As occasionally happens, I wrote this and then forgot to hit the Publish button, mainly because I meant to do more work on trying to find what the hawkweed-like plant actually is. These photos were take on on the 20th June, just one week on from a previous visit. If it ever stops raining, which seems doubtful right now, I’ll go and see what’s there now that we’re into early July. Hopefully the sea holly will be in flower soon.
Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) is a perennial grass, reaching up to 120cm tall, each leaf touch and rolled, sharply pointed. Ammos means sand, philos, loving in Greek; arena is latin for sand. It is one of the most important sand-stabilizing species, forming large clumps with matted rhizome roots that help to prevent sand dune drift. They attract the Shore Wainscot moth (Mythimna litoralis), whose larvae feed exclusively on Marram, and the L-album Wainscot (Mythimna l-album) whose larvae feed mainly on Marram. The leaves were once valuable in local craft activities, woven into mats, used to make barn roofs, and to produce fishing nets.
Dune Brittlestem. Psathyrella ammophila. I often see these toadstools in the sand dunes, and these were two of a dispersed cluster of seven that I spotted, plus some very tiny ones. They have very dark brown gills. They grow at the base of marram grass, but in the absence of any other type of plant life. Over time the cap begins to turn upwards, as shown here. Apparently not poisonous, but has a very unpleasant flavour.
Sea bindweed (Clystegia soldanella) is a member of the convuvulus family. The lovely pink and white striped flowers look like field bindweed, but are much bigger, and the kidney-shaped, slightly fleshy and waxy leaves quite different. They spread from a rhizome that not only helps to fix them in the sand, but helps them to gather water, and helps to fix stabilize sand dune. This was part of a fairly vast network very near the top of a very exposed sand dune, on the sheltered side.
Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae). Lovely blue-back wings and bright red spots make this very easy to see when it is moving around in a flower. There are two types of Five-Spot Burnet as well (Zygaena trifoli and lonicerae). The rear wings, hidden hear under the forewings, are red with a black fringe. They particularly like bird’s foot trefoil but can be found between June to August in most grassy areas and sand dunes, although I don’t recall seeing one in the dunes before.
Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias). An upright perennial that inhabits sand dunes and rocks. The tiny yellow flower is protected by large greenish bracts. It has slightly succulent evergreen leaves that march up the stem and which, like all succulents, minimize water loss. It’s poisonous.
Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum). Well adapted to grassland, scrubland and sand dunes, it spread along the ground, its flowers sometimes slightly upright. The leaves are distinctive, growing in whorls around the slender stems. The flowers form in small branches of clusters. Apparently it gets its name because it was used to stuff mattresses. In Germany it is called Mary’s bedstraw because the Virgin Mary was supposed to have given birth on a mattress of bedstraw. They have a slight aroma of honey, but when dry they small of hay. It was used in cheese making in the past, as it contains an astringent that curdles milk.
Sea rocket (Cakile maritima). An annual member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae Mustard) family, which is happy in very barren areas, and can grow in unprotected sand, colonizing large areas if left undisturbed. They combine succulent leaves that retain water with long taproots which search for water deep beneath the surface. Flowers can be lilac, pink or white. It does not object to being buried in sand for extensive periods, and its seeds can float unharmed on the sea. The leaves, stems and flowers are edible and are rich in vitamin C but have a very bitter taste, so if using the leaves in salad, they are best used young.
Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre). An evergreen perennial that forms mats with strong stems and short, thick and waxy succulent leaves that retain water. It is drought tolerant, and is perfectly happy in inhospitable sand dunes and rock cracks. Not poisonous, but not edible.
I always like to walk up Balkan Hill on the way back home, because the verges are an excellent mix of escapee garden plants and true wild flowers.
Gardeners will be very familiar with Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), which has a small, pretty flower and red-tinged leaves, but is ruthlessly invasive. Fortunately it pulls out very easily with the root attached, but it spreads like crazy. The leaves are slightly scented. The name geranium derives from the Greek word Geranos, “crane,” referring to the long, beak-like carpels.
Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum). A common garden weed, as it spreads both by seed and rhizomes, giving it a great advantage. It likes the damp, and in this case sits where water runs down the side of the road into a drain. the “hirsutum” in its botanical name refers to the tiny hairs on the stems.
A typical mixture of feral garden flowers growing along the edge of the road on Balkan Hill, with hydrangeas in a hedge growing outwards over a patch of evergreen Brachyglottis/Senecio, an import from New Zealand, attractive to gardeners because of its lovely silvery green- grey leaves.