Saturday 8 June 2024

Cornwall Botany - Mid to Late May 2024

 These are some of my finds for the rest of May in Cornwall, I hope you like the selection.

I've started off with a photo of several flowering plants in the one image. Cornwall's clifftops come alive now and are awash with colour. Included below are Thrift (Armeria maritima), Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana) and Sea Campion (Silene uniflora).  It's a lovely sight to see.

Pignut is considered a plant of shaded woodland and that's where it's most commonly found, however, it also grow in sheltered areas in grassland on clifftops here, like near Tintagel, as shown below.

Conopodium majus

The Heath Spotted Orchids were out a bit early this year, and this coastal meadow had hundreds of them in flower and bud on its slopes. Perfectly managed by the National Trust with winter grazing to keep scrub and coarser grasses at bay.

Dactylorhiza maculatum subsp ericetorum

It's not always native plants that I find in coastal areas. A surprise find was this hybrid garden cransebill (between French and Pencilled), nowhere near habitation and on a secluded part of the coast path, so I wondered how the seeds got there? I can't see someone trekking an arduous distance just to dump some garden waste?

Geranium x oxonianum

Below is the equivalent of a woodland scene in Spring, Cornish style. Unlike the South East of England, Bluebells happily colonise many clifftop areas en masse, with not a tree in sight.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

There's an area near Boscastle that used to be used as medieval strip farming, which was the common form of farming before the Enclosure Act saw our countryside changed forever. These few fields are still in strips and known locally as "stitches". However, they had not long been tilled and this was the only arable plant I could find, Corn Spurrey.

Spergula arvensis

Comfreys are a common escape nationwide and identifying them can be difficult, so be sure to look at the flower colour, sepal shape and especially the leaves and how they join to the stem to determine which species you have found. The one below was Russian Comfrey, one of the commoner garden escapes.

Symphytum x uplandicum

Navelwort (or Wall Pennywort) is a tough little plant. It can grow on vertical walls, cliffs and pavements and is very common in Western areas where the climate is wetter than further East. Of course, growing in exposed places means it can make for some lovely photographs too.

Umbilicus rupestris

The Wadebridge area is blessed with an abundance of Little Robin plants. These are smaller than Herb Robert, have almost hairless leaves and these smell a bit like Celery when crushed. Herb Robert leaves just smell like something gone off or clinical when crushed in comparison. Little Robin also has yellow anthers  and lacks notched petals which also separates it from Herb Robert. I've also noticed that Little Robin has a thinner and more elongated calyx.

Geranium purpureum

I was used to finding Salad Burnet on chalky hillsides, but they also do well on the less acidic coastal turf areas around the Camel Estuary, no doubt due to the alkinity of years of blown ashore shell grit. Other species found nearby in revious trips, included Common Gromwell, Houndstongue and Pyramidal Orchid, all calcareous loving plants.

Poterium sanguisorba subsp sanguisorba

I usually visit saltmarsh areas in late Summer to see Atriplex and Salicornia species which are at their best then. As such, I usually see Sea Arrowgrass only in seed. The plant below was the only one on a small area of saltmarsh grass on a raised hillock within Porthilly Bay and it's in flower! Shame they have no petals, but then they get covered by the tide on a regular basis!

Triglochin maritima

Virtually all the Sea mouse-ear plants have seeded and died off, but it was possible to find a few late stragglers. The one below had an exceptionally hairy calyx. Note the 4 petals which easily identifies this species from all the other mouse-ears.

Cerastium diffusum

Mid month I took a trip to Rame Head to see what small plants I might find on the coastal turf, so I was surprised to find a naturalised Gladiolus here. It's widely naturalised around Cornwall now and is a frequent sight along rural road verges and cliff tops. However, unlike Montbretia (Crocosmia), it doesn't (as yet) seem to be invasive to the detriment of native species.

Gladiolus communis subsp byzantinus

Onto the short turf species and Trailing St John's-wort was plentiful in places sheltered from salt laden winds. It's really a plant of woodland rides and acidic heaths where the competition from other plants is limited, but it seemed to do well here along the edges of the SW Coast Path. Perhaps the walkers constantly treading on the path edges keep the more vigorous plants at bay?

Hypericum humifusum

Upright Chickweed was dotted here and there along the path and on clifftop turf, but never in great numbers. Having said that, the flowers are so tiny, you barely notice them in the grasses. Luckily it was a sunny day as the flowers only open in the sunshine. The last photo shows that the flowers average about 5mm in diameter.

Moenchia erecta

I found Birdsfoot along the SW Coast Path too, another species with tiny flowers.

Ornithopus perpusillus

Dotted around the clifftop turf were patches of very small, Small-flowered Buttercups. These were less than 5cm tall in this harsh environment. Inland, I've seen them over 30cm tall. The even tinier flower in the top left corner is a Wall Speedwell (Veronica arvensis).

Ranunculus parviflorus

The first Heath Pearlwort was now in flower, lovely.

Sagina subulata

A tiny Sand Spurrey in well trodden areas around a bench on the coast path.

Spergularia rubra

The first Clover found was Birdsfoot Clover (not to be confused with the Birdsfoot species above). This has white, very small flowers, singly or in pairs. By the same bench as the Sand Spurrey above.

Trifolium ornithopodioides

The dominant small clover here was Subterranean Clover, there were huge swathes of it in the coastal turf.

Trifolium subterraneum

Rough Clover joined in the fun too.

Trifolium scabrum

I was pleased to find Knotted, or Soft Clover, though out of over a hundred plants in bud, I only found one in flower, but one was enough for me.

Trifolium striatum

Hop Clover flowering gave a variety of colour to the other clovers seen. Also seen but not photographed were the following clovers - White, Red, Slender Clovers and Lesser Trefoil.

Trifolium campestre

That's it for the clovers from Rame Head for now. The Lizard area has the rare ones and I hadn't been to see any so far this year, but see June's blog instalment (to come) for most of them.

 I popped into Par Sands following a shopping trip and found what is known as a Leopard Marsh Orchid. This is basically a Southern Marsh Orchid variant that has  spotted leaves. It's probably a throwback from hybridising with spotted orchids generations ago. Surprisingly, it is a first record for this Southern Marsh variant in this area.

Dactylorhiza praetermissa var. junialis


The reason I went to Par Sands (apart from shopping nearby) was that Dan, a botanical colleague from the Cornwall Botany Group had found a rare alien clover there. Fortunately, he recorded an accurate map reference and I found it quickly from that. It's an odd clover in that its flowers are upside down and it forms a woolly coat around the seeds as it matures. It's called Reversed Clover and was last recorded here almost a century ago. Great find Dan. The first photo is where it was found in the dunes. It's an area with no other alien species nearby and unlikely to have been dumped or seeded there. As such, I suspect it came in with some birds, either in their feathers or droppings.

Trifolium resupinatum


 Most people forget to take a habitat photo, but it helps to show in what circumstances an unusual or rare plant was found in. A photo is much better than words. In the next photo, note the upside down flowers.

That's it for May. In the last week of May I was in Kent on holiday to see family members. I found plenty of great species there too, including many orchids and plants absent from Cornwall, so if interested, please have a look at

Take Care


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