here, in shingle, and also growing profusely out of cracks in sea walls at Samphire Hoe near Dover.

Sticky Groundsel was very prevalent in the shingle. This has the leaves of normal Groundsel but rayed flowers like Ragwort. The whole plant is stickily hairy and has a gone off lemon scent. Run your fingers over the stem and then smell them!

Senecio viscosus

This is Bittersweet, or Woody Nightshade, quite at home in urban areas, countryside, ditches or dry shingle! The flowers are deep pink with a yellow centre.

Solanum dulcamara

There are always butterflies here during late Summer. Here's a Meadow Brown, flying later than those inland. You may be lucky to see migrant butterflies here as well, being close to France. You need a Southerly or SE wind though!

The area has been remodelled to allow salt water to flood areas on Spring high tides. This has allowed the recolonisation of species such as Glassworts here. These are actually in flower! They have tiny yellow/white anthers popping out of their joints and that's about it! They are a difficult species to identify firmly

Salicornia sp.

I was pleased to find both species of Sea Spurrey here. This is Lesser Sea-Spurrey. It has only a few anthers and the petals do not exceed the length of the sepals.

You can now find these inland on salted roads as well, such as at Northfleet on the A2 junction in North Kent. Like Danish Scurvygrass, they have taken advantage of our salting of the roads in Winter to expand their range.

Spergularia marina

For some unknown reason, the same cannot be said for its near relative, the Greater Sea-Spurrey. It has failed to colonise salted road verges, though I have no idea why.

It's sepals are usually shorter than the petals and the petals are usually white. The easiest difference from Lesser is that there are usually 10 anthers. Lesser has 3-7.

Spergularia media

I then found a migrant moth, the Silver Y. They are a frequent visitor in the Summer months to my bathroom! They come to the UK in their 10s of thousands every year, I have no idea why there isn't a UK resident population. Perhaps their caterpillars need a particular plant that we don't have.

Here is another salt marsh plant in flower!
It's Annual Seablite. It doesn't have petals so isn't very showy. However, as it seeds, the whole plant tends to turn a deep red looking very attractive.

Suaeda maritima

There is a perennial version of this plant, the Shrubby Seablite which is on the Kent RPR. I have seen it at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey but not in flower.

In the grasses, I always keep an eye out for rare clovers. I didn't find any today, but this was an Alsike Clover, though going to seed now. It looked initially like a White Clover, but there are several differences. I won't go into them here, but loook them up and you may notice a "different" White Clover and realise you've found one as well. Always photograph the leaves as well.

Trifolium hybridum

There are numerous Muleins at Rye nature reserve. In years past I would have thought this was a Great Mullein, but it isn't.

It is a Moth Mullein, quite prevalent here and at Dungeness nearby. There are several Mulleins as some are bred for gardens and then escape so it is always important to look at a plant in detail to later determine its correct identity.

Verbascum blattaria

These have escaped from gardens over time and are suited to the dry desert like conditions of a shingle habitat.

Parallel to the tidal river were stands of Sea Spurge, mostly now gone over. They are now on the Kent RPR thanks to habitat destruction by the EA as they move shingle around for flood defences all over the Kent and Sussex coastal areas.

Euphorbia paralias

This was a surprise as it usually is only seen on walls, often in urban environments. It's Ivy-leaved Toadflax, an introduction that has been naturalised for centuries in the UK.

This was growing freely in loose shingle, not a wall in sight. However, I guess the desert like conditions is much like a free draining wall, with a tiny crack in the cement for its seed to take a hold.

Cymbalaria muralis

I then found another anomaly, Herb Robert. This usually grows in shaded areas, in woods, hedgerows and a weed in towns. Here it was growing quite happily, though small, in the shingle.

Geranium robertianum

I've been saving the best til last. I was keeping a look out for this plant as I had previously seen it here in 2013 but not since.

It is a rare plant and on the Kent RPR and probably the Sussex one too.

It is Red Hemp Nettle, a distinctive plant with striking markings to its lower petals. I've only ever seen it on shingle, though it is supposed to be an arable weed as well, though I suspect it has been wiped out from most farms by now.

Galeopsis angustifolia

In 2013 the plants I saw flowering were no more than 6" tall, but in places this day I found some well over a foot tall.

Lovely to see and long may this nature reserve protect their habitat.

Talking of which....

It is now up to us to petition our MPs to ensure they protect the environment BETTER than the previous EU directives we were bound to. Why not take a leap into the future with optimism and show the EU how they should be preserving their environments rather than them telling each State what to do via Directives.

That was it for this day,

Take Care

Monday, 5 September 2016

Botanical Recording near Farthing Corner, Medway, Kent - 14th August 2016

The M2 Farthing Corner services near Gillingham sit within a botanically under recorded OS square. To the South is an area of countryside allowing access to this square via a footpath. I haven't taken many photos as most plants were common, but exploring new areas is always interesting as I never know what I might find.

Common Fleabane was present, as it is in many places now.

Pulicaria dysenterica

This is Lucerne, a Pea Family member. It is often found on road verges and wasteground and is also planted as a fodder crop.

The yellow flowered form of this is Alfalfa.

Medicago sativa subsp sativa

This is another Pea, the Tall Melilot, another common road verge wildflower. It's long spikes of yellow flowers dominated this area, so I suspect they may have been sown as a fodder crop at some time in the past, though the area now looked ike it had been untouched for many years.

This is an unusual view in that it is upside down, thanks to the spike drooping over, You can see the flowers better from this angle though.

Melilotus altissimus

It was a warm sunny day, so there were plenty of butterflies on the wing, but most I couldn't get close to as they were too active.
The most numerous species here was the Brown Argus butterfly, this one feeding on Lucerne.

Aricia agestis

I then came to a rabbit grazed clear area. It was full of rabbit droppings and growing within them were these tiny Cudweeds. Many weren't much taller then the rabbit droppings around them.

The ground was bone dry and I wondered if these were just stunted Common Cudweeds, but I had never seen them this small before, most no bigger than a matchstick.

I obviously took a lot more photos than shown here and I sent them off to my County Recorder for his opinion.

He was later pleased to tell me I had found the rare Small Cudweed.

You can just make out the rabbit droppings in the bottom right of the photo.

Filago minima

I recorded 71 new records here which was great. From here, I dropped in for a short walk at the nearby Kent Wildlife Trusts' Queendown Warren.

I was only here for about half an hour, having a quick look to see if any Autumn Ladies Tresses could be found. Unfortunately I didn't find any, but enjoyed the chalk flowers to the full in any case.

This is Squinancywort, a very small white/lilac flower with strap like but unequal leaves.

Asperula cynanchica

Common Blues were out in force, this one on Common Birdsfoot Trefoil but I also saw them feeding on Wild Marjoram and Wild Basil, so they're not fussy eaters.

Polommatus icarus

My final photo for this day was the lovely Autumn Gentian, a Kent RPR species, but common in chalk grasslands at this time of the year.

Gentianella amarella

So ended a peaceful afternoon watching butterflies and recording plant species. Without doubt, the highlight of the day was finding Small Cudweed, a species I'd not seen before.

If you go looking for it, get down to ground level or you won't notice them at all, they really are that small.

Take Care