Kingsbridge. Report from the Botany Section

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Author(s): Waterhouse. Gordon; Year published: 2013; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): botany; Location(s): Kingsbridge

Kingsbridge in bloom

Within five miles of Kingsbridge spreads a botanist’s delight. Flowers bloom throughout the year.

In January and February, a forest of mauve flower-spikes, Winter Heliotrope, exported from vicarage gardens, stretches along the verges, while snowdrops nod their heads by the River Avon.

March brings wild daffodils along the river and in hedge-banks, at Hendham and Aveton Gifford. Valley sides are yellow with Gorse. Along our lanes, pale yellow Primroses and golden yellow Lesser Celandines are at their best.

By April, tall avenues of yellow-green Alexanders fringe the lanes. Purple spikes of Early Purple Orchids make a royal display along some hedge-banks and verges, as at Heddeswell Cross, Cotmore, and near Bigbury. Coastal colours are pink thrift, white Sea Campion and powder-yellow Kidney Vetch. Burgh Island is a dramatic place to see them. Along the cliffs, blue Spring Squills dapple the grass, for instance near Bolt Tail and Starehole Bay. Carpets of bluebells spread on cliffs, banks and woods.

By May, Cow Parsley follows Alexanders. Cornish Moneywort grows on a few shady stream banks, down the Avon valley, near Hazelwood and Silveridge. Creeping over the rocky soils by the coast are mats of purple Thyme and rich, yellow patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil.

As May drifts into June, umbels of Wild Carrot dapple the grassy cliff-slopes white, while Foxglove spires shoot upwards. In Andrew’s Wood, near Loddiswell, Marsh Orchids, Ragged Robin, Yellow Rattle and Yellow Bartsia bloom in the rushy clearings. Bastard Balm was recorded as “long-established” by Sarah Prideaux Fox in 1864, in the lane north of Churchstow, where it still grows. In drier hedge-banks and waste places, another rarity, Balm-leaved Figwort, is common, of which Keble Martin wrote in the Flora of Devon of 1939, “almost confined to the neighbourhood of Kingsbridge”. First recorded in 1876, it may have been introduced by fruit schooners returning from the Mediterranean.

In June and July, the hedges become crowned with Honeysuckle and Hedge Bedstraw, and lanes leading down to the coast have tall, yellow-flowered, Black Mustard. The scarce Dwarf Elder occurs on a lane near South Milton Sands. On the shingle shores by Beesands and Torcross, Yellow-horned Poppy and Viper’s Bugloss bring vibrant colour, while Bloody Cranesbill thrives in coves either side of Prawle Point and at Starehole Bay. At Soar Mill and a few other inaccessible coves, the rare Shore Dock keeps a precarious foothold. A few years ago, Peter Reay found another rare plant, Long-headed Clover, on the dry cliff-top above Red Rot Cove near Bolt Tail. Before Peter’s discovery, the plant was only known in Britain from the Lizard. On Bantham Ham and across the River Avon at Bigbury, Pyramidal Orchids flower amongst the yellow Ladies’ Bedstraw.

In August, the Heath Lobelia in the Devon Wildlife Trust reserve at Andrew’s Wood are counted; usually several thousand are found. It was first discovered there by Capt. Harris Wise in 1889.

The flora of the hedge-banks is now dusty pink with Hemp Agrimony and silver with absinthe-scented Mugwort. Buddleia arrived in Kingsbridge in 1893, the year the railway opened, and now its purple spikes attract the butterflies. Along the coast, Western Gorse is blooming and Autumn Squill can be found, especially near Prawle and Start Points. At Hope Cove and around Bolt Tail, Golden Samphire and Rock Sea Lavender make splashes of yellow and blue on the rocks. On Thurlestone and Slapton beaches, Sea Holly grows. In September, Autumn Ladies Tresses orchids may appear on short grassland near sea and estuary.

Many plants flower on into the Autumn. Ivy flowers attract the insects before the first frosts. A Kingsbridge speciality appears; Rare Cuckoo Pint, whose arrow-shaped leaves open along lanes near the coast, in October and early November. Try Bowcombe Creek, Goveton, or Inner Hope Cove to find them. The common Cuckoo Pint leaves only shoot up around Christmas, when the Winter Heliotrope flowers are scenting the air again.

Gordon Waterhouse

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