Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Day Out In East Sussex - 17th April 2017

I'm falling behind writing my blogs, having discarded several short trips with interesting flowers as they will now be well out of date. Much of my spare time is spent recording all wild plants (that I can name) for the BSBI 2020 Atlas. There's a lot of under-recorded 1km square grid squares (monads) and even those that are well recorded need visiting now to record all the Spring flowers.

Anyway, I took a break from recording to venture into East Sussex. On the way we stopped at Matfield village pond in West Kent where I found the Bogbean well and truly in flower. They are a delightful, delicate flower and I wonder how they came to get such a name as Bogbean!

Menyanthes trifoliata

The next stop was Scotney Castle which I thought was in Kent, but botanically the house and castle are in Sussex . Not unusually I found Ivy-Leaved Toadflax on the old walls, however, finding an all white form was unusual, they're usually pink.

Cymbalaria muralis

I'm not a big fan of ornamental gardens, but there were some nice views. This place attracts thousands of people from all over, every year.

Fairy Foxglove has naturalised on the old stonework of the bridge connecting the old castle to the estate over the moat. It's not a plant I've seen anywhere else, which by its scientific name isn't surprising. I guess it's a mountain plant.

Look down and you'll often see Rudd and a large Pike in the weedy waters below.

Erinus alpinus

On the ruins of the old house were plenty of naturalised Wallflowers.

I've seen them in large numbers on old buildings, sea cliffs and old flint walls in industrial Northfleet!

Erysimum cheiri 

I then literally stumbled on a special wildflower that I must have missed lots of times (I had to stop to tie a lace).

Between the lake and the stream behind were numerous of these beautiful Bitter Vetch.

I had seen them on a Kent Botanical Reording Group meeting last year on the approach road to Scotney, but never noticed them here before.

Lathyrus linifolius

They have a great colour scheme and are one of my favourites of the Vetches found in the South East.


Near the lake in another area was Common Bistort. It's so common I've never seen it before.

It is a native plant, but I think this would have been planted, being on a prestigious estate and all.

I usually only see Amphibious Bistort, which is thin and dull in comparison to this!

Persicaria bistorta

In amongst the flowering ornamenals (which I rarely photograph) I found some nice Red Campion.
Pink forms can be hybrids between the red and white types, but I don't really know how to tell them apart (yet).

Silene dioica

In the grasses, the first of the Plantains was in flower, this is Ribwort Plantain, a very common species.

In Winter, it's veined rosettes are often mistaken for orchid rosettes.

Plantago lanceolata

 Back up by the house was a first for me, Subterraneum Clover. It's really really tiny, but the easiest way to tell it is the black marks on its leaves and the pale cream/white flowers. It's easier in seed as they loop over and bury themselves in the ground, hence their name. Thanks to Owen Leyshon for info on where to find them. This is another plant I must have walked past many times without spotting. It just goes to show that there really is always something new to see.

Trifolium subterraneum

I was saving the best to last, heading for the house lawns which are now designated an SSSI acid/neutral grassland. It is home to Heath Milkwort, Field Wood-Rush and other lovely little flowers, but in flower now were these beautiful Green Winged Orchids.

There's a few hundred on this lawn alone and it is now managed to help them thrive, well done National Trust. A few Green Winged Orchids are also appearing on the estate grassland, let's hope active grazing management will increase their numbers there as well.

Anacamptis morio

We had lunch then went off for a drive to Bayham Abbey nearby. It's ruins are impressive and with a bit of imagination, perhaps one can feel a bit like those of old who lived here.

Unfortunately, most of the old walls had been sprayed meaning for me there wasn't much to see. I had been hoping to see Rue-Leaved Saxifrage and perhaps a Fine-Leaved Sandwort or two!

Down by the river was a leftover from those Victorian collecting days, a Giant Hogweed. These can be extremely dangerous so never touch them. They can make the skin burn and blister on contact and then carry on doing so every time you are exposed to the sun - for months afterwards!
Perhaps the Victorians should have left this one where they found it?

Heracleum mantigazzianum

We left here and had a slow, pleasant drive through some very tiny East Sussex lanes. Unlike much of Kent, not once did I have traffic come up impatiently behind me, so I was able to drive quite slowly and see the flowers on the verges - which were numerous.

I was incredibly surprised to see the next flower below. But on a shady verge with steep banks, dotted with Greater Stichwort and Primroses were these wonderful Coralroot flowers. Stunning and unexpected!

Cardamine bulbifera

After a while, and by now I didn't really know where I was, we stopped at an old church and stretched our legs. At the back of the cemetery was a small stream and remnant woodland, within which were around 100 Early Purple Orchids, what a lovely surprise leg stretch! It proves you don't need to go to wildlife reserves to see these, just get out and about and explore!

Orchis mascula

After another leisurely drive, we stumbled across Netherfield high Wood, a wonderful place that I will return to, hopefully in June.

There was a large cut meadow with possibly 200 Early Purple Orchids flowering with Bluebells under trees on one edge. Within the meadow itself were hundreds of rosettes of Common or Heath spotted Orchids yet to flower.

There were plenty of these Yellow Pimpernels flowering in the shady areas.

