Monday, 29 May 2017

Botanical Surprises near Detling Hill, Kent - 07/05/17

I had decided to record species in a couple of 1km square monads North of Detling Hill just off the busy A249. I didn't expect to find much, as most of the area is arable fields with the usual heavy use of weedkillers applied to them.

However, there is some woodland within the area, and I did hope to find some undiscovered orchids on the chalk, but that was not to be.  Oddly, the star area for this trip was a layby!

This was an area that was only occassionally cut with no evidence of old grass cuttings, no weedkillers or fertilisers and of importance, the locals seem to have dumped garden waste here over the years.

Strikingly obvious to the eye, was a group of Pot Marigolds, with their bright orange flowers standing out from the green of other plants.

Calendula officinalis flore pleno 

The first Slender Thistle of the season was in flower here, no doubt it's name is from the flower as the plant can sometimes be quite fat (so to speak).

sometimes called the Seaside Thistle as it's mainly found in coastal areas.

Carduus tenuiflorus

This is another garden escape, Greater Celandine (no relation to Lesser Celandine).

It can grow quite large with big 4 petalled flowers  and lobed leaflets.

It's usually found near gardens, though I have found it once on a marsh nowhere near habitation!

Chelidonium majus

I recognised this distinctive plant easily, it's a Caper Spurge and is quite unique as to how it looks.

I've only seen these in a few locations around Kent, but again, always near habitation.

Euphorbia lathyris

Here's a close up of the flower.

This is a type of Crane Fly with an attractive gold, orange and black thorax and eye markings. 

 Nephrotoma quadrifaria

Unfortunately this isn't in flower, it's a Tree Mallow, but how did it get here? They are common on the beaches of East Kent and all around the SE coasts, but very rare inalnd.

Maybe someone grew one in a pot or small garden and threw it out as it got bigger?

Or, it could be from bird sown seed from a coastal plant and thrives due to road salting in the winter. Very intereting stuff this botany!

Malva arborea

Then I found another Spurge that I had no idea what it was.

Twitter botanists helped me out - it's a Balkan Spurge, another alien escape. It has a tiny flower, you can just make it out on the top of the plant!

It's been naturalised in Hampshire since 1993, so I guess Kent will be joining that list now.

Euphorbia oblongata

The developing rather small flowers of Balkan Spurge

 There were several patches of Shining Cranesbill along the kerb, with their shiny leaves and bright pink flowers always a joy to see.

As they age the leaves will turn a bright red while still flowering and they look even better then!

Geranium lucidum

I was then very pleased to find not one, but lots of White Ramping Fumitory, a rather unusual plant in Kent but no doubt from historical fly tipping.

Fumaria capreolata sssp capreolata

I then got rather ecitable finding these little beauties, thinking they might be Wild Pansy. Unfortunately, they're garden pansies, another throw out, though why someone wouldn't want these any more is beyond me, they're little stunners!

Viola x wittrockiana

I then crossed the busy A249 with extreme caution to enter a wood. As expected, the flora was nowhere near as exciting as the layby. With leaves now out, the wood was dark and the Spring flowers were all going to seed under it.
Here's one of those trees, the Sycamore. It may surprise many that this isn't a native tree. It was introduced in the late 15th century and first recorded in the wild in the early 1600s.
There's so many of them about with dense foliage cover - it makes me wonder what the countryside would now be like without such trees and their familiar helicopter like seeds?

Acer pseudoplatanus

 It will all too soon be the "Season to be Jolly" again and this Holly flower shows the year is almost half gone. These will turn to those familiar red berries on Christmas cards, complete with a Robin and some snow.....

Ilex aquifolium

These Longhorn moths were numerous along the woodland edges, no doubt an Adela species of micro moth.

This is a small plant with even smaller flowers and big leaves. They usually have 3 prominent veins along each leaf which gives them their name of Three Nerved Sandwort.

Another key feature is the sepals are pointed, longer than the petals and have a whit edge to them.

Moehringia trinervia

Here and there were clumps of Red Campion (below). White and Bladder Campions were also found.

Silene dioica

Along a field edge I found a few Tansy-leaved Phacelia growing and just coming into flower.

These are often planted as ground cover for game birds or as a crop in themselves.

Phacelia tanacetifolia

There was a pleasant walk back to the road along a woodland path, but with not too many species to be found. The obvious one in the photo is Broom with its bright yellow flowers, the blue flowers in the grasses were Germander Speedwells.

