No matter what time of year it is, the Solent never disappoints. From swathes of migratory birds to beautiful floral displays, there is always something exciting to see, and at this time of year the coastline is in bloom. Here are some star species to look out for on your next trip to the beach.
If you have visited a shingle beach lately, you may have spotted sea kale springing up from the pebbles. The sea kale pictured was spotted by Ranger Natalie at Gunner Point on Hayling Island – this plant is still quite small, but a mature plant can grow up to a metre tall.
As the name suggests, sea kale is related to cabbage. It’s a very hardy plant that thrives in a harsh habitat where few plants dare to root, tolerating salty, exposed and volatile conditions.
Sea kale grows in clumps comprised of large, blue-green leaves with wavy edges, with small, fragrant white flowers appearing in early summer. The flowers are nectar-rich and attract lots of pollinators, though in windswept, coastal environments, you’ll see more insect activity on a calm day.
We’ve been delighted to see little pink clouds of thrift popping up around the coast. Also known as ‘sea-pink’ and ‘cliff clover’, these cheerful flowers add a splash of colour to shingle beaches, sand dunes and coastal cliffs across the Solent, while providing nectar for a wide range of insects.
Thrift is such a pretty plant that it was featured on one side of the old ‘thrupenny bit’, a three pence coin that was used until the 1970s.
Ranger Charlotte captured these beautiful photos of thrift at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.
When we think of holly our minds generally wander to winter, but sea holly treats us to vibrant summer displays at one of our favourite warm weather destinations – the beach.
Sea holly is actually more closely related to the carrot than true holly, but the resemblance between the leaves of true holly and sea holly make it easy to see where the plant gets its name.
Sea holly’s spiky leaves are protected by a waxy cuticle that helps it retain water, an essential feature as the conditions in which it grows are often very dry.
This resilient plant thrives on sand dunes and coastlines, and between July and September its thistle-like, purple-y blue flowers come into bloom. Ranger Charlotte spotted this lovely sea holly in Ventor on the Isle of Wight – as you can see, it’s very popular with the local pollinators!
If you visit a stretch of shingle coastline this summer, you may be treated to the sight of sea campion.
We love the way that sea campion prettifies coastal paths and consider the delicate pink flowers a welcome sign that summer is here, but they haven’t always been seen as a good omen!
In the past, some people believed that picking sea campion would bring death upon you, and the plant was sometimes referred to as ‘dead man’s bells’, ‘devil’s hatties’ or ‘witches thimbles’.
Sea campion generally grows alone, but occasionally you can see it in small clusters. At first glance, the flowers appear to have ten petals, when in fact they only have five – this is because the petals are split down the middle, or ‘bi-lobed’. Beneath the petals sits a pinky-purple calyx (the outermost part of a flower that protects it while it’s still developing) and supporting all of this is a grey-green stem, covered in little waxy leaves.
Yellow horned poppy
Yellow horned poppies flower on shingle beaches, cliffs and sand dunes around the Solent.
This plant grows in clumps, and can be easily identified by its bright, butter-yellow petals and fleshy blue-grey leaves that are deeply lobed and covered in fine hairs.
Yellow horned poppies flower in June, and the flowers are followed by the ‘horns’ from which the plant gets its name. The horns are curling seedpods, and sometimes reach 30cm in length.
The yellow horned poppy is a protected species and when broken, the plant exudes a poisonous yellow sap, so it’s best to leave this plant unpicked! Why not try taking photos instead, like Ranger Charlotte? Here are some pictures she took of the yellow horned poppy at Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight.