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


  1. The Early Spiders are still showing well at Lydden Down, I went there yesterday looking for Burnt Tip; no luck. However, I did find an open Late Spider! Crete Road site.

  2. I don't know why i couldn't find any Early Spiders between Dover and St. Margarets, there were plenty to be found last year. Hopefully net Spring will be a bit wetter!
    I've not even tried looking for Burnt at Lydden, too many people chasing a dream/slim chance perhaps? Did go to Caburn in Sussex today and found just one, the rest of the flowering population chomped by grazing cattle thanks to Natural England.
    Thanks for your comments

  3. Nice write-up of our home area Dave and I admit I learned something new.
    Glad you liked the lighthouse - Mel volunteers there.
    I agree about the Lydden burnt-tip - needle in a haystack
    All the best,

  4. Glad you enjoyed it. I often see new things in nature, even at places I know well.

  5. Could I please ask about your observations on Silene nutans. We study a fungus that replaces the pollen with dark powdery spores, and we would love to know new locations. It looks like one of your prior photos on Twitter (Kingfisher‏ @Barbus59 29 Jul 2015 "Advantage of an evening visit...") might have this flower-infecting fungus. I'd be very grateful to hear if you've noticed this type of S. nutans flower. With many thanks and best compliments on the photography!, Michael Hood, Amherst College - Biology.

    1. Hi Michael,
      I'm so sorry that I've only just come across your comment. I haven't noticed this fungus but will keep a look out this year for it. Dungeness area has a massive population of this plant so I would look there first. Dave

  6. I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day!
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  7. Michael,
    I've looked at my photos and one definitely has black anthers at Dungeness. Look around the old lighthouse area, coastguards cottages towards the Long Ponds. hope that helps. Dave


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