Cytisus scoparia
Veronica chamaedrys

That was about it for my recording walk here. However, as I was close by, I drove the short distance to Stockbury, a Kent Wildlife Trust managed reserve.

Here the Columbines were now in full flower, always nice to see. Various colour forms are also grown in gardens and escape into the wild, but the native type has deep blue flowers with strongly curved in spurs.

Aquilegia vulgaris

Of course, I popped in here to see the orchids, they really are a wonderful sight and I wished I had found some off of the reserve. However, it shows that unmanaged woods aren't very diverse at all as I found nothing rare or special in woods nearby, but here were hundreds of Lady Orchids.

Orchis purpurea

For those interested in grasses, the orchid is set within  Wood Melick,  Melica uniflora.

There were a few Fly Orchids as well but many people fail to spot them, even when given a precise location. They can be quite small and very thin and blend in with the undergrowth. My advice is get on your knees to look for them!

Ophrys insectifera

Finally, under the trees were a few spindly Man Orchids with their little men dangling down.

Orchis anthropophora

So ended a pleasant day's recording.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Arable Wildflowers - Longfield - 04/05/17

I've surveyed the fields on the Gallops at Longfield a few times over the years and one might reasonably expect that there would be nothing new to see. These fields had been left fallow for a couple of years up to recently, so were full of arable wildflowers normally sprayed out of existence.

The fields have a new owner and rumour abounds on social media as to the impact this will have. My main concern was the rumour that the farmer will be growing crops for supermarkets - thus leading to intensive fertilising and spraying on the poor chalk soils.

so far this hasn't happened, the field has been tilled and nothing else. As a result, there's been an explosion on some plants there, as follows.

 Fumaria densiflora

This sea of purple stretched for about a kilometre! It comprises of millions of Fumitories,  the ones I examined found to be Dense-flowered Fumitory.

Just to confuse, Common Fumitories were mixed in, I wonder if they hybridise? I expect so!

It was pretty much a monoculture, though the odd other plant crept in, most numerous being Shepherd's Purse and the Sun Spurge, as below.

Euphorbia helioscopia 

The first White Clovers of the year had come into flower. Taken for granted and a frequent "weed" in the lawn, these (and Red Clovers) are made up of numerous tiny flowers, grouped together to form what looks from a distance,  a single flower.

Trifolium repens

Black Medick with their tiny yellow flowers were seen on the path. These look very similar to Lesser Trefoil, but the easiest way to tell them apart is that these have a mucro (or bristle point) at the end of each leaflet, Lesser Trefoil does not.

Of course, once in seed, they're very easy to tell apart, these have clumps of small black seeds, lookalikes don't!

Medicago lupulina 

I then had my star find of the day, the uncommon Henbit Dead- Nettle

Initially, they look rather like the very common Red Dead - Nettles, but their tiny flowers  pop up from the top, standing to attention like a Meercat on lookout duty!

Lamium amplexicaule

A lovely wildflower and one I've not seen in the Longfield area before either. Annoyingly, whenever I do find these plants it's blowing a gale making photos time consuming and very difficult!

The last arable plant I photographed was this single Field Pennycress. So called due to the shape of the seeds which you can see in the photo.

This plant is still flowering, which shows just how tiny the flowers are!

Thlaspi arvense  

A big feature of the Gallops is an ancient hedgerow running along its entire length, full of flowers and insects at this time of the year and rare birds during the colder months for the wealth of seeds and berrie contained within it.

Here's a Hawthorn in full flower from that hedgerow. The leaves look suspiciously like a hybrid with Midland Hawthorn, but all the flowers only had one style, so I'm going for C. monogyna

Crataegus monogyna

Fodder Sainfoin grew in one corner of the field, a remnant of a crop from many years ago. It's been coming up here for several years.

It grows to around 3 feet tall unnike the native form that is lucky to make 8" tall!

Onobrychis viciifolia

There's an abandoned field/meadow nearby and I was pleased to re-find Field Mouse-Ear there. It's been missing the last two years, but has come back nicely this year with numerous plants dotted about the meadow.

These are closely related to the garden plant "Snow-in-Summer" which escapes frequently into the wild, but that has woolly hairy grey leaves, this doesn't.

Cerastium arvense

Another nice plant here is Crosswort, giving splashes of yellow, made up of whorls of tiny flowers around the stem.

Cruciata laevipes

Some Common Gromwell rounded off a nice couple of hours.

Lithospermum officinale

I think this shows that it's always worth re-visiting familiar places, new plants and wildflife could arrive and establish there at any time.

