Saturday, 18 March 2017

Ightam Mote area Kent - 14th March 2017

Just a few days on since my last blog and the mild weather this last week has brought forth several more delightful Spring flowers, bringing an uplift to the soul after months of Winter blues.

This half day was a visit to the National Trust's Ightam Mote and its estate and nearby Kent Wildlife Trust's Ivy Hatch nature reserve, all in a few hours before work.

I was hoping to find some early Rue-leaved Saxifrage on the old walls around the Mote but it was too early yet. However, I knew that the boggy streamlets running into the lake would now be full of an early flowering Spring plant.

This tiny plant is Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, quite common and easy to find.

 It has no petals, but the golden anthers catch the sunlight and look like golden specks of Spring.

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium


Not quite what I was expecting in Spring, but interesting nonetheless.

I don't have time to identify fungi now, but I'm fairly sure this is a type on Inkcap fungi

The grassy bank below the ticket office was alive with tiny Spring flowers.
Very noticable in the Spring sunshine were patches of Barren Strawberry. 
If you go looking for them, bear in mind they're not much bigger than about 1cm across!

Potentilla sterilis

Violets are now coming out in large numbers almost everywhere.

The first to flower is usually the Sweet Violet, which this one is. Most are the usually violet colour, but occassionally you come across white forms like this. There were large patches of the white form flowering here.

Viola odorata

The next Violet to flower is usually the Early Dog or Wood Violet and several patches of this species were also in flower on this grassy bank, along with numerous Primroses as well.

I've included a stitched photo to show the parts of the flower you need to look at to identify these for yourself. Leaves and flower stems are also useful for identification purposes!

Violets aren't really that hard to get a grip with except when they hybridise, then you can get a headache trying to work out what you have found! To help out, I've ordered from the BSBI the Viola Handbook which covers all the hybrids in the Viola family in the UK. I hope it increases my knowledge with Violas, an intriguing and beautiful Spring plant.

Viola reichenbachiana

The last plant I photographed in the house grounds was this tiny flower that is usually associated with kissing at Christmas! Yes, it's a Mistletoe. This one was about 8' off the ground in an apple tree in the orchard.
Of course, later in the year, the pollinated flowers turn into the familiar white fruits we see at Christmas.  I still wonder how their seeds get into trees; I can only imagine the berries are eaten by birds who pass them while sitting in trees?

Viscum album

As I drove out of the estate I saw a few more wildflowers had come into flower, so I parked at the top of the hill (where safe) and walked back to see them.

This is the aptly named Cuckooflower (also known as Lady's Smock), so called as they tend to bloom when the first Cuckoo calls are heard.

Oddly enough, my partner heard a Cuckoo call today, so the old saying still holds true.

Since this day, Cuckooflowers are now coming out in force all over Kent and East Sussex, a beautiful roadside flower.

Cardamine pratensis

I've included a photo of the complete plant to show its leaves and height. It's usually about this tall (3') but can be only a foot tall if conditions are poor for it.

Another flower I spotted from the car were patches of Moschatel, a tiny woodland flower, but the carpets of light green leaves made them easy to find.

Adoxa moschatellina 

Also known as Town Hall Clock with flowers on 5 faces of a cube shaped flowerhead.

After leaving Ightam Mote, we drove the short distance to Ivy Hatch nature reserve, managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust. It's their smallest reserve, but what makes it special is that virtually all of it is a bog. This is a threatened and rare habitat in Kent.

This venue is well known for its colony of the invasive (and now banned from sale) American Skunk Cabbage, escaped from nearby houses and now running rampant across the bog. See the photo below.

They look like a giant bright yellow Lord and Lady's that are common in our woodlands.

Lysichiton americanus

Here and there were bright splashes of another yellow Spring flowering plant, the Marsh Marigold.

For years I only knew it by the name of "Mollyblob" and recall buying one from a garden centre for my pond many years ago.

This is a native plant often found in wet boggy areas, by stream, lake and pond edges in the county.

Caltha palustris

That was it for flowers here, but I did find a large clump of Liverwort fruiting along the bog edges. Quite an odd sight and one I had not seen before.

