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.....



  1. I never knew that about Marsh Mallows and Marshmallows! Often wondered whether there was a connection!


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