An Expert Guide to Looking for Wild Flowers on the Isle of Wight
Summer on the Isle of Wight is great for seeing wild flowers, especially up on the downlands and in the wildlife reserves. We asked Dr Colin Pope, Ecology Officer for the IW Council and a leading authority on the Island’s flora and fauna to tell us about some of his favourites…
"If you’re lucky whilst out walking you may catch sight of some of the Island’s rarer wild flowers – some are so rare, like the Wood Calamint, that the only place in Britain where they can be found is here on the Isle of Wight.
“It occurs in one valley in the chalk and just grows on one sunny bank. It was discovered by the eminent Victorian botanist, Dr William Bromfield, who covered the whole Island and wrote Flora Vectensis,” said Colin.
“He discovered it as being new to Britain and it still grows there today although in much smaller quantities,” he explained. “Many years ago Woolworths had a picture of it on their carrier bags.
“Our rarer flowers are quite showy,” he continued. “Field Cow-Wheat grows around the Ventnor area and was quite a serious weed of the wheat fields as it would contaminate the crop and workers would pull it out by hand.
“Now it’s confined to a few sunny banks at the wildlife trust reserve at St Lawrence and it’s out through July and August.
“The Pyramid orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) is found across the downs from Culver to Freshwater and it’s also found in cemeteries on the Chalk such as Mount Joy (behind Carisbrooke Castle). Because it does so well it was voted the County flower by Plant Life about nine years ago,” said Colin.
“Cemeteries are good places to look for wild flowers as they are often left to grow. The reason for this is that the cemeteries were traditionally taken from farmers’ fields and haven’t been changed.
“The meadows at Newtown are full of flowers and there you can find the Corky-Fruited Water-Dropwort. It’s quite common with us but found mostly in central southern England. It’s also found with Dyers Greenweed, a dwarf yellow broom that was used for dying cloth.
“Meadows and salt marshes like those at Newtown, St Helens and Yarmouth are the place to go to see Sea Lavender, a nice showy plant, and Knapweed has purple heads and is tallish, and so good for bees.
“Also Ventnor Down and Headon Warren are good places to see all the different heath flowers and the dwarf gorse that is in flower with the heathers. The other thing to see on Ventnor Down are the bilberries,” added Colin.
“Early flowering Gentian flowers on chalk down land and is only found on the Isle of Wight, Wiltshire and Dorset and we get a lot of it over here,” he explained.
“If you go to the Duver at St Helens look for the tiny blue flowers called Autumn Squills that flower in August and September – it’s the only place in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight where they grow. They look like miniature bluebells and are also found on the cliff tops of Devon and Cornwall.
“By and large we’ve been quite fortunate as most of the plants that Victorian botanists found are still with us. You can also see the exotic plants that escape from gardens like the succulents and echiums,” said Colin.
‘These thrive because it’s warm and sheltered and it adds character to the Island. The cliff walk from Sandown to Shanklin is good for this – you see a lot of exotic plants that have escaped from gardens.
“Red Valerian is a particularly prolific garden escapee. Insects love it as it is a good source of nectar and in Ventnor it has been named ‘Ventnor Pride’ as it grows on the cliffs. But when it grows on walls it can do a lot of damage – at Quarr Abbey it has caused considerable damage to the medieval ruins.
But Colin also wanted to warn our readers. “Harm is done by digging things up and trampling them down, so keep to the paths in the meadows,” he stressed. And, of course, it is an offence to dig up rare wild flowering plants, or indeed any plant from land where you do not have permission.
Dr Colin Pope is Ecology Officer for the IW Council, making sure that the council takes nature conservation into account. He is a very keen botanist and keeps a data base of all Isle of Wight plants, flowering plants, lichens and fungi as well as working closely with the Natural History Society www.iwnhas.org
21 April 2016