Take care

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Orchids and Chalk Grassland Flowers - East Kent 29/04/17

I thought it would be a good time to go the the National Trust's White Cliffs of Dover area for wildflowers, so we set off in good weather, hoping for a great day out.  On arrival, we parked in the first NT car park and walked down a dodgy tiny path to the old tramway. There were sheer drops off the edge of it! You can just see it in this photo.

As ever there were interesting views of the port and France was easily visible this day.

Anyway, back to the wildflowers. The most obvious plant now flowering in their hundreds were Horseshoe Vetch.

Hippocrepis comosa

Also blazing the cliffsides with colour were many Wild Cabbages, pretty much only found in these habitats now in Kent.

Brassica oleracea var. oleracea

This photo close to the cliff edge shows Wild Cabbage, Wallflower and Hoary Stock all in the same photo.

There were tiny surprises as well, like this Lesser Centaury, not even as big as the blades of grass around it.

They lack a basal rosette and have a lengthened calyx ccompared to Common Centaury and are usually a deeper pink/purple colour.

Centaurium pulchella

Sure enough, I soon found Common Centaury, still a tiny plant here due to poor soil and drought, but bigger paler flowers and a basal rosette was present.

Centaurium erythraea

Some Eyebrights were in the grasses along the cliff. These take a while to work out what species you are looking at and I didn't have the time to do so today, so just Eyebright it is!

Euphrasia agg

This is a 6" tall Greater Knapweed. Inland they may be over a metre tall. This was the first I had seen flowering so far this season.

Centaurea scabiosa

Hoary Stock is another plant on the Kent Rare Plant Register, mainly because there isn't a lot of habitat for it in Kent. It likes bare ground right on the cliff edges. You can sometimes find it growing on walls near the coast. This is the usual colour form.

Matthiola incana

And here is a white form of which there were several around here.

It seems that much of the coastal flora was yellow at the moment, and here's another one, Kidney Vetch. It is easily recognisable by its fluffy cotton wool like flowers and grey strap like leaves.

Anthyllis vulneraria

The Dover Cliffs are a good area to find the native procumbent form of Sainfoin. Rarely is it much more than 8" tall.

This form is again rare, but its cousin, Fodder Sainfoin which grows to a height of 4-5 feet tall is common inland. There's loads of it on the approach roads to Bluewater shopping centre, keep a look out for it when next going shopping!

Onobrychis viciifolia

Common Milkwort was out in large numbers, a small plant with mainly blue, but sometimes purple, pink or white flowers. Look for it in short chalk turf.

Polygala vulgaris

These small bright flowers are Common Rockrose, which form mats of hairy leaves in bare areas dotted with their bright yellow flowers. They are found in many chalk inland sites as well

Helianthemum nummularium

St Mark's Flies were out in large numbers, bumbling into us frequently. However, they don't bite, are harmless and part of the food chain for higher creatures such as birds. Everything plays a part in an eco-system.

Of course, with all these flowers out there were plenty of pollinators about such as bees, hoverflies, beetles and butterflies, including this lovely Small Heath.

Nottingham Catchfly, another rare plant, was dotted here and there along the cliffs as we made our way to St. Margaret's Lighthouse.

Their petals are rolled up during the day, but fully open only at night, to be pollinated mainly by moths. I don't see insects on them during the day, so possibly they emit a scent in the evening as well?

Silene nutans

This is Wild Mignonette which I usually see in arable field edges, often in large numbers. however, this stunted but flowering plant was on bare chalk right on the cliff edge. I suppose you can't choose where the seed ends up and has to grow or die!

Reseda lutea

After a couple of miles walking along the cliffs we came to the South Foreland Lighthouse at St. Margarets at Cliffe. It's a living museum and all the original parts are in there which still work. The National Trust does a tour around it which is quite fascinating, especially the history of the treachorous Goodwin Sands not far offshore.

After a delicious cream tea and well deserved rest of the legs, we made our way back. However, rather than repeat the journey, we took an inland route along arable field edges.

I was surprised to find an unusual Fumitory close to the tea rooms, which on closer examination turned out to be Dense Flowered Fumitory.

These have small flowers, usually under 9mm long, crowded flowers and very large sepals, so are relatively easy to identify.

Even more so as I have the BSBI Fumitory Handbook at home!

Fumaria capreolata subsp capreolata

This is Scentless Mayweed, an arable and waste-ground weed that will soon be out in large numbers. However, this was the first I'd seen in flower since New Year's Day when last year's plants were just hanging on.