Pellia epiphylla
(Thanks to Steve Lemon - KBRG for ID)

That concluded our day. However, I will take the opportunity to include a few other recent finds from this week that wouldn't warrant their own blog.

On the 13th March we visited National Trust Emmets near Ide Hill, just for a walk really. This place really comes into its own when the swarms of native Bluebells come into flower - which isn't yet!

Emmets has many unusual and rare ornamental plants and trees, but I tend to photograph only the wildflowers and insects when the opportunity arises.

This is Wood Spurge in flower. It doesn't have petals but the pale green flowering parts are very attractive and various more showy foreign family members are sold to gardeners every year.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

And here is the first Wood Anemone I have found flowering this Spring, again at Emmets, yet in the few days since our visit, the country road verges and woodland floors of the county are now carpeted with them, a wonderful sight.

Anemone nemorosa

Here's the final flower for the blog, the diminutive, extemely small Lesser Chickweed, found on the 15th March flowering at Bloors Wharf, Rainham Kent. It lacks petals and rarely opens this fully!

Not quite in total focus, but then it's probably 1mm across!

Related to Common Chickweed, it is much smaller and is often noticed as a patch of pale green foliage in short grass. Often found in coastal areas.

Stellaria pallida

So the time for hibernating is over, get out and about and enjoy the Spring wildflowers now coming out in large numbers everywhere.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Early Spring Plants in Kent as at 12th March 2017

It's been a very slow start to Spring in Kent, following a prolonged cold snap in January and February. Most plants are flowering 2-3 weeks later than they did in the preceeding three years.
Thus it's been quite a challenge to find anything to write about, but as I do write this, Spring has finally arrived in Kent. Each week now, more species will come into flower.
Today's blog details those found in the last 2 weeks at various sites.

I'll start off with a trip to the Sandgate and Folkestone Leas area on the South coast of the county.

This is a garden escape long naturalised on shingle here. It's Three-cornered Garlic.

It has drooping sprays of white flowers with obvious green lines running down the petals.

And if you crush any part of it you get a lovely Garlic smell akin to being in a French restaurant perhaps!

Allium triquetrum

I found the plants flowering below, in the car park at Sandgate and also along the base of the sea wall. It's Danish Scurvygrass and is very small! It's supposed to be found on the coast, usually in a spray zone as it is very tolerant of salt.

It has now colonised hundreds of miles of main roads throughout the country due to us salting them during the Winter. Very soon the A2 near Dartford Heath into London and many other places will turn white with their flowers.

Cochlearia danica

This Common Whitlowgrass is one of the first early Spring flowers to bloom but most people will never even notice them.

This is because, for the most part they are less than six inches tall and in places can be just one inch tall complete with flower!

They love to grow in places where other plants can't such as nutrient poor soils on concrete, pavements, roads, car parks and so on.

They're already going to seed in places and within a few weeks the basal rosette will also die off, leaving no trace of them to be found until next year.

Erophila verna

I found this Cow Parsley flowering on Folkestone Leas. It's a very common plant that in a month or so will line all the rural road verges in the county. It's one of the lucky plants tthat sets seed before the council mowers move in, usually in early June.
This is the first one I have seen flowering in the county so far in 2017, I suspect due to bing sheltered under trees on the coast, reducing the effects of those hard frosts we had.

Anthriscus sylvestris

Here and there along the Leas I found Lesser Celandine in flower. This species has gone from none flowering to hundreds within a week. They really are blooming well now around the county.

There are actually 4 subspecies of this wildflower; 2 of which are garden escapes with bigger flowers, this one subsp fertilis and a subsp verna with small flowers and tubers growing in the leaf axils.

You really need seeds to tell them apart though.

Ficaria verna

Along the sea wall were assorted Dandelion like plants starting to flower. This one is easy to identify by its blistered leaves and prickly collar under the flowers.

Bristly Oxtongue

Helminthotheca echioides

My partner then found this plant, which oddly enough, most people didn't even notice growing out of the sea wall.

It usually grows on chalk cliffs, either near the edges or on the precarious slopes.

It's Hoary Stock, related to the Stock plants that grow in gardens, but this one is a rare native of our shoreline.

