Monday, 5 March 2018

Botanising in the Beast from the East! Longfield, Kent - 27/02/18

The Beast from the East arrived in full force this week  with around 10cm of snow, much of it drifting, ice and a bitingly cold wind chill from the Easterly winds of Siberian origin. On this day, I decided to take a day's leave rather than risk the perils of Kent's roads and possibly end up stuck for hours on a freezing cold motorway.
That was just as well as the snow fell all morning with the wind driving it into my face, initially making my face sting, until the cold made it numb!

I had decided to walk around Churchdown Woods near Longfield. I didn't have botany on my mind at all, but thought that a bracing walk through the snow might produce some photo opportunities, which of course it did.

Once in the woods, I began to notice plants that I could still identify even with snow covering them.

Of course, this is the Hazel tree. It's been flowering now for over a month with the male catkin flowers now wide open.

The tiny red coloured female flowers are above the catkins, and here they were covered in snow, so won't get pollinated yet!

Corylus avellana

This is a Wood Spurge with a snow capped head! First year plants grow the basal leaves and in their second year they throw up long flowering spikes from the central stem.

Euphorbia amygdaloides

Of course, Holly is easily identified, snowing or not. I searched several bushes but failed to find any with either berries or flowers on, not surprising really!

Ilex aquifolium

In between heavy snow showers, the weak late February sun tried to appear - but ultimately failed!

This grass was Wood Melick, common in my local woodlands and carry distinctive black seeds in late Spring.

Melica uniflora

I then found a few Spurge Laurel bushes, an evergreen native shrub found in chalk woodlands. It's supposed to flower in late Winter and sure enough one was still in full flower.

You can just see the flowers poking out from between the drooping leaves. Small, circular bunches of green flowers with yellow anthers, they are easy to miss as they lack much in the way of colour!

 Daphne laureola

I had to shake some snow off them to take the photos but it was quite exhilarating to find wildflowers in such conditions.

This was a young Yew tree covered in snow. My fingers were a bit numb so I didn't fancy brushing off the snow to see if any of its flowers had developed yet. They will be bursting forth soon, followed by hollowed out red berries in Autumn.

Taxus baccata

I continued through the winter wonderland of the woods marvelling at the complete silence you only seem to get in heavy snowfalls. No traffic noise, no aircraft overhead and no birdsong either. I think the latter were all in local gardens where the best food supply would be found (including my own).

I then spotted another plant that could be in flower now, the Butcher's Broom, a low growing evergreen shrub with viciously sharp bristle tipped "leaves". From the middle of these "leaves" (which are modified bracts really) arise tiny flowers and I hoped to find some on this snowy freezing cold day.

And find some I did!

These flowers are incredibly small and difficult to photograph. I took at least 20 photos and these were the only ones half decent. A pleasing find indeed.

Ruscus aculeatus

The final woodland plant was Wood Avens in seed. As you brush past them, they detach from the stem and tiny hooks catch on your clothing (or furry coats if you have one like those of rabbits and deer) to spread far and wide.

Geum urbanum

I had hoped to perhaps spot some Violets or Early Purple Orchid rosettes, but the snow was too deep to see them.

I headed back via an arable field, just taking in the view and not expecting to find any more plants outside of the wood in these conditons.

Once again I was wrong and pleasantly surprised.

The humble Shepherd's Purse, it's flowers just about exceeding the depth of the snow, but destined to be buried later this day!

Capsella bursa-pastoris

I was then confronted by a colour contrast that was quite beautiful. One of those tricky to identify cabbage family plants with bright yellow flowers, offset by the sparkling white of the snow.

The drooping heads caused some confusion at first, but I soon realised this was due to the extreme conditions.

the flowers were quite large and overtopped the flower buds and the sepals were patent (sticking out).

This was Wild Turnip, apparently a troublesome arable weed for farmers, but a beautiful sight to behold in the snow for me.