Tripleurospermum inodorum

At this time of the year, there are always several species of the Cabbage family in flower, all looking superficially the same.

Though by carefully looking at the upper and lower leaves and seed pods you can identify most fairly easily. The worst feature for a firm ID are the flowers, with only their size telling many species apart.

This is Charlock, a common arable and roadside weed with big often glossy leaves and large flowers.

Sinapis arvensis

And this one with teeny flowers is Hedge Mustard, another common plant found just about everywhere.

Sisymbrium officinale

 The final plant I photographed on our way back were these fine specimens of Field Pepperwort, another rare arable plant.

they have been recorded here before, so it was nice to see them escape the herbicides in the area. Most fields were sprayed right to the field edges. I would have hoped the National Trust could have tempered this activity by tenant farmers somewhat.

Lepidium campestre

So ended our trip to Dover White Cliffs. One of the reasons I went was because last year I had found numerous Early Spider Orchids along the cliffs from Dover to St. Margarets. This year I found none. Possibly conditions were just too dry on cliff edges?

Samphire Hoe is just West of Dover and is a known site for these small orchids, so we detoured and had a look around for them. It's a lovely place with plenty to see other than the orchids such as butterflies and adders!

 We didn't have to go far from the main car park to find some, in fact well over 50 within 100m of the car park! I was hoping for some multi-flowered plants as they aren't far off going over now and some should be at their best now. Again, probably due to drought, even the plants with 3 flowers on were in a sorry state. Here's some photos of the plants still in good condition, though at the time of writing I suspect nearly all will have gone over by now.

Ophrys sphegodes

At this time of the year, there are more daylight hours available, so we decided to go to other orchid sites in Kent on the way back and see what we might find flowering.

First stop was at Kent Wildlife Trust's Yockletts Bank reserve in the middle of nowhere, South of Canterbury.

In the damp shady areas were fine stands of wild garlic, usually called Ramsons. The air was heavy with their hunger provoking scent!

Allium ursinum

As I walked up the hill from the road, Fly Orchids were dotted here and there. They really are easy to miss being so thin. Most are less than 8" tall, but occassionally I do find them over 2' tall with multiple flowers.

Ophrys insectifera

Nearby was a stand of the stunning Herb Paris, a hard to find plant in West Kent, though I have heard on Twitter that there is a colony in Croydon. They often grow with Dog Mercury which are the same colour and a similar structure, so eyes can phase out and you can walk straight past them, even when you know where they are.

This is precisely what I did and I had to go back down the path to find them again!

Paris quadrifolia

There's a Dog Mercury plant lowerright of the photo, so you can see what I mean!

My next find was not an orchid that many seek out, it's the Common Twayblade, which actually (for a change) is common.

they have a pair of big oval green leaves which distinguishes them from anything else, though the only other orchid they could be confused with would be a Frog Orchid. The leaves are a give away though for the Common Twayblade.

However, they are a good indicator that other orchids may grow there as was the case at Yockletts.

Neottia ovata

As I neared the top of the hill on the edge of the shade were numerous Greater Stitchworts, a delight to see in late Spring, they brighten up many a road verge, hedgerow and wood at this time of the year.

Stellaria holostea

Near to these were numerous Early Purple Orchids, most going over now, but this one still looking good.

Orchis mascula

Then we came to the star plant of this fantastic little reserve of beauty in a sea of arable desert in East Kent, the stunning, stately, statuesque Lady Orchid

I had passed several of these in flower on my way up the hill, but most weren't fully open or were in heavy shade of the late afternoon.

People come to see these from all over the UK, so I am grateful and fortunate to have the majority of the UKs population of this species in my own county.

There's even a small colony within 12 miles of where I live.

Orchis purpurea

We then headed back home up the M2.  Ranscombe Farm was on the way back, just off junction 2 and they had recently posted a tweet of a Man Orchid just starting to flower, so having had a bit of an orchid festival today, we thought we'd stop for a few minutes there.

We found several Man Orchids in the car park area but none were flowering. While I was looking, my little helper J.J. (Grand-Daughter) came to help me look and to her delight she found one flowering while I was still struggling to find them.

All credit to her. She is most certainly the only child in her whole primary school to know her wildflowers and wild orchids. Most children never get off a screen nowadays.

Orchis anthropophora

It was almost dark now, so that was it for today.

i hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed both the experience and that of sharing it with you.

Take care