Lysimachia nemorum

Further into the wood, I noticed numerous small pink flowers which at first I thought was Herb Robert. However, I saw more and more of them all over the place and realised they were nothing of the sort.

They were Lousewort, a parasitical plant that is very common in the West of the UK but rare in Kent. I don't know if they're rare in Sussex, but here there were hundreds of them.  

Pedicularis sylvatica

That was about it photography wise for the day, obviously I saw many more flowers than shown, but I'll leave you with a view from the woodland car park, a beautiful Spring scene.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Day Recording in West Kent - 14th April 2017

Much of my free time is now spent recording plants in under recorded OS 1km map squares in east and West Kent. This is for the BSBI 2010-2020 atlas, see

However, I will still detour to see some special plants that may be well recorded and today was no exception. First stop was High Rocks Lane, near Tunbridge Wells, just Kent side of the botanical Sussex border to see Coralroot and hopefully Large Bittercress.

It didn't take long to find the coralroot. There are hundreds along the road verge and quite a few back from the road as well.

They are similar to Cuckooflowers that abound everywhere, but Coralroot mainly propogates by dropping bubils. Thus they don't easily spread. The flowers are a deeper pink with narrower petals and the leaves are quite different as well to cuckooflower.

In this photo you can easily see the bubils up the stem by each leaf node and also the leaves completely different to the pinnate forms on Cuckooflowers.

The grey background is the road!

Cardamine bulbifera

Just off the road into some woods was a large patch of a pink variant of Wood Anemone. They are usually white. Interestingly they don't actually have any petals, what looks like them are its sepals. Energy saving tactic from the plant world!

Anemone nemorosa

In damper areas were hundreds of Ramsons, a wild Garlic, coming into flower.

They can dominate an area as they are patch forming, but once conditions don't suit them, the colony abruptly ends.

As you walk among them the air fills with a stong garlic smell.

Allium ursinum

That was it for this venue. I couldn't find any Large Bittercress that had been flowering the year before. Perhaps I was too early for it?

From here I drove a short distance to the Speldhurst area to start recording. I almost walked past these small flowers assuming them to be Herb Robert.

They were growing down a by-way away from houses (but not that far away) and had spread down the lane. I eventually found them to be Malcolmia maritima, a garden type of pink that is fast escaping all over the South East (Stace).

 Malcolmia maritima

When I started out in botany, it was a major committment to learn about wildflowers. Little did I realise then, that there are numerous garden escapes in the countryside that need identifying as well.

In a boggy area by a woodland stream I came across Large Bittercress, the flowers in bud but not yet open unfortunately.

The plant is about 4-5 times taller than its close relative Wavy Bittercress and the flowers are large in comparison with purple anthers.

Unfortunately this is the only one I found.

Cardamine amara

Patches of Wood Sorrel were common here, with a few still showing their beautiful flowers.

Oxalis acetosella

As I came out of the wood, Germander Speedwell was flowering. Just to confuse me young plants can be hairy all around the stem, making them look rather like Wood Speedwells.

however, the colours are almost always a deeper blue or mauve than Wood and once you get your eye in, it's quite easy to tell them apart at a glance.

Veronica chamaedrys

Wild Strawberries were my next find. These are supposed to have overlapping petals (or no gaps) to differentiate them from Barren Strawberries. No-one told this plant that. A check on the glossy leaves with centre point poking out confirmed Wild Strawberry.

Fragaria vesca

As I returned to a main road verge, I spotted numerous Bush Vetch in flower, the first so far (though since this visit I've seen well over a hundred in flower).

Vicia sepium

 My final plant of the trip is a successful coloniser of salted inland roads. It is a coastal plant by nature and tolerates high levels of salt. As such, it can be found near the high tide line and splash zones around our coastline.

It is of course, Danish Scurvygrass. It has adapted to live on main road verges all around Kent (and elsewhere) due to Winter salting of the roads.

Cochlearia danica


We have a cold snap forecast with some frosts for the coming week, but I have no doubt the Spring wildflowers will cope with it just fine.

Until the next time.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Amazing Early Spider Orchids of Samphire Hoe & Much More, Kent - 15/04/17

After the wonderful surprise the day before of finding four orchid species in flower including Lady, Fly, Common Twayblade and Early Purple Orchid (plus a variant), we set off to Samphire Hoe for a change of venue and somewhere nice by the sea for a walk.
I didn't think there would be any Early Spider Orchids out yet. Many people had been studiously looking for them for the past few weeks and I hadn't seen any reported in flower yet.
However, Samphire Hoe is a wildlife haven with plenty of other things to see, so finding an orchid wasn't the main purpose of the trip.

There are always Stonechats here, a lovely little bird that sings it heart out.

I couldn't get any photos today but I took this photo last year in Wales

It's a great place for butterflies as well. Several Wall butterflies were seen (again photo is from last year) but proved elusive and they didn't settle long anywhere.

Several of the Whites, a Red Admiral and what looked like a Small Blue were also seen.

Being in sight of France, you never know what butterfly (or Moth) might turn up there.

The first and most obvious plant in flower now is the Wild Cabbage. It's a tall, striking plant with loose racemes of bright yellow flowers.

