Sunday, 21 April 2019

A Woodland Walk, Fawkham, Kent - 28/03/19

This walk was exactly a week after I had a serious heart operation. Following it, I had been feeling very rough with the sensation that someone with big boots had stamped repeatedly on my chest! Having said that, this day was the first where I felt good. My heart rythm was normal, I had rosy cheeks and the weather was warm and springlike, I must now be better. Provided I took things easy I thought it would be nice to visit my local woods to see the springtime flowers.

These woods were on a steep hillside, but I took it easy and photographed some flowers along the way. It felt vry good to be out and about again.

Below are some naturalised garden Grape Hyacinths surrounded by Lesser Celandines.

Muscari armeniacum

Another common garden escape is Green Alkanet, with its bright blue flowers that I found by a road verge on the way to the woods.

Pentaglottis sempervirens

In my last blog, the Cherry Plum was in flower. Now however, those were fading and the main tree in bloom was Blackthorn both of which can look similar.

Prunus spinosa

By a road was this Glory of the Snow, a Scilla species likely arrived into the wild from fly tipped material years ago.

Scilla forbesii 

In the wood were carpets of Wood Anemones. always a delight to see and I'm glad I didn't miss them this year after all.

Anemone nemorosa

The contrasting pale but bright green flowers of Wood Spurge, against their dark green and purplish lower leaves was striking. There are lots of non native Euphorbias in people's gardens, yet this is a most attractive native species overlooked by most gardeners. There is one that looks similar called E. aygdaloides subspecies robbiae which differs from the wild form in having a very bushy section of lower leaves.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

Even the tiny Ground Ivy had come into flower whilst I had been ill. Carpets of them in shades of pink lined the woodland edge. 

Glechoma hederacea

It was quite warm and I was sweating from the exertion of climbing a hill and getting down low to take photographs. I still felt OK overall and decided to carry on. There were Early Purple Orchids in this wood and it would be great to see if they were in flower now. In hindsight this was a very bad decision.

There were plenty of Red Dead Nettles and this White Dead Nettle,  a great food source for early butterflies and bees.

Lamium album 

Wood Forget-me-not was flowering, though this coloured form was probably a garden escape. There were plenty of native forms to be found as well in the woods here.

Myosotis sylvatica

There were large patches of Sweet Violet in both white and the more usual purple colours along the woodland paths.

Viola odorata

Also present in large numbers were the Wood or Early Dog Violets. 

Viola reichenbachiana

By now I knew something was wrong as I was getting bad chest pains and becoming short of breath. My partner was with me but I kept quiet as I didn't want this wonderful spring flower trip to end. I got by, by walking slowly and not getting down low to take photographs. We failed to find any flowering Early Purpe Orchids and we began to make our way back to the car.

We then walked by a patch of flowering Moschatel (also called Town Hall Clock). I couldn't resist a final photo, but had trouble focussing the camera on such a tiny plant in deep shade. As such, I was down for longer than I realised.

Adoxa moschatellina

It was a nice photo but it wasn't worth what followed. I had crushing chest pains and I felt like I'd been hit with a sledgehammer in the chest. We managed to get back to the car and home and from there went to A&E as I thought perhaps I had triggered a heart attack. Thankfully, after hours of tests this was not the case. I had relapsed into fast atrial fibrillation and seruously aggravated an already bruised heart (from the operation a week earlier). A 15 minute injection of Flecanide eventually calmed my system down and my heart returned to a normal rythm once more. I was discharged shortly before midnight!

I've mentioned this to show that one really must take it easy after any serious operation. As the effects of the operation in my chest could not be seen, once I felt ok I thought I was better. I was not. Several weeks later I'm still botanising but very much taking it easy and keeping trips short and without exertion. To date I'm now feeling fine and hope to be fully fit within a few weeks (mid April at time of writing).

Since then, I've found many amazing plants and flowers within yards of the car without trekking up steep hills or stressing my system. It keeps me with some semblance of mental and physical fitness without taking risks. Until next time.

Take care

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Spring Botany on the Kent Coast - 09/03/19

This was my last day out before I was scheduled to have heart surgery and the plants I would find  gave me some peace from the constant mental worries churning through my head at this time.  

First stop was the seaside car park at St. Margaret's Bay, accessed by going down the steep chalk cliffs through a series of very sharp hairpin bends.

Alexanders is very common in the coastal areas of Kent and was now in peak flowering form in several areas of the car park and cliffs.

Smyrnium olusatrum

Sea Mayweed decorated the edge of the car park within the spray zone of the sea front.

It looks very similar to its inland cousin, Scentless Mayweed, but has fleshy leaves in comparison.

Tripleurospermum maritimum

Musk Storksbill is spreading rapidly through the county and I have seen it in numerous places in north Kent. It's now spreading along the coast as well. It's generally much bigger than Common Storksbill, with very glandular foliage that has a gone off lemon smell when bruised.

Erodium moschatum

Cherry Plum trees were in bloom near the cliffs.

Prunus cerasifera

We then left this area and ended up in Sandwich, just north of here. Poking out of the shingle were numerous Sea Kale plants. They reminded me of fan worms in a coral sea coming out of their shells to filter the water for food. By May they will be big, bushy plants clothed in swathes of white flowers.

Crambe maritima

Coltsfoot is often found on beaches and waste areas. It's bright yellow flowers and scaly stems aren't found in any other UK wildflower, so it is easy to recognise. It also flowers before any leaves grow.

Tussilago farfara

It is well known that Sandwich dunes is the best location in the UK to see Lizard Orchids. Here, there were hundreds of rosettes which appear prior to flowering. Visit in late May/early June to see them in flower.

Himantoglossum hircinum

Although you can't make it out in the photo above, the orchid is surrounded by Subterraneum Clover (Trifolium subterraneum), an unusual plant and one I don't see very often.

Due to my illness, I couldn't get down low for any amount of time to have a good look at the smaller plants. Thankfully I had help this day from my 13yr old grand-daughter.

You can see why this prostrate pose leads to passing members of the public usually asking if an ambulance is required. 

Just under her eye loupe is the plant she found for me, Little Mouse-ear and very little it is too!

Cerastium semidecandrum

There were some Wild Carrots in flower. The domed shape and lack of any red centre flowers mean this is probably subspecies gummifer.

It's easy to determine these when in fruit as the fruits are unlike the usual Wild Carrot and don't form into a ball.

Daucus carota subspecies gummifer

Sandwich has a good population of Sea Spurge, a rare plant in Kent due to a lack of suitable habitat.
The cold weather had turned this one and several others, shades of red, which really stood out on the beach.

Euphorbia paralias

So ended a nice distracting day out. The next blog comes after my heart operation and some potentially serious complications.

Take care

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A Churchyard at Fawkham, Kent - 22/02/19

I was still suffering ill health at this time and could not walk far from the car.  As churchyards are often great places for wildflowers I thought I would visit a local one and see what Spring flowers might be up there.

Perhaps one of the commonest Spring flowers seen is the humble Lesser Celandine, and there were fine displays of them here as well with each flower reflecting the sun's golden rays back to any person caring to admire them. On cloudy or wet days they stay firmly closed as Wordsworth noticed!

Wordsworth wrote a poem about this plant. Here's a paragraph from it, though you can view the entire poem by searching for it on the internet, it's quite long!

"There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again

Ficaria verna

Another common Spring wildflower is the Red Dead-Nettle. While they are small flowers, they are favoured by the early Spring butterflies who readily use them to recharge their energy levels after a Winter hibernation. It's leaves were also used historically to staunch bleeding - though I note there is never any evidence recorded as to whether this worked or not, just that people used it in this way!

Lamium purpureum

Another, almost ubiquitous plant is the Groundsel which flowers all through the Winter and in fact, it flowers all through the year! 

Anecdotes suggest that if boiled and strained, the juice was good for clearing up eye infections. Others suggest it grew only where witches had urinated! If true, I would suggest that there are not only enormous amounts of witches flying about, but that they are all incontinent too... Depending on the area you come from this plant was either used by witches to bring harm to you and your kin, or was used as a defence against witchcraft - take your pick!

Senecio vulgaris

Most churchyards in Kent have a planted but ancient yew tree and this one was no different. The bark had lovely pink and green pastel hues and a texture guaranteed to stir interest in anyone caring to notice.

The tiny pollen cones on the underside of the leaf branches were close to opening. Once they do open, a slight shake of the tree branch sees a yellow cloud of pollen escaping into the air, no doubt causing misery to hay fever sufferers. Tree pollen gets going from March onwards, followed later by pollen from wildflowers and grasses.

