The Ashdown Forest is a huge expanse of semi natural wildrerness, with vast areas of Gorse and Bracken. Hidden amongst them all are some beautiful wildflowers. Uness you're very lucky in stumbling across them, it's wise to get some help with locations. Either some helpful tips from other botanists (thank you to Brad Scott - Sussex Botanical Recording Society) or from researching books and the internet for clues. Flowering times can usually be found by others posting photos on social media sites. Books can be wrong with flowering times by a few weeks depending on the weather that particular year.
This is the Marsh Gentian with its vividly blue flowers.
A very rare plant and I believe, absent from Kent.
It grows with other acid loving plants such as Gorse and Cross Leaved Heath.
Heather was just coming into flower, looking great in the sunlight with a golden backdrop of Dwarf Gorse flowers.
More colourful than the Heather was the Cross-leaved Heath with its large clumps of pink bell shaped flowers.
A photo of the leaves helps identify these species; how many leaves in a whorl and whether the leaves are inrolled on their margins.
I've seen Dwarf Gorse on Dartford heath, but it's uncommon and I never visited when it was in flower, so it was nice to see it in bloom.
It's always prostrate, close to the ground with smaller, less stout spines than normal Gorse.
A view of Ashdown Forest and its grassland habitat
From here we drove down to the coast to the very different habitats of the chalk cliffs and grasslands of the Seven Sisters at Birling Gap.
It was a beautiful sunny day and a perfect one for a walk along the chalk cliffs West out of Birling Gap.
Tiny pink jewels of Common Centaury poked up in the short turf.
Dwarf Thistles were in flower, here is a typical example, though sometimes the flowering stem can be a few inches tall.
This is a Hoary Plantain which is becoming scarcer and is a Kent RPR species as a result. I don't know if it's rare in Sussex, but there were lots of them here.
Their snowy plumes of white anthers are quite different to the other more common plantains.
Butterflies were abundant like this Small Copper, but the warm sun kept them active and hard to photograph.
Devil's Bit Scabious, one of the taller plants found
The tiny flowers of Wild Thyme.
The majority of wildflowers were dwarf varieties suited to the rabbit grazed turf of the chalk downs.
A dwarf Common Knapweed
Centaurea nigra agg
Dwarf Field Scabious
Common Restharrow growing in the shingle edges of a driveway!
Given the time of year, I was conscious that there was a possibility of finding the last flowering orchid of the season, the delicate Autumn Lady's Tresses. I knew it had been seen here in the past so I kept an eye out for it.
I found twenty plus flowering spikes high up on the cliffs above Birling Gap. Most were only about 6-8" tall and when growing amongst other grasses, they are surprisingly easy to miss.
As if to show how easy they are to miss - on the return walk to the car park at Birling Gap, we noticed several more growing on people's lawns, completely missed on the way up.
The spiralling form gives it its scientific name:
So ended a fantastic day out to East Sussex. Like Kent, the county has a huge diversity of habitats. This is the key to having great biodiversity of plants and everything else up the food chain. At the right time of the year, the South Downs are a botanical delight, go and visit for yourself if you can!