Clunch Pit Flowers

An article by Kingsley Lloyd, from the Orwell Bulletin

The following article by Kingsley Lloyd first appeared in the September 1990 edition of the Orwell Bulletin (in a slightly longer version, in that it contained two more paragraphs of information relating to plants outside the Clunch Pit).

When I first knew the Clunch Pit, more than forty years ago, the whole area was covered with close cropped grasses, the only scrub and taller bushes being confined to the boundary hedges. The cattle belonging to Quarry Farm which stood between the Mulberry Tree and Quarry Lane in the High Street, grazed both the area of the Pit and the adjacent Glebe field. Rabbits were plentiful and nibbled the finer grasses.

the Clunch Pit is now an SSSI

Some years ago, when the Clunch Pit was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), it was primarily to retain this ancient grassland from going back to scrubland which, without grazing, would soon happen. A great deal of effort has gone into trying to preserve the grassland by working parties and latterly by introducing a few cattle but it is uphill work and more help is needed from those who enjoy this priceless asset of our village. At present, the principal domestic animals to use the Pit are dogs who, through their owners help to keep down the long grasses by walking in the Pit.

many years ago, I found a Bee Orchid

The flora of the Clunch Pit depends entirely on maintaining the grasslands. Many years ago, I remember finding a Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) on the steep eastern boundary which is now covered with a dense growth of scrub and bushes where such a plant could no longer hope to survive, which is just one example of the changes which occur when the grass land disappears.

Photo:Drawing by Sue Rumbold

Drawing by Sue Rumbold

In spite of all the changes, however, there are still many beautiful flowers and some unusual ones to be found in the Clunch Pit. Every year we marvel at the cowslips (Primula veris) which cover a great deal of the open ground in the Pit. We are told that the earlier name was less elegant, cowslip being a polite form of cowslop, a further reminder of the value of grazing!

After the cowslips and the buttercups which follow (two forms, bulbous and creeping) there is nothing else which makes quite the same overall colour impression. There are of course more yellow flowers such as the large patches of lady's bedstraw (Gallium verum) , agrimony (Agrimonia eupatonia ) wild mignonette (Reseda lutea), horseshoe vetch (Hippocreppis comosa) and many others; but, when the buttercups have gone, the general impression is that the pink, blue and white flowers take over for the summer months.

Photo:Key to Sue Rumbold's drawing

Key to Sue Rumbold's drawing

One of the most beautiful of the pink flowers, well represented in the Clunch Pit, is sainfoin (Onobrychis vicifolia). I always thought that it meant holy hay but have recently learned that the meaning is wholesome hay i.e. a dried crop good for the cattle. Although it was cultivated as a fodder crop, like the clovers, it is thought to be a native plant of the limestone or chalk and the sixteenth century botanist, Gerard, records finding it growing in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The tall pink spikes are very beautiful when seen against a blue sky in June. The astrological herbalists placed sainfoin under the dominion of Venus, whatever that might mean.

in the north, used as a substitute for licorice

Another of our pink flowers, also belonging to the pea family, is restharrow. There are two kinds, Ononis repens and Ononis spinosa and both have the same pretty bright pink flowers. The roots are very strong and spreading, hence its name but I have read that children in the north of England used to dig up the roots as a substitute for licorice.

Among other red or pink flowers in the summer months are the knapweeds, thistles and hardheads which are not always easy to distinguish one from another.

umbelliferous, look a bit like flat topped umbrellas

Many of the white flowers belong to the umbelliferous group which look a bit like flat topped umbrellas. These I find, like the knapweeds and thistles, difficult to identify but amongst those to be found in the Clunch Pit are wild carrot (Daucus carota), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), burnet saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga) and dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris). The last named is a much smaller plant with less conspicuous flowers, closely related to the taller meadowsweet which grows in damper conditions. A beautiful little star like flower growing on the chalk face of the Pit is squinancywort (Asperula cynanchica), a smaller relation of the woodruff and a member of the bedstraw family.

our harebell is the bluebell of Scotland

The harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is usually referred to as a plant of dry grasslands and heaths and my impression is that it was more plentiful some years ago than it is now but it is generally to be found near the path on the eastern side of the Pit. Our harebell is the bluebell of Scotland, very different from the woodland bluebell or wild hyacinth.

Another campanula which grew in the Clunch Pit though I have not seen it for a long time is the clustered bell flower (Campanula glomrerata) which makes a tall handsome plant in the garden soil but only grows a few inches high in heathland conditions. Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) is another flower of dry grasslands with which we are all familiar. It soon dries up in hot weather but it can be a very attractive flower if it finds a little moisture. Wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum), selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) and speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) are all blue flowers which grow close to the ground and form a mat with other low growing plants and grasses.

These are just a few of the flowering plants of the Clunch Pit but there are many more and their survival and increase depend on keeping the coarser grasses and scrub from taking over the original grassland.

Kingsley Lloyd

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 04/01/2013.

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