Sunday 5 November 2023

Botanical Finds in Cornwall - October 2023

 October remained mild with a conveyor belt of low pressure systems moving in from the Atlantic bringing rain and wind for much of the month. So it was a soggy time searching for plants this month. I'd rather have this weather than frost though, as the cold finishes off so many of our late summer wildflowers. The following is what I found of note this month around Cornwall.

On a trip to the Roseland Peninsular a few miles west of Mevagissey, I found a single patch of Cornish Heath in flower. This was quite a surprise as they are only common on The Lizard peninsular and heaths of the SW of the county. I've no idea how it got here on the coastal path with no habitation nearby, but it was a new record for the area and a welcome find.

Erica vagans

Another new record for the area was a patch of Portland Spurge at the base of some cliffs. In late season they often have bright red stems and so stand out from the crowd.

Euphorbia portlandica

There's something wonderful about walking along beautiful deserted beaches at this time of the year. This is Vault Beach on the Roseland, which would be packed with holidaymakers during the summer. In the distance a stand of Common Reed grows through the sand, thanks to a freshwater flush coming off the cliffs. The pale green plants are going to seed Sea Sandwort. I think it's amazing how they survive the trampling through the summer.

From the same area, I found a few Haresfoot Clover still flowering.

Trifolium arvense

I also found another clover, but this one had no flowers. By careful study of the leaves it seems to be Subterranean Clover, a nice plant to find.

Trifolium subterraneum

Long-stalked Orache had previously only been found at Penpol in a tributary of the River Fowey, though its hybid with Babington's Orache seems more widespread. It's an upper saltmarsh plant often growing at the top of the foreshore under deciduous trees or with some shelter from shrubs. As I was searching the saltmarshes of Cornwall for Glassworts and other interesting plants, I came across this rare plant at Little Petherick Creek, a tributary of the tidal River Camel. It's a boring plant to look at, being all green with no petals at all. The "flowers" are actually a pair of bracteoles that clasp the nutlet within it. The shape, degree of attachment to each other, whether stalked or with tubercles, all help determine which species of Orache they might be. However, long stalks to the bracteoles applies only to Long-stalked Orache, so the photo below shows that feature for you. It was verified by the BSBI referee for Atriplex.

Atriplex longipes


A few days later, I found a larger population of Long-stalked Orache well upstream of Wadebridge in the tidal River Camel, in similar habitat to that described above. Whilst there, I also found the Saltmarsh Curled Dock in large numbers, not previously recorded in Cornwall. It was likely overlooked before as the usual type of Curled Dock or Curled Sea Dock. 

All three are subspecies of Curled Dock, where they have morphologically adapted to their environments.

In the photo below, I know it looks dead, but basal leaves were present and the tepals containing the nutlets are diagnostic. This is the only curled dock that grows in saltmarsh and is often 1.5-2m tall. Again, this was confirmed by the BSBI referee for Rumex.

Rumex crispus subsp uliginosus

Before we leave these odd looking plants, I thought I would add another one. Whilst walking the sea wall at Looe, I found an unusual looking Orache that looked like Babington's Orache - but not quite. I again had it checked with the referee and he determined it to be the hybrid between Babington's Orache and Long-stalked Orache. Of course, to use the referee, you have to be a member of the BSBI; take plenty of close up, in focus photographs of the relevant parts of the plant and sometimes take a sample too.

Atriplex x taschereaui


 In a field edge near Little Petherick, I found a few Dwarf Spurge, a declining arable plant. The field had not long been tilled, so the plants as a whole looked a bit tatty.

Euphorbia exigua

 In my previous blog, I mentioned finding the hybrid between Hedge and Hairy Bindweed. Below is one of the parents of that hybrid, the pink flowered Hairy Bindweed. Its bracteoles are large and overlapping hiding the sepals (much like Large Bindweed, of which the flowers are of a similar size). The flower stems also have sinuous (twisting) small wings along the stem, usually with small or minute hairs.

Calystegia pulchra


 In a shopping centre car park at Fraddon, I noticed an upright, ascending Knotweed with very narrow leaves of two sizes. I noticed the nutlets were protruding quite a bit and on a closer look, I could see they were three sided (trigonous) with concave sides.  This had to be Cornfield Knotweed as no other Knotweed fits this description. A nice find, though in an unusual place.

Polygonum rurivagum


With everything dying back, I wondered what I could go and look for. I noticed in the "Hybrid Flora" by Clive Stace, that there was a hybrid between Marsh and Meadow Thistles. Both are present in Cornwall, though the latter is very localised in two locations. As such, I went off to one of the sites to try and find some. On looking around the site, I was dismayed to find that all the thistles had gone over, leaving dead sticks poking up with little left to determine whether they were hybrids. However, I carried on looking and I was rewarded with finding three likely hybrids as they were clearly intermediate between the two thistle species. Fortunately, I took one as a sample, that I later sent to the BSBI Cirsium referee. He confirmed the plant as the hybrid, a first for Cornwall as a whole, so that was good for the first attempt at finding them! I won't go into the details here, but if you are familiar with both species, you can see that the plant below isn't a proper match for either Marsh or Meadow Thistle.

Cirsium x forsteri

At the same site as above, I found a lone Wavy-leaved St. John's-wort still in flower (below). Note the wavy leaves from which it gets its name. The crimson stripes on the underside of the petals is also very distinctive.

Hypericum undulatum

A late flowering Common Valerian also caught my eye as they mostly flower in late Spring.

Valeriana officinalis subsp sambucifolia

Near the end of the month I returned to the Roseland and at Pendower Beach I looked in a cave at the top of the beach. I was amazed to find over 50 Sea Spleenworts growing in it, which was probably a gross under estimate. It was the finest display of this fern I've yet seen. Of course, inside a cave it's rather dark and unsuitable for photography. I couldn't get inside for a flash photo as fallen rocks were an obstacle. Suffice to say, if you find a cave, have a (careful) look inside.

Asplenium marinum

In a Roseland field edge, I found Lesser Quaking Grass for the first time. I'm familiar with the usual Quaking Grass found on the chalk grasslands of Kent and of course Greater Quaking Grass, which is a common garden escape here in Cornwall, but these were tiny. The easiest way to tell them apart from the bigger types is that the flowers/seeds are all green. They aren't native, but unlike the other Quaking Grass species, these are found in arable or pasture fields.

Briza minor

It's fungi time, but after a brief dabble with them, I moved onto plants, though I still photograph and try to identify any unusual looking fungi I might come across. These are White Spindles, growing in a pasture field.

Clavaria fragilis

Hard Fern is probably one of the easiest ferns to identify and is widely found on acidic soils in shaded places. However, unlike most ferns, this species throws up two types of frond as shown below. The narrow one is the fertile frond and the underside is full of spores. The thicker frond has no spores and is used by the plant solely for photosynthesis and not for reproduction. 

Blechnum spicant

Chickory is uncommon here, but it does pop up occasionally. Here, it was growing in a field edge, but I have seen them growing on roundabouts and road verges too.

Cichorium intybus

A Long-stalked Cranesbill growing well on a rural path verge.

Geranium columbinum

Red Hot Pokers growing up an inaccessible cliff on the south coast. I think it's fairly safe to say they arrived naturally and were not planted. One would have needed ropes and climbing equipment to get to them!


That rounds up my October finds. The month wasn't full of vibrant colourful flowers, which is to be expected now, but I did find some very interesting plants, some rarities and some species not previously recorded in Cornwall. One never knows what is out there until one goes out looking and finds it!

Best Wishes



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