Buckfast. Report from the Botany Section

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Author(s): Smith. Roger; Year published: 2017; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): botany; Location(s): Buckfast

Botany Section

Take a walk from the ruins of Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh, down the steep path to the limestone quarries around Rock Farm where Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria can still be found and is, locally, rather common. It has gone from the now overgrown fields by the path but it can also be seen on the verges of Mardle Road by the entrance to a small industrial site.

To the north, the National Trust’s Hembury woods should not be missed, especially in spring when Wild Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus are common by the River Dart with Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa and other spring flowers. Later in the year, try following the track west by the Holy Brook, where if you are there in late May or June, you should find the beautiful Bastard Balm Melittis melissophyllum. You might also look out for the much less obvious Cornish Moneywort Sibthorpia europaea, which has also been found in Hembury Woods and in nearby woodland at Holne Chase. It was named by Linnaeus in 1751 in honour of Humphrey Sibthorp, who was Professor of Botany at the University of Oxford from 1747 to 1783. Sibthorp retired to Instow where he died in 1797, and where there is a memorial tablet to him in the church. Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata, which is widespread in the area, also occurs in these woods but can more easily be found either side of the road close to the Dartbridge Inn. The heathlands around Hembury Castle hold other rarities including Pale Dog-violet Viola Iactea, the hybrid Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis x E. tetraquetra, unique to this location, and, on a small area of roadside verge nearby, Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris has been known since at least 1974.

Slightly further to the west at Holne and Scorriton, Lanceolate Spleenwort Asplenium obovatum is locally common on walls by the tracks leading up to the moor. This little fern is locally frequent along the South Hams coast but some of the biggest populations are found on the metamorphic aureole on the fringes of Dartmoor.

Heading back to Buckfast and crossing the River Dart and A38, Balm-leaved Figwort Scrophularia scorodonia was found recently at Whitecleave Quarry. Once more or less restricted to the South Hams this plant now seems to be spreading and has been found as far north as Bovey Tracey and Exeter. Disused quarries have always been good hunting areas for botanists and the old slate quarries known as Penn Recca are no exception. Hoary Cinquefoil Potentilla argentea was still abundant there in 1970 and by 1984 was thought to be the only remaining site in Devon, but the quarry is now dominated by scrubby woodland and no suitable habitat remains. Fortunately other sites have been discovered further north more recently. White Mullein Verbascum lychnites had also been known at Penn Recca since at least 1908 (there is a specimen collected then and held at the Natural History Museum in London) and was said to be flourishing in 1967. A single plant seen by the quarry entrance in 1996 may have been the last in Devon as it too succumbed to more vigorous competition and shade.

The search for plants in our ever changing environment is uncertain and the moment must be grasped. As Robert Herrick, Vicar at Dean Prior between 1629 to 1674, put it, though meaning something rather different:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

Roger Smith

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