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June downland and seaside flowers

Other June pages: Meadow and field flowersWayside flowers Hedgerow, trees and berries BirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more June downland and seaside flower photos.

Downland flowers are at their best in the summer months and June sees the start of that. Flower numbers increase as the month goes on, though how good the displays are depends on how much rain we have had. The downs have porous chalk soils and while most flowers that grow there are used to the dry conditions, there are limits to their endurance. In wet summers, however, the downs can be positively ablaze with wildflowers at the end of the month.

Downland flowers start with the small scale. Birdsfoot trefoil is perhaps one of the commonest flowers, starting with scattered examples of its yellow pea flowers early in the month and building to quite intense displays towards its end. Also yellow are the globe-like flowers of black medick (so named for its fruits, rather than its flowers). At an even smaller scale are the white flowers of fairy flax on their wiry stalks and, later in the month, the tiny pale pink or white clusters of squinancywort.

Creeping buttercup is quite common on grazed downland early in the month but gets less profuse at its end. At first glance it is easy to confuse with rock rose and silverweed. On closer inspection the flowers of rock rose are different and they grow on tendrils with tiny leaves quite unlike buttercup ones. Silverweed has very distinctive leaves with a metallic underside, but the flowers often seem to be grow a bit apart from them, so you do not always link the two.

Another small yellow flower found early in the month is horseshoe vetch - it is generally gone by the third week - and you can also see the tiny blue (or pink or white - all three colours can be found) of milkwort, some of which last till the end of the month. More widespread grassland flowers such as germander speedwell and even the common daisy can also crop up on downland early in the month: both need quite short grass and so are smothered later in the month, but daisy can survive on grassy downland paths into July.

Other small flowers on downland include tiny white eyebright and occasionally some mouse-ear. In the second half of June you get the pretty purple tubes of self-heal and towards the end of the month restharrow - so named because it used to impede agricultural implements. Yellow rattle also continue to flower in June. Its timing is rather variable because while some can be over by mid month, it can crop up in places later. Once over, its brown pods with seeds rattling in them live up to its name. (Don't confuse these with the pods of cowslip, which have by now also gone over: cowslip pods are in a cluster at the end of the stalk, while yellow rattle ones are spread up the stalk).

On the herb front, you can find the aromatic leaves of wild marjoram growing right from the start of the month but it doesn't flower until July. Wild thyme (not particularly aromatic) makes purple mats in the second half of the month. Clover is also found on downland - usually white clover as red clover is not so keen on chalky soils (though some red clover does not seem to know this). Salad burnet is quite a common downland plant, in early June at least, but as it has very tiny red flowers on its globular head one can never tell if it is flowering or has gone over.

At a larger level still, crosswort can survive into June in quite large mats, while white hedge bedstraw and the yellow lady's bedstraw appear as the month goes on and are very evident towards its end. At the same time you can see St John's wort on downland. Viper's bugloss starts as a small blue flower, but grows into huge spikes, which are very drought resistant. Throughout the month you continue to see spikes of mignonette, or the similar but even taller weld. Oxeye daisies may survive well into June in places, and there is also plenty of ribwort plantain. Less commonly you see the pretty pink-flowered hoary plantain. An unconventional grass often seen on downland is quaking grass.

June is also the best month to see orchids on the downs, including the common spotted orchid (its name refers to its spotted flowers and stems, not the frequency with which it is seen, though it is in fact the most commonly seen orchid too). Other orchids you may spot include fragrant orchid, the green flowered twayblade (named for the large double leaf at its base), and the bee orchid. All are likely to be going over at the end of the month, though pyramidal orchid is just getting into its stride at this time and is at its best in early July. Rarer orchids you can see include the man orchid and fly orchid: these and orchids you may see in other habitats in June are on this page.

If you see a dandelion-like flower on downland it is very likely to be a rough hawkbit, though lesser hawkbit or mouse-ear hawkweed are also found with reasonable frequency. Telling all these apart can be a bit of a challenge, but rough hawkbit is notably hairy, while lesser hawkbit has square ended petals of uneven length with a grey-purple tints to their underside. Mouse-ear hawkweed is distinguishable by its rounded basal leaves (if you can find these hidden away in the turf).

Stranger downland flowers include yellow-wort, with one large leaf straddling its stem: its flowers only open in sunlight and even then not often, it seems. Dropwort is a kind of downland meadowsweet, while the pretty pink spikes of sainfoin are seen particularly in the first half: try the cliffs between Deal and St Margaret's Bay. You may also see some common valerian (not to be confused with red or white valerian: see By the Sea below), even though it is supposed to be a plant of damp places.