Yew wood was historically used for making longbows, but its sap was also poisonous and arrows were often tipped with it as well. 

Taxus baccata

Blue coloured Anemones are usually planted. There were some planted here by one particular old grave.  However, over time they had spread throughout a large area and were growing in places they would not have been planted in. I have also seen these escape from gardens into adjacent woodland in other areas, so they may become a feature of urban woodlands in time to come.

Anemone blanda

There are two types of blue anemone found as escapees, this one and Anemone appennina. The main difference between them is shown below, but the most easy to tell feature is whether the underside of the petals are hairy or not. Don't forget to check them when you find some! Both species may be found in a white form as well which may look like an odd looking native Anemone nemorosa.

There were patches of naturalised Winter Aconites scattered here and there as well. However, these plants have a tendency to become scruffy at the slightest bit of rain or frost and most were almost gone over. You need to visit them often to find some at their best.

This is a highly poisonous plant which if ingested can be fatal by causing a heart attack, but before that happened one would experience many highly unpleasant effects of poisoning, such as vomitting and diarrhoea. It amuses me when the press make a big "hoo-hah" over a poisonous wildflower such as corncockle being in wildflower seed mixes when people actively grow Winter Aconites in their gardens. Perhaps all street facing gardens should have a warning sign up regarding the potential for death if you eat the flowers?  Other plants such as some Hogweeds can cause chemical burns and awful reactions to being exposed to sunlight just by picking the plant and getting its sap on your skin.

Thus the obvious and safe thing do to is not to eat or pick any wild plant that you do not know the identity of (including fungi). 

Eranthis hyemalis

Old graves such as these shown below are often a haven for wildflowers, in particular smaller species such as Stonecrops (Sedum) and Speedwells (Veronica). In this case unfortunately they had recently been mowed. 
I haven't seen these sarcophogous types of graves outside of Kent, though I am sure their use must have been widespread when they were fashionable.

Several types of Primroses were present, all originally planted no doubt, but all having escaped and seeded into grassland nearby. Here's a beautiful pink and yellow form of Primula escapee.

And a white one with a yellow centre, more like the native form which were also frequent here.

Primula vulgaris

Planted Crocuses abounded but I couldn't determine if they were all planted or whether any had grown on their own. As such, I don't record them, or if I did there would be a note to add that I believed they were planted.

They came in a variety of colours and looked great though!

My final featured wildflower from the churchyard was the ephemeral Ivy-leaved Speedwell. This comes up out of nowhere, and is found almost everywhere one looks from now until around the beginning of May when it completely disappears until next year. Given this, I try to record as much of it as I see to accurately record its distribution.

Although the photograph doesn't show it due to a quality macro lens being used, the flowers are only about 2mm across, they are tiny! It's easier to spot the hairy ivy shaped leaves than the flowers, which to me appear as little pinkish dots on the ground!  

There are actually two recognised sub species of this plant which are subsecies leucorum and subspecies hederifolia, the latter having intensely bright blue anthers.  Invariably I find that those growing in shaded areas are subspecies leucorum and those in the open to be subspecies hederifolia, but I always check. There are other morphological differences in leaf shape, but I'll leave you to research that yourself. It's detailed in Harrap's Wildflower book with photos very well.

Veronica hederifolia subspecies lucorum

That was it for the churchyard, but on the way home I stopped off at a tiny wood just to see if there was anything else I could find near the car.  I did find some nice and still flowering Spurge Laurel (which incidentally are evergreen and can be spotted throughout the year) and some nice views over the valley.

I must admit to taking plants like this for granted as I see them all the time where I live. However, they are only very common in old deciduous woodland on the chalk. Once you leave the North Downs chalk areas, they are much scarcer in most of Kent.  For a national distribution of this plant see:
You can use this resource for any species of wild plant to see where it has been found.

Daphne laureola

Some fine views below of the Fawkham Valley, a dry chalk valley, just a few miles out of suburban London.

Well, I hope this goes to show that one doesn't necessarily need to be fit and healthy to see and appreciate wildflowers. Much can be found within yards of a car park and I hope you enjoyed the blog and that it inspires you to look around your own area. 

And as I write this in mid April, the Spring flowers are beginning to emerge in numbers and the sight of carpets of Bluebells dotted with Early Purple Orchids, Yellow Archangels and Wood Anemones is not far off now at all.

Take care