Brassica rapa

That was my last photograph as I trudged my way back home as blizzard conditions set in and my camera and lens aren't waterproof.

The photo below shows part of Longfield to the far left of the photo. It was quite a walk in the cold and with lots of steep inclines as well, so much so that I was drenched in sweat by the time I got home, though with numb fingertips and face.

I thoroughly enjoyed my walk, all the more for the botanical surprises I found in such conditions, extreme botany indeed!  As I write this, the thaw has at last begun and hopefully, Spring will be back on course by the middle of March at the latest.

Take care

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Early Spring Botanical Recording nr Shorne Kent - 18/02/18

This was my last outing before the very cold weather arrived with its copious amounts of snow, ice and biting Easterly winds. I was recording in TQ6969 North of Shorne. I found plenty of records in a completly unrecorded monad and will return later in the year to add to them.

As much of the area I recorded was next to the A2, it wasn't very picturesque so I only took photos of the flowers, so here goes.

Early Spring is the time Common Whitlowgrass comes into flower, but unless you have very good eyesight or frequently get down on your knees you'll miss them. The flowers are only a few millimetres across.

Erophila verna

A scruffy Dovesfoot Cranesbill in flower in the roadside verge.

Geranium molle


These Hairy Bittercress also have very small flowers and were interspersed with the Common Whitlowgrass, like small white dots in the road verge edges.

Cardamine hirsuta

The wonder of a macro lens is that it can make small things look big!

this is the small flower of Common Storksbill, another common plant found in short turf.

Erodium cicutarium

 Next I found two large Daisy plants that looked very much the same, but they weren't!


This one was the usual Ox-eye Daisy, often seen in their thousands along roadsides in May.

Leucanthemum vulgare

But this one had a much larger flower and is a garden escape hybrid called the Shasta Daisy.

Leucanthemum x superbum

(love the name!)

There's a third type as well, but how do you spot the differences?

A very large flower size gives away the Shasta Daisy, but the stem and basal leaves are best to determine the species properly. Below is a photo of a page from Stace 3 that clearly shows the differerences between them all. I've taped a copy of this into my Harapps Wildflowers book as well.

 Credit - Prof. Clive Stace

So not all big daisies are Ox-eye Daisies!

The next plant was a nice surpise, a rosette of a Bee Orchid, a single plant growing along the North verge of a road parallel to the A2. They can be confused with Ribwort Plantain and Common Centaury rosettes as well, but orchid rosettes do look different! Honestly. Looking at this specimen, I think rabbits like them as well.

Ophrys apifera

I looked all over for a Primrose, but they eluded me in this monad. However, I did find this loner all by itself, an early flowering Cowslip.

 Primula veris

 As I walked through a small piece of woodland, I was distracted by these brightly coloured, though small, Scarlet Elf Cups. I'd only seen these before at Sevenoaks Nature Reserve, so I thought them a nice find. They seem to like long dead, damp and rotting Silver Birch branches!

Sarcoscypha austriaca

 It was actually an almost sunny day, though clouding over rapidly, but the sun brought the petals fully out on this and other Common Field Speedwells beautifully.

Veronica persica

In the shade of some young trees I found my first Kent Sweet Violets in flower, there were over a hundred in a small area.

Though these are supposed to be scented, I've yet to notice any scent. Maybe they smell nicer in the evening and moths pollinate them?

Viola odorata

That was the last flowering plant I photographed, though I saw and recorded lots more (such as Common Ragwort, Groundsel, Shepherd's Purse, etc) and many more again without flowers (Ivy, Plantains, etc.  However, as I walked back to my car, I surveyed the opposite road verge which faced North. Being shaded I didn't think I'd find much, but as I walked along I saw the odd Bee Orchid rosette, then another and another, then huge patches of them!