Some can confuse it with Rape which the farmers grow in their millions around the county at present, but they have tighter flowers and different leaves. Think of Spring Greens that you buy in the shops, the leaves are similar to those but pale green.

Older plants can have very woody purple stems as well.
Due to habitat destruction, this species is now declining rapidly and is on the Kent Rare Plant Register.

Brassica oleracea subsp oleracea

The first Birdsfoot Trefoil of the year were starting to flower here. When in bud, they often look red/orange with some flowers also being orange. In the main though, they are bright yellow with a tiny red stripe up the centre upper petal.

Lotus corniculata

There were hundreds of tiny blue flowers in the grasses which turned out to be these Common Milkwort. I usually check for a basal rosette to see if they are one of the rarer Milkworts, but haven't found any here to date. These are not fully open flowers yet, though some were.

Polygala vulgaris

It's common knowledge that the best place to look for the Early Spider Orchids is along the path by the railway line. It also happens to be the best path for other wildflowers, insects and adders!

We walked quite a way down this path before we spotted our first Early Spider Orchid in flower.

I last visited here at the end of their flowering season and they were quite large with multiple flowers on. As such, I was surprised to find those out were mostly less than 6" tall!

However, once we realised how small they were at the moment, we saw over 20 in flower.

Beautiful aren't they.

Ophrys sphegodes

Wood Spurge was numerous with their pale green distinctive flowers. It's odd seeing these populating cliffs rather than under a beechwood with Bluebells and Celandines!

Euphorbia amygdaloides

Coltsfoot has gone to seed almost everywhere. Once this happens the leaves grow and grow large!

However, I found this one and a few more flowers, together with the leaves, which is quite unusual.

They are a great coloniser of waste or disturbed ground so do well on the poor soils and cliff fall spoil heaps here.

Tussilago farfara

Wayfaring Trees, which are really large shrubs mostly, were also coming into flower. Mainly found on chalk, they are a common sight all along the North downs in Kent. Once pollinated it produces a beautiful display of fruits in fantastic shades of red.

Viburnum lantanum

When the man made area of the Hoe ends, there is a fantastic beach backed by magnificent chalk white cliffs. There are all sorts of wildlife and wildflowers here and I spotted several Early Spider Orchids about to flower on the slopes, but none actually flowering now.

The last plant I saw here of note was Kidney Vetch, very easy to identify due to the cotton wool like substance between the flowers and the long slightly wavy pointy leaves.

 Anthyllis vulneraria

It was very busy here with people making the most of their Bank Holiday so we made our way back along the same route we came.

Now that we knew how small the Early Spider Orchids were here, we spotted several more on the way back.

They look great now, but in a couple of weeks they will look much better, with some having 4 or more flowers on the flowering spike.

I thought that would be about it, but my partner spotted a variant that looks like a gone over flower!

It's called:

Ophrys sphegodes var. flavescens 

It lacks most of the anthocyanin that gives it colour. Many plants throw up such forms.

However, it was very nice to see and relatively easy to find. Once all the orchids come out there may be a thousand to look at to find a variant! I only had 20 or so to look at today.

The final thing of interest was this orchid rosette in the overflow car park, of which there were several.

I'm unsure how to tell apart the rosettes of Early Purple and Common Spotted Orchids, but the thicker, fleshier rosette here makes me lean towards it being an Early Purple Orchid.

Orchis mascula

We then left here and headed up the coast to explore, though the afternoon was now getting on a bit.
At Kingsdown beach I found some Common Cornsalad on the shingle, though I usually find it on arable field edges and sometimes pavements!

Valerianella locusta

After dinner in Deal we drove up to the Sandwich dunes. Last year I had found some Green Winged Orchids here and I had heard of them being in flower in Dorset and a few at Scotney Castle, so I was optimistic in finding some.

On arrival, it was pretty barren. The ground was parched and crackly underfoot it was so dry. Hardly anything was flowering apart from numerous dovesfoot Cranesbills. There was no sign of the rare Broomrapes found here and the Lizard Orchid rosettes were looking tatty. Let's hope for some rain soon.

So I was rather pessimistic on finding the Green- Winged Orchids in flower. There were none in the first location I tried, where I had seen them last year, so I went to the second area on a public footpath through a golf course. This was also very dry, more like late Summer than Spring. However, I spotted a glimpse of purple in the dry grass and found a single flowering orchid.

It was a little stunner as well, only about 6" tall but nearly all of its florets were open. I them spotted several others nearby but none had any open flowers and most were under 3" tall!

Whether they develop and flower will likely depend on whether we get any rain. There's none forecast for the next week and a half!

Anacamptis morio

Here's a close up, though at such short distances, I lost depth of field. however, you can still see the green lines/veins on the sepals that give it its name and easily marks it from any Early Purple Orchids that may be nearby.

I was very happy with my wildlife discoveries of the Bank Holiday weekend and very suprised to find a total of eight orchid species (including variants) in 2 days when I expected to find just one!

It just goes to show that it's always worth going out for a look to see what you can find. You might not find what you went out for, but you will find something interesting, every time!