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Botany in Norfolk

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Norfolk as a county has unusual advantages, considered from a botanical point of view - its large area, fourth among the counties of England - its sea coast more than a hundred miles in length, - its almost unique " Broad " country on the east and Fenland on the west, with a ridge of sandy, chalky, or clay land between them, much of which remains very little altered by cultivation at sheep-walk, warren or heath interspersed here and there with primeval bogs, enable it to retain in one or other locality almost every one of the flowering plants which have ever been recorded as having been found in it. Besides, it is practically an island (with the exception of Marshland and a few fens on its western border), for the waters which drain east and west from Lopham and flow into the sea by the Waveney at Yarmouth, and the Ouse at Lynn are parted from each other by only a few yards of land, so that the observer is rarely at any loss to decide which county should claim his find. That the corner of East Anglia in which Norfolk is situated was formerly surrounded by sea is more than probable, from the occurrence of maritime plants and insects in the Brandon and Thetford districts, and also in Eastern Suffolk, though the eastern end of the strait separating it from the mainland was most likely further south than the present boundary between the two counties.

If we start northward along the coast from the Haven's Mouth at Yarmouth we shall at once come upon a very interesting and somewhat special flora. The South Denes, injured though they have been by use for encampments, etc., still afford, mixed with common littoral plants, two rare grasses (Poa bullosa and Weingartncria canescens), a Trefoil (Trifolium suffocatum), a special form of Rest-Harrow (Ononis horrida), a Convolvulus (Volvulus soldanella), and more than one Cerastium. When we have passed the town we may find the very rare Marram Grass (Ammophila baltica), and the sea-shore form of Mountain Rue (Thalictrum dunense), going on northwards still the sand plants hold their own for miles until the cliffs begin, and then from Happisburgh on by Bacton, Mundesley, Trimingham, Overstrand, past Cromer, where the coast turns westward by Runton, Beeston, Sheringham, to the Cliff's End there is a great change in the character of the flora. We shall here find two Catchflies (Silene anglica and Silene conica), the round rough-headed Poppy (Papaver hybridum), a Medick (Medicago sylvestris), found only here and at Thetford; three Broomrapes (Orobanche elatior, O. Purpurea and O. Minor), several Orchises - bee, pyramidal and purple; and Orchis incarnata, - and in many places the ground at the top of the cliffs will be yellow with Bird's-foot Trefoil, blue with Viper's Bugloss, or pink with Sea Thrift. Where the cliffs end salt marshes alternating with sandy or stony beach begin and continue all the way to Hunstanton. Along this coast there are to be found Horned Poppies and Sea Eryngo, Sea Heath (Frankenia laevis), four Sea-Lavenders (Statice Limonium, S. Pyramidalis, S. Auriculafolia and S. Reticulata), two or three forