New Year Plant Hunt 2017/18 - Kent : Part 1 Folkestone

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) run a New Year Plant Hunt over the new year period each year. The aim is to find which wild or naturalised plants are in bloom at this time of the year across Britain and Ireland then compare the results year on year.

It's good fun and an excuse to get outdoors after eating too much seasonal food! More people are taking part each year and it generates positive publicity for botany from TV and the press each year, either with unusual plants found in flower or a large number in flower.

Even now, most botanical books give flowering times which rarely include the end of December into early January, yet each year there are at lest 40 plants in flower, often more.

See  for results from previous years.

Here are my finds for the plant hunt over three days from 30/12/17 to 01/01/18 starting with Day 1.


30/12/17 - Folkestone Leas to Sandgate : in (mostly) scientific name alphabetical order.

Three-cornered Garlic or Leek, a naturalised alien that had escaped from gardens onto the shingle at Sandgate. This was not in flower last Winter until early March in 2017.

Allium triquetrum

This is a common native coastal plant called Thrift. This species was originally planted at the Leas, but they had escaped onto the shingle near the Folkestone end. They are often found flowering on cliff tops as well.

Armeria maritima









One of the commonest Winter flowering plants is the humble Daisy and here was no exception.

 Bellis perennis


Another spreading naturalised garden escape species is the Pot Marigold. it's popping up in numerous places in Kent lately. Here, I found it on the shingle near the Folkestone car park, no doubt seeding from the nearby Leas gardens. During the year I found a beautiful specimen flowering in the kerb of the sea front road at Herne Bay and masses of them on a road verge and not near habitation at Barton Point, Sheppey.



 Calendula officinalis














Another very common plant is Shepherd's Purse, originally an arable weed (and it still is) but also great at colonising urban areas, waste ground, pavements and as here, lawn edges.


Capsella bursa-pastoris

The next photo shows their heart shaped seeds developing which is the easiest way to identify this plant.


Any flower counts no matter how small! 

This is a very late Annual Wall Rocket.

Diplotaxis muralis

It's wise to take photos of flowers, seeds, leaves and stem until you get the hang of identifying crucifers. some can be very similar and seeds are very helpful in determining what you have found.


 Time for another naturalised alien, though this time it's rather invasive, smothering out all other species. This is the Hottentot Fig, a common sight along the South coast often draping down cliffs for hundreds of feet smothering out everything else (Bexhill on sea cliffs, Pett Level cliffs  and The Lizard in Cornwall are examples).

This one was found sprawling down the slopes onto the sea wall near the beach huts, Folkestone end of the Leas. The flower was a bit tatty due to recent frosts.

 Carpobrtous edula


 Red Valerian is such a common sight mostly on the coast but also on waste ground inland that one would be forgiven for thinking it's a native plant, but it is another garden escape. It has successfully colonised all sorts of habitats, especially shingle and waste ground around the county. Flowers can be pink, red or white.


Centranthus ruber



 It's a good job naturalised plants count, as these seem to be able to flower when native plants are in short supply. This was Seaside Daisy, naturalised all along the South coasts and very pretty it is too. I can see why people plant it in their gardens.

Erigeron glaucus


 This is a very early Common Whitlowgrass. It doesn't look like it's properly in flower but I looked through the x15 eye loupe and I could see stamens present, so it counts! These are a very common plant to which 99.9% of the population never ever notice. Probably because the plants are tiny and the flowers minute. The pebbles in the photo weren't much bigger than my thumbnail. Found on the edge of the car park, Folkestone end of the Leas.

Erophila verna




A common native plant often found in urban habitats, gardens and pavements is Petty Spurge which flowers throughout Winter.

 The flowers don't have petals.


Euphorbia peplus


I was very pleased to find my first flowering Lesser Celandine of the season. I had seen a few reported on Twitter but had yet to find any locally in flower.


This was(and still is) the only one I have found in flower so far this season, along the base of the wooded cliff areas of the Leas.

Ficaria verna


 The sea was rough this day as it was quite windy, so quite a surf was running. I changed lenses to snap these gulls on the beach near Sandgate.



There were still a few Ivy plants in flower. Unfortunately the best flowering examples came out blurred due to the wind, so this will have to do.






Hedera helix 





Bristly Oxtongue is a very common plant seen in flower from late Autumn onwards. There were a few still flowering here.







Helminthotheca echioides 







Hogweed is another plant that flowers all through Winter. I recall when I first started out in botany finding one flowering in the Winter and asking for help to ID it as all my books said it didn't flower at this time of the year.......




Heracleum sphondylium



Here's another of those pesky 4 petalled crucifers!

Thankfully it also had seeds which determined it to be Hoary Mustard from its bowling pin shape, pressed tight to the stem.


Hirschfeldia incana

I found a very late Cat's Ear. It's one of the many Dandelion type flowers that can be confusing to identify.


However, the 3 photos show all the parts you need to ID it from your books: bracts, stem, leaves.


Hypochaeris radicata

I felt very confident of finding Dead-Nettles having seen them in flower for weeks before this date. However, I only found Red Dead-Nettle flowering. I did find White Dead-Nettle but only with flower buds on which do not count!


Lamium purpureum





Found in the same places as Shepherd's Purse, this is Annual Mercury, another plant with no petals on its flowers.



Mercurialis annua










Pellitory of the Wall starts flowering in Summer and carries on all through Winter except in very poor conditions.  This was growing along the kerb by the Leas car park, Folkestone end.


 Parietaria judaica  



Winter Heliotrope is related to Butterbur, a native of muddy river banks and marshy areas that flood in the Winter and dry out in the Spring.

However, Heliotrope is a naturalised garden ecape that in places has overwhelmed many road verges with hundreds of yards of big leaves carpeting the ground and stifling out all other plants.

However, it has attractive flowers that have a nice scent so people like it in their gardens and it will continue to spread.
Whether it causes any particular lasting damage to native species is (to me) unknown.

Petasites fragrans

I was quite surprised to find a Mouse-ear Hawkweed in flower. It has lemon coloured petals and very long hairs on the upper side of its leaves. Common in Kent. 

Pilosella officinarum

Growing six feet up on a ledge on the sea wall mid way between Sandgate and Folkestone was a Rosemary bush, another garden escape, but rare to find in the wild.


Being so high off the ground, this was the closest close up I could get!

Rosmarinus officinalis


This rubbish photo was Butcher's Broom. I have some very nice photos of this flower in my library, but I've included this to show you that not all photos come out as I expect them to!

The flowers are tiny, grow in the middle of a leaf (which is actually a bract) and they grow in shade. Add in a by now howling coastal wind and this was the result!


Ruscus aculeatus


Now for the Ragworts!


 I found three species in the family in flower, though I had hoped to find Hoary Ragwort but failed to find one in flower.

 This is Common Ragwort with its well cut leaves which have blunt ends.


Senecio jacobaea

This one is Oxford Ragwort, an alien species created by man. It has bigger flowers in looser clusters and the leaves are more defined with sharp points on the lobes.






Senecio squalidus

Finally, Groundsel, found just about everywhere.

Although this can hybridise with some Ragworts, the hybrids are reasonably rare, so in most cases, it's simply Groundsel which can appear quite woolly as well.

Look out for Sticky Groundsel in coastal areas which is covered in glandular hairs and the flowers have short curled ray petals which normal Groundsel lacks.

Senecio vulgaris


I didn't expect to find Sea Campion in flower, but I found 2 patches half way between Sandgate and Folkestone. Above was on the shingle by the concrete path and left was high up on a sea wall ledge.

Silene uniflora

Smooth Sowthistle, a very common plant.



Sonchus oleraceus

Finally, a Dandelion type flower that is actually a Dandelion!


Also in the photo is a "flowering"  Annual Meadow Grass (grasses count).


Poa annua




Taraxacum agg.


Gorse starts to flower now and in a few weeks many areas will be ablaze with their bright yellow flowers, which incidentally smell of coconuts.


Ulex europaeus 


It's easy to overlook flowers that don't have petals. Here's the Common or Stinging Nettle.




Urtica dioica

Common Field Speedwells put in an appearance on the lawns of the Leas. 

To separate them from Green and Grey Field Speedwells, look at the seeds. These are often present on the same plant when in flower.

The seeds should be at approx 45 degrees to each other. Both Green and Grey seed halves lay parallel to each other.





Veronica persica 



My final photo from this first day was of Greater Periwinkle. This is a common garden escape into the wild but it doesn't often grow far away from habitation and this was no exception.

To tell them apart from Lesser Periwinkle, get the eye loupe out and check the rim of the leaves. Greater has a line of sometimes very fine hairs all around the leaf edges, Lesser has none. I can also see these hairs in the photos, as you can here if you look closely.

Vinca major


There is only 3 hours available each day to record flowers from the plant hunt (it's part of the rules). I had 45 minutes left and some daylight, so we drove the short distance to Samphire Hoe for a quick look around. Knowing that the best chance of wildflowers in flower would be on the natural beach West of the Hoe, we quickly made our way there.


I was rewarded with several stands of flowering Rock Samphire.

 This patch was in consolidated shingle at the top of the beach though many more were growing directly out of the chalk cliffs behind me.

Crithmum maritimum

A rather tatty Wild Carrot finishes off the photos for this trip. I did record several more species here, but didn't photograph them as I'd already done so earlier this day.

Daucus carota subsp carota

While it's now too late to join in a New Year Plant Hunt, you can pencil in a date for the end of this year to perhaps join in. You can record alone or in a group and many areas have a meeting of anyone interested led by an experienced botanist to hunt for flowering plants.

You can also search Twitter using #NewYearPlantHunt and see everyone's finds for yourself, or click on the BSBi link above, go to the interactive map and see what was found in your area.



A view on the walk back to the car, Samphire Hoe near Dover.

Part 2 which will cover the next two day's finds will follow soon. Venues coming are Swanscombe and Strood areas.





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