It's on the Kent Rare Plant Register as there isn't much suitable habitat left.

I left the blue bit of litter on the plant for the photo to show just how much we all care about the environment ..........

Matthiola incana

Last year I found all white flowering variants of this plant in the South Foreland area near Dover.

On Folkestone Leas at its Western end were a fine display of Winter Heliotrope. These start flowering sometimes in late December, so there isn't much time left now to see them.

They are an introduced garden escape and they have colonised  miles of roads throughout the country, forming dense blankets under which not much else can grow.

Petasites fragrans

As their name suggests, they have a pleasnt scent.

There's a native relative of this plant detailed further down in this blog.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Sea Campion in flower, and I hadn't expected to find any out this early. However, these were high up on a part of the sea wall and maybe this protected them from frosts, being warmer a few feet off the ground than directly on it (so I'm told).

Silene uniflora

This is Alexanders, pretty much light green all over with small white petals. Brought over in Roman times, it has now spread profusely around all of the Kent coasts and several miles inland in places.

Insects like the flowers and soon they will attract lots of beetles, butterflies and bugs.

Smyrnium olusatrum

This was the first I've seen flowering this year, yet I saw one in flower on 31/12 15!

The next part of the blog moves on to 12th March and an area near Cobham, Kent, comprising of woods, open rides and grassy areas, primarily on an acid soil.

There still wasn't too much to see, but Red Dead-Nettles never fail to make me think "Ahhhh"

Very soon, butterflies will emerge from hibernation and last year, Small Tortoiseshells ignored all other Spring flowers in preference for these tiny blooms.

Lamium purpureum

Then below, there is the White Dead-Nettle which can flower all year round. There has been a break of about a month or so where I haven't seen any flowering this year.

This plant is preferred by the Bumblebees and today I saw several Tree Bumblebees feeding on them.

Lamium album

Ivy-Leaved Speedwell is another tiny plant, but it becomes noticable as it form dense mats of flowering plants, often under trees. It's another Spring plant that disappears by May and there are two subspecies to look out for. The first is shown below, subspecies hederifolia. The flowers are relatively large, usually more blue than lilac an the anthers are also blue to deep blue.

Veronica hederifolia subsp hederifolia

This is the second subspecies, lucorum. The flowers are very small, often pale lilac or even all white, with cream, white or very light bue anthers. Once you've seen both, you'll realise the tiny flowers of lucorum are very distinctive and sets it apart easily from its near relative above

Veronica hederifolia subsp lucorum

A sure sign of Spring is the appearance of Violets. The first to appear are the Sweet Violets with rounded sepals, leafless stems and heart shaped rounded leaves. There's even a scent, though I've yet to detect it!

I also saw today, a patch of the white colour form which is not that unusual.

Viola odorata

This plant is obviously not in flower, but I've included it to show that even the mundane has a hidden side.

We all know about Common Nettles, usually called Stinging Nettles. Well this is the Small Nettle, which could also be called a Super Stinging Nettle for it is positively adorned with hundreds of tiny stinging needles!

Urtica urens

It does look different from the usual Common Nettle. The terminal leaf notch is pretty much parallel to the rest giving it a rounded appearance. Common and Fen Nettles (sometimes called the Stingless Nettle) both have a longer end tooth on the leaves. There are other difference, but the plant needs to be in flower to see them. A while yet!

Here's the first Blackthorn flower I've seen to date, as at 12/03/17

They make a nice display and a fantastic display in some places, such as rural roads on the Romney Marsh.

It will be a while yet before they are at their best.

Prunus spinosa

My final plant is just beginning to flower now. It's called Butterbur and grows in damp areas, often areas which flood in the Winter and dry out in the Spring.

You can see it's related to the Wintr Heliotrope above, but this is considered in some places in the UK to be native. It's been around i the wild a very long time in any case.

Petasites hybridus

There are of course, many more plants in flower than I have shown and in the coming weeks the list will grow larger until mid Summer when it all starts to slow down again.

Spring is a beautiful time to be in the countryside, why not have a walk somewhere local to you and see nature awaken from its slumber.