Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'm called Little Buttercup

As it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the weather was predictably cold and wet, we decided, en route to Ramsgate, to go and look in a muddy ditch in Fowlmead Country Park. I know, I know what you are thinking....'Mel leads a really exciting life'. I do too! This was no ordinary ditch. It was the ditch wherein Kingsdowner found the nationally rare grass poly (Lythrum hyssopifolium) last year. A brilliant bit of botanical detective work!

Here is the flooded ditch, which, I think I can promise now, you will see again later in the year. More Foulmud than Fowlmead down there.

Grass poly, growing below at RSPB Fen Drayton...

...likes disturbed ground and winter flooding. Not spring/summer flooding though. It flowers in June/July, so I wonder how this late flooding will affect this recently discovered population? As you can count the number of places where grass poly grows in the UK on one hand, its fate here will be interesting to watch. Emails (last year) to Natural England to inform them of this new site for an 'Endangered' species have so far not elicited a reply. Hmmm.

But, to go back a few steps. Before I'd even gotten out of the car, a voice said 'What's this little buttercup here? It looks different'. I scrambled out and looked down in the scraps of grass in the carpark. Indeed it does look different to any buttercup I've seen before.

For a start, it's small. This little buttercup (the whole plant) is about 5cm across. And the flowers have no petals or only a couple of petals. Every flower I looked at was missing petals (buttercups typically have 5).

This is small-flowered buttercup Ranunculus parviflorus, an increasingly scarce species and on the rare plant register for Kent. Having missing petals is usual in this species.

Whilst I enthral you with my tale of finding small-flowered buttercup at Fowlmead, you may wish to partake in some musical accompaniment. HMS Pinafore is one of my favourite Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Here's a saucy, modern interpretation of Little Buttercup's song in a production by Essgee of New Zealand.

Back to botany. 

This little buttercup is a plant of disturbed ground; building sites, broken turf, rabbit holes, track edges, etc.. Fowlmead is a recently disturbed site made up of shale spoil; a perfect spot :-) Its seeds seem to be long-lived in the seedbank so it's typical for it to turn up post-disturbance. Maybe not a huge surprise to find it here then? Well, there are no records close-by and it's a rare plant in East Kent. So where did it come from? Perhaps it was dormant in the spoil or soil brought into the site (I can't find out anything about this). 

A close-up of a flower shows the diagnostic down-turned (reflexed) sepals and hairy stems.

The fruiting head has hooked spines on the achenes (fruit containing the seed).

All in all a really exciting find. What other gems are still to be found at Fowlmead? Well, I visited last year with my niece, and found basil thyme (Clinopodium acinos) and narrow-leaved bird's foot trefoil (Lotus tenuis). I'm sure the site will yield more unusual and/or rare species.

Will plants like grass poly and the small-flowered buttercup be out-competed as the site matures, or will they survive because this is a country park where offroad cycling and other activity will maintain levels of disturbance beneficial to this annual little buttercup? I hope the latter.

Further Information
The Kent Botanical Recording Group has a project to survey for and record rare plants in the county. It's a proactive and welcoming group.


  1. Hi this is really interesting, something to bear in mind and look out for. Thanks

  2. Hi Lis. Yes, it was a pleasing surprise. I've not seen it elsewhere. I see you're in The Burren at the moment - somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time. Mel

    1. Yes and have only one week here. You get desperate to cover as many habitats as possible. I am really hoping to find the green winged orchid which some think maybe extinct here, but we are also a bit too early.
      Shall be in Deal in 3 weeks!

    2. Good luck! Weather so odd this year timings are tricky. The green-winged orchids are putting on a good show in Sandwich Bay at the moment - over 100 spikes :-) Give us a shout when you're in Deal if you fancy a plant foray. Mel

  3. I like the Small-Flowered Buttercup. The Goldilocks tends to have petals missing too .. must be a Buttercup speciality!

    1. Hi Bill. I wonder why buttercups are so prone to missing petals? M