Shingle Flowers - a virtual visit to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

17 July 2020 | Posted in Barry Yates , Rye Harbour , Plants
Shingle Flowers - a virtual visit to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
Yellow Horned-poppy

Come on this virtual tour of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve to see the shingle flowers.

With the current difficulties of visiting we have made some videos that show the plants in their surroundings. You can view each video at full screen if you click on the little [  ] icon in bottom right of each video. There is a lot of realistic wind noise on the soundtracks, so best to turn your sound down a bit.

Sea Pea - Lathyrus japonica - Nationally Scarce

Similar to Sweet Pea, but very low growing and only just above extreme high water mark. Lots of brown seedpods seen in the video should produce many seeds and we shall collect some to encourage other populations further inland where they used to grow before the Rabbits ate them all!

Yellow Horned-poppy - Glaucium flavum - Red Listed England Near Threatened

The horns are the long seedpods - about 250mm long - and this plant has had plenty of flowers. The close up shows the green seedpod protruding from the yellow stamens. Each flower only lasts about a day, but they can flower from May until October. In this dry weather they generally have few flowers, but this one is growing where its deep tap root is reaching damp soil.

These are the seeds of Yellow Horned-poppy still in the "horn".

Yellow Horned poppy seeds 8276391

Herb Robert - Geranium robertianum ssp. maritima

Growing on shingle, this is a seaside subspecies of the familiar woodland and hedgerow species - apparently it is a hairier version to reduce water loss (?). It's in the cranesbill family and you can see the developing seedpods are shaped like the head and long beak of a crane. Herb Robert has many local names including Bachelor’s Buttons, Granny-thread-the-needle, Stinking Robert and Robin Redbreast. It was believed to be the plant of the house goblin Robin Goodfellow and folklore describes this character as hairy, red-featured, sometimes wearing a red suit and carrying a candlestick - can you see the resemblance?

Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade - Solanum dulcamara ssp. maritima

Growing on shingle is a subspecies of this common and widespread woodland plant that is a close relative of the Tomato - can you see the resemblance in the flower shape and the tiny red fruit? Potato and Aubergine are in the same family - Solanum. John Gerard's Herball of 1597 states that "the juice is good for those that have fallen from high places, and have been thereby bruised or beaten, for it is thought to dissolve blood congealed or cluttered anywhere in the intrails and to heale the hurt places." Please don't try this yourself!

Sea Campion - Silene maritima

This low growing white campion grows on the shingle close to the shore where there is some sand between the stones. The rain of a few weeks ago means it is having a second go at flowering. Some old names for it are 'dead man's bells', 'witches' thimbles' and 'Devil's hatties'.

These are the finely patterned seeds of Sea Campion

Sea Campion seeds 8256231

Sea Kale - Crambe maritima

These large cabbage-like plants finished flowering in June and should now be full of large pea sized green seeds. But this year many have had poor pollination and will produce few seeds - this one has had reasonable success. In late Autumn the branches with seeds will break off in the wind and may tumble out to sea and float to find a new shingle beach to colonise.

This is what the flowers look like in early June.

Sea kale 3

Red Hempnettle - Galeopsis angustifolia - Red Listed Britain Critically Endangered

A rare plant that can be found beside the road through the reserve. It likes shingle with sand in it, but is very localised. It was once common as an arable weed, but now has a very restricted distribution

There is an even rarer flea beetle that only lives on this plant - Dibolia cynoglossum.

Dibolia cynoglossum 6183087 2

Stinking Hawksbeard - Crepis foetida - Red Listed Britain Endangered

Our rarest plant, declared extinct in UK in 1980s, successfully re-introduced and last year we had more than 30,000 plants - fewer this year with the Spring drought, but it's doing OK. It likes to grow beside the road through the reserve in sandy soil, its key features are; drooping buds, very white pappus of hairs in the seedhead and when crushed the leaves smell of cyanide = stinking.

Click here for the full story of the successful re-introduction.

Least Lettuce - Lactuca saligna - Red Listed Britain Endangered

Our second rarest plant and is only found in a handful of sites in Britain. It's only found in a couple of places on the reserve - this video is just west of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat House. The leaves are distinctive, up to 100mm long and with a very pale mid-rib, the lower ones are toothed.

These are the tiny flowers that are only open in the morning from July to September.

Least Lettuce 2480

Ivy-leaved Toadflax -  Cymbalaria muralis

These very low mats of mauve flowers are very popular with visitors and insects, especially bees. The flowers look towards the light, but the seedheads grow to the dark, so that seeds will be shed into cracks in rocks, walls and shingle. It's not a native of Britain and was introduced before the 17th century. On the reserve it is not spreading much, so is not a great threat to the real natives. Its scientific name - Cymbalaria muralis - means cymbal shaped leaves and of the walls.

Sticky Groundsel - Senecio viscosus

The greyish green leaves are covered in glandular hairs that make the plant sticky and deters animals from eating it. On the shingle it grows to about 30cm tall and is common along the shore road.

Teasel - Dipsacus fullonum

Among this large group of Teasel along the shore road at Gasson's Ruin there are seedheads from last year that have endured all of the winter storms and yet still stand tall. This years flowers are progressing with the two mauve bands spreading out from the middle and a Red-tailed Bumblebee feeding on them.

Mouse-ear Hawkweed - Pilosella officinarum 

The lemon yellow flowers are paler than other similar species here. The name of Mouse-ear comes from the small hair ear shaped leaves - can you see them? It grows on shingle that has a lot of sand in it, often where man has added it, like old fishing huts and tracks.

Bird's-foot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatus 

This common plant grows on shingle areas with added sand.

A it has many common names, such as 'Granny's Toenails' which gives an instant impression of its claw-like seed pods. ..... but a local name for it is "shoes and stockings" and this video shows why.

Rock Samphire - Crithmum maritimum

This is in the carrot family and not related to the Marsh Samphire of saltmarshes. It is more a plant of rocky shores but grows at Rye Harbour at a few locations along the shore road where the shingle is sandy. It is edible, but very hot and spicy. This is the samphire that Shakespeare wrote in King Lear "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" referring to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs. In the 19th century, samphire was being shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to market in London at the end of May each year.

Rye Harboour shingle

We miss running our program of guided walks and being able to show groups of people the special wildlife here as well as on other Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves.  

Until we are able to resume our events, please enjoy our videos and let us know if there are other ways we might improve the virtual wildlife experience for you.

Sussex Wildlife Trust is working hard for nature at this challenging time, but we can only do so with your support


  • Margaret Whaley:

    03 Aug 2020 16:12:00

    Thanks for this. We have spent so many wonderful holidays in Rye Harbour and I look back with such affection. But my husband died a couple of months ago and I am recovering from covid, so these pictures are wonderful for me to look back on.

    Margaret, we are so sorry to hear about your loss, and so pleased we can offer even a little bit of comfort in such sad times. We hope we can welcome you to the new Discovery Centre in the future. With very best wishes for a full recovery. Emma and Barry (at Rye Harbour)
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