Thistles also can grow on downland, particularly musk thistle with its large nodding heads and (surprisingly) marsh thistle: both might be flowering in the latter part of June. Creeping thistle also grows and may flower right at the end of the month. Other flowers more normally associated with lowland grassland and verges also crop up, including meadow vetchling in longer grass, bladder campion and common sorrel. Goatsbeard can also crop up - its large seed heads being more conspicuous than its flowers, which only open up in the early morning.

Towards the very end of the month, knapweed – a long lasting summer staple – can start to flower, and at this time you can also find the pin-cushion flowers of scabious. Ragwort - poisonous to horses and so the scourge of lowland pasture - is also starting to flower, as is agrimony, with its delicate yellow spikes. You may also see some wild carrot.

By the sea

On shingle beaches, the best floral displays are earlier in the month, though some plants are at their best towards its end. Walmer beach near Deal is alive in early June with oxeye daisies, red and white valerian (actually colour variants of the same species: there is also a pink valerian), viper's bugloss, and red hot pokers (a garden escapee), the leaves (though not yet the flowers) of fennel, and exotic species such as salsify and crow garlic. Red valerian also grows out of garden walls. The grey leaves of silver ragwort can also be seen though it does not flower till later in the month

Other shingle specialists include tree mallow, a shrub as much as a flower, which is distinguishable from common mallow by the dark purple centres to its flowers. It is at its best in early June and mostly going over at the end of the month. Note also the striking yellow-horned poppy, which can flower at any time in June but has its biggest concentration of flowers early to mid month. Later in the month you can see them with their enormous long seeds (the longest of any UK plant). Early in the month you may see the white flowers of sea kale: later in the month the plant is are covered in masses of green seed pods.

Rarer shingle specialists include sea pea which forms mats (for example on Deal beach) and then produces dramatic purple-blue flowers mid month, and sea sandwort, found in the same place, which produces white flowers on clumps of rubbery leaves. Another shingle mat former, which appears later in June, is orache (probably common orache, though there are other varieties), whose very inconspicuous and pale flowers do not appear till July. You can see the leaves (but not yet the flowers) of sea mayweed - looking much like inland mayweeds, but more rubbery to the touch.

More mundane plants of the seaside include sea beet, which flowers towards the end of the month, though this is very hard to detect: pods open on its green flowering spikes and tiny yellow flowers emerge, but you need to look very closely to see them. This unlikely-looking plant is apparently edible and the ancestor of sugar beet, spinach, beetroot and chard. On cliff faces you get the plants of rock samphire and rock sea-lavender, and the latter might be flowering by the end of the month.

Shingle or cliffs also provide nice environments for stonecrops – for example the pink-tinged English stonecrop or the yellow biting stonecrop, both of which flower in June. (Deal Beach also has the larger rock stonecrop.) In places you can also see houndstongue and aster (garden escapees rather than the true wild sea aster, which has smaller flowers), and - towards the end of June - rubbery hottentot figs growing on some south facing slopes near the sea. On wilder sandy beaches (not common in the south east) you may just see sea holly, which is not a holly at all but a relative of cow parsley.

Other drought-resistant plants that can establish themselves on the more compacted parts of shingle beaches include catsear, mouse-ear hawkweed and smooth hawskbeard, all of which have dandelion-like flowers. These also grow elsewhere, but bristly oxtongue is one of this group which is more of a coastal specialist (though it is sometimes found inland). I have also seen bittersweet (aka woody nightshade), common mallow, Oxford ragwort, scarlet pimpernel, black medick, smooth sow thistle, beaked hawksbeard and slender thistle on the landward edge of shingle beaches.

Areas near the coast also have their own flora. On the cliffs above Dover, wild cabbage - allegedly left there by the Romans - is common early in the month, with its lovely yellow flowers. Sea radish, with flowers of the same colour, is also found in similar locations, as is the salt-tolerant hoary cress (which is also found inland by roads salted in winter). Alexanders, a green-flowered umbellifer, has gone over by now, but its seed heads (green at this time of year) are a very common sight by the sea in June.

On wilder cliffs you can sometimes see thrift, kidney vetch and sea campion early in the month, but they soon go over. Mignonette is also common (for example on the Seven Sisters) and in the second half you see wild carrot – a low umbellifer easily identifiable by the long bracts (tassles) beneath its flowers. It is also found inland but is commonest on coasts, eg on Seaford Head, where it grows in great profusion. Viper's bugloss (mentioned above as a shingle flower) is another common plant of clifftop downland.

Two specialist shrubs that can be seen on coasts, particularly in the shrubberies of seaside resort gardens, include tamarisk, which has pale pink flower tassels towards the end of June, and broom which can continue to produce its yellow flowers right to the end of the month.

More June pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2016 • All Rights Reserved

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