Field Trip Reports 2014Field_Trip_Reports.html

Sow Thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

August 16th - Kearney, County Down

Leader : Graham  Day

In 1836 the population of Kearney was 150, mostly farmers, farm-labourers, fishermen and fisherwomen; the population in the remote clachan declined until the National Trust acquired it in 1965. The picturesque white houses and cottages are now rented out and there are over 3 miles of walks along the shore to New Quay and Knockinelder Bay.

BNFC members eventually found their way to Kearney by various small roads south from Cloughey or east from PortaferryGraham Day, BSBI recorder for Co. Down, ably assisted by his wife, Julia Nunn, introduced us to this mixed habitat of coastal grassland, shingle inlets, sandy beaches and salt marsh and plants were recorded in 1km squares.

In the morning we ambled at a botanical pace towards New Quay where the most conspicuous plant was the tall Corn Sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis) with its large glossy yellow flowers. Summer seaside plants like Sea Campion (Silene uniflora), Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) and Thrift (Armeria maritma) were still in flower.  Thrift was depicted on pre-1950 three-penny coins as thruppenny bits were then worth saving by the thrifty. However the plant’s English name derives from ‘thriving’ as its leaves remain green. Common  Knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare) was growing in grass by the path, but the botanists were excited to find large spreading plants of Ray’s Knotgrass (Polygonum oxyspermum) on the sandy shore. 

Growing beside each other were 2 umbellifers with classical connections – Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum), a former pot-herb from the Mediterranean named after Alexander the Great, and the deadly poisonous Hemlock (Conium maculatum) with purple-spotted stems, which was used to execute Socrates.

After a picnic lunch, we walked southwards towards Knockinelder.
The first excitement here was finding many plants of Yellow-horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum) with its long curving seed-pods. Poppy seeds can remain viable for many years and will start to flourish when disturbed as happened on the battlefields of Flanders. Graham reckoned that the disturbance of the shingle during the severe winter storms of 2013-4 will have caused many new Yellow-horned Poppy seeds to germinate. This plant is common in the Mediterranean and here it is at its most northerly Irish site. Nearby was Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima), a coastal arctic plant at its most southerly site. With global-warming Oysterplant is retreating northwards so it was good to see it flourishing here in a patch larger than Bernard’s dog which sat down in the middle while the photographers were busy. Oysterplant seeds can also remain dormant for years and are dispersed by sea water so the winter storms have also probably helped this rare plant to spread.
Several new plants were appearing in the same shingle area. Its English name derives from the leaves apparently tasting of oysters and it is at risk from chefs; the botanical name is from an 18th century German botanist, Mertens. So within a few yards of each other we had coastal plants, one common in southern Europe and one in the Arctic. Both plants had been recorded by Templeton in South Down in the early 1800s.

Nearby was another rare plant, Sea Kale (Crambe maritima), a member of the cabbage-family, which can be eaten as a vegetable; its corky pods are also dispersed in sea water. When the BNFC was in Galloway in 2010, we had seen shingle shores with large colonies of Oysterplant and Sea Kale and wondered why they were rare just a few miles across the water.

As it was a cloudy day, the only butterflies seen were Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) and Green-veined Whites (Pieris napi).

Graham and Julia were thanked for leading us on a most rewarding botanical walk in a lovely part of Co.Down.

Margaret Marshall


Ray’s Knotgrass

(Polygonum oxyspermum)


Sea Kale