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August downland and seaside flowers

Other August pages: • Fruits, berries, nuts and treesWayside flowersBirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

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

Downland flowers can still be at their peak in early August, or they may have largely gone over; it depends on the amount of rain there has been. Sometimes after a dry July there is a small scale revival in August. Even in good years displays are fading at the end of the month, however.

At best, grassy slopes can be rich with herbs such as marjoram and basil, and dotted with agrimony, ladies bedstraw, clover (generally red but sometimes a bit of white), and self heal. Umbellifers (plants with flowers like cow parsley) include burnet saxifrage and hedge parsley, as well as the distinctively yellow wild parsnip. In addition, St John's wort, field bindweed, mignonette and sometimes weld can be seen, while some tufted vetch may just last into the early part of the month. At a smaller size you still see tiny eyebright and restharrow, and maybe some black medick, squinancywort or fairy flax.

There may also be some common centaury or yellow-wort dotted around, as well as more localised flowers such as harebell, vervain, round-headed rampion, betony and the heather-like red bartsia. Very rarely you might see hoary plantain or rock rose, though both plants are supposed to be over by now.

Localised examples of almost any of these may be seen right till the end of the month and even into September - it is a feature of late August that you think all flowers are over, and then turn a corner and find a stretch of downland as richly flowered as it would be in July. But downland blooms that nearly always last into September include knapweed, field scabious, yarrow and wild carrot (whose flowers curl up into a brown ball when they go over), while devilsbit scabious (not at all common but sometimes found in quite large numbers) often seems to be just starting in mid August.

Birdsfoot trefoil also lasts all month, though one sees only dribs and drabs of this rather than the carpets of it you can get earlier in the year. Ragwort on downland at this time of year seems to be predominantly hoary ragwort, though some common ragwort may still be seen. In both species it seems to be largely new growth from seed dispersed earlier in the summer.

Also routinely lasting into September is a confusing category of dandelion-like flowers (most people think they are dandelions, but they have thinner stems and more delicate flowers with squared ends to their petals). The commonest species on downland is rough hawkbit, with its very hairy stem, though most of it has already gone over by this point. You can also see the much daintier lesser hawkbit, whose flowers have a greyish-purple underside to the petals. A tiny hawkbit which is branched (ie its stems divide, with a flower on each) could be autumn hawkbit or smooth hawksbeard, both of which have red undersides to their petals (more on the tip possibly in autumn hawkbits). Also branched, but with larger flowers and occasionally seen on downland, is catsear, which has green or grey undersides to its petals.

Two species that are commoner at the end of the month than the start are clustered bellflower and autumn gentian. They look similar and are easy to confuse, but it is the arrangement of the leaves on their stems that tells them apart. Clustered bellflower is the one more often found and may be seen from early in August: in places - for example some slopes of Box Hill - it is very numerous. Autumn gentian is much more elusive, appearing in the second half of August. The Chilterns has its own variety of this - the Chiltern gentian.

Plants one might normally associate with verges or wasteground that crop up on the downs in August include creeping thistle, spear thistle, marsh thistle and just maybe musk thistle or woolly thistle. Also sometimes found in quantity in some places are rosebay willowherb and hogweed, as well as golden (or ribbed?) melilot. Ribwort plantain seems to undergo a bit of a revival on downland in late August and just occasionally you might see common toadflax or scarlet pimpernel, both plants of bare ground. Path verges may have some silverweed still in flower - more likely just its characteristic leaves will be evident - or possibly some cinquefoil.

An unusual sight early in the month is robin's pin cushion - a gall on wild rose bushes that looks like a bright red cluster of threads. For some reason it seems to favour rose shoots on downland - for example, Ranmore Common near Dorking.

By the sea

Specialist flowers by the sea are well past their best by now (June is the best month), but in saltmarshes you can still see sea lavender and on chalk cliffs (eg between Brighton and Rottingdean) rock sea-lavender. In the same kind of place - rocky coastlines and cliffs - rock samphire (used in posh restaurants as a vegetable) is in flower right to the end of the month: it invariably looks as if it is just starting to bloom, its flowers at best only a green-white fuzz, mixed with other heads that are not yet out or have gone over. A much rarer flower is golden samphire, sometimes found at the base or top of cliffs (eg Durlston Head near Swanage): it also grows at the base of the sea walls near Faversham in Kent).

Not confined to coastal areas, but commonest in them, is fennel, a yellow umbellifer (ie it has a flower like cow parsley, only yellow) whose thread-like leaves smell strongly of aniseed. An umbellifer whose flowering season is long over is alexanders, but its black seed-heads can be very conspicuous in August.

On shingle beaches yellow-horned poppy can still occasionally pop up - note its enormously long seeds (up to 30cm), the longest found on any UK plant. You may also find isolated flowers of sea campion, sea beet, sea mayweed, sticky groundsel, narrow-leaved ragwort and maybe some silver ragwort: just occasionally also some Oxford ragwort which seems to be spreading to seaside shingle from its normal habitat on railway line clinker. Sea pea is now dominated by its pods, which look like those of farmed peas, while sea kale still has some yellow-green berries early in the month: by its end they have either fallen off or turned brown, however.

On sandy beaches (try Botany Bay near Broadstairs) you can occasionally see sea holly, a relative of cow parsley. The occasional pink-flowered sea rocket might also be seen: they are supposed to grow at the head of sandy beaches but sometimes get a foothold on shingle ones (eg in Folkestone).

Any asters you see more likely to be the large-flowered garden escapee, rather than the smaller-flowered wild sea aster (which looks a bit like a michaelmas daisy and which is also found growing at Durlston Head near Swanage, as well as near Cuckmere Haven and on the sea walls near Faversham). The lucerne occasionally found on clifftops or on shingle beach margins (eg in Eastbourne) may also be a garden escapee.

If you see a yellow flowered crucifer (eg on the cliffs around Margate), a likely candidate is either perennial wall rocket (classic slim rocket leaves, seed pods at an angle to the stem) or annual wall rocket (leaves much more indented, most in a rosette at the base of the stem, pods parallel to the stem). Sea radish and black or hoary mustard also sometimes crop up.

Other plants I have observed on shingle in August include bittersweet (woody nightshade), common mallow, bristly oxtongue, chicory, yarrow and Canadian fleabane. Red valerian survives in places (or has a second flowering). Spear-leaved orache, with its triangular leaves, forms mats over shingle beaches, but its flowers are inconspicuous (Babbington's orache is a common coastal variety of this plant). Common orache may also be seen in the same habitat, and both species may appear as more erect plants at the top of the beach. Sea purslane is another plant of this kind, found on saltmarshes or the banks of tidal rivers

On downland by the sea viper's bugloss may produces new shoots - you wonder what these tiny blue flowers are. Tamarisk, a common shrub in seaside parks and gardens, continues to have a few pink flowers and Spanish broom may still have some yellow blooms. Holm oak (which grow, for example, on Walmer Beach) now has acorns, just like other oak species.

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