It is doubtful that any will flower though. They are on a road verge and they will be mowed relentlessly from May onwards. It's ironic that the mowing creates a habitat for them to compete, but also prevents them from flowering. I've written to Kent County Council via email in the vain hope they might instigate a wildlife friendly mowing regime here, but I'm not holding my breath!
Here's what a Bee Orchid flower can look like, if the mowers hold off during May/June. Imagine hundreds of them flowering along a road verge like those above?

 That;s it for now, my next blog will cover some rather extreme botany!

Take Care

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Plants and Places of interest in East Sussex - 17/02/18

A few days before the Beast from the East arrived (for posterity that was a bitterly cold weather system with withering winds, snow and ice from Siberia), we had a day trip out to the East Sussex coast from Pett Level to Winchelsea then to Bexhill to see what we might find.

The view East towards Camber. In a month or so there will be plenty of coastal plants to see, clovers, mouse-ears and so on. Even now there are the distinctive young plants of Yellow Horned Poppy to be found.

 But we didn't go East, we went West to the base of the cliffs at Pett Level. These have a large layer of clay over the bedrock and cliff falls are common as a result. The fall shown below was extensive and took out a large area that had been full of wildflowers amd Greater Horsetail the previous year.

However, there were still a few plants to be found like this invasive non native Hottentot Fig. This sprawled down the cliff smothering everything below it. It does have attractive flowers, though the only one I could find was up high.

Carpobrotus edulis

In the photo below you can see it draping down the cliffs. In places it's broken off and started new colonies at the base of the cliffs.

Many plants can be identified without flowers. These are the seeds of the Stinking Iris. The only similar native species it could be confused with is Yellow Iris (also called Yellow Flag), but the seeds of that are browny yellow.

The leaves are typical Iris leaves but could be confused without closer examination with Pendulous Sedge.

Iris foetidissima

Winter Heliotrope starts flowering in late December, so this one below was a straggler with most florets gone to seed now. They are another attractive alien plant and can be found along many rural road verges, often for 100s of metres in an unbroken line of large leaves that again block out light for native plants.

Petasites fragrans

Coltsfoot is a herald of Spring, though the recent extreme cold will have put most back a bit for now.

The photo below shows the stem with its scale like bracts up it, quite unlike the smooth Dandelion.
It's a quick coloniser of waste areas and disturbed soils. The recent cliff falls mean there is new habitat for this plant to colonise.

Tussilago farfara

Gorse is always a winter favourite for being in flower, even in extrmely cold conditions.
It's also an indicator that the underlying soil is not alkaline.

Ulex europaeus

From Pett we drove the short distance to the ancient town of Winchelsea with its fantastic old church from the 1200s.

I'll indulge myself here with a few photos from inside the church, a beautiful building.

This church featured on the recent ITV Britain at Low Tide series with "grafitti" on the walls in memory of shipwrecked sailors from the area.

Old church grounds are often worth a look round for botanical interest and here was no exception. I was surprised to find a lot of Navelwort growing all around the churchyard. Of course, it's far too early for flowers. I was surprised because it has a western distribution in the UK. In SE England it's quite scarce.

There was a very large colony on top of a bus shelter by the church, most of it on the road facing side (not in photo due to traffic).

Umbilicus rupestris

Also along the road verge and no doubt planted in the past were lots of Early Crocus.

Crocus tommasinianus

From here we drove to Hastings, but there was nowhere to park so we carried on to Bexhill. There's a small area of cliffs here and we drove up to the top for a look around. This is the view from there towards Hastings pier.

 A walk along the cliff tops revealed nothing of interest to be found. Lesser Chickweed was flowering this time last year, but the cold has put them back a bit.  A Herring Gull provided some interest.

In previous years I had found some Sweet Violets in some scrubby woodland behind the cliffs so I went for a look. Sure enough I found some in flower.

Viola odorata

After that it was time for the long drive home. If I had written this the day after this trip, I might have said Spring was definitely on its way, however, the Siiberian blast of the last week or so has been dramatically cold, so I'lll reserve judgement on when botanical spring will arrive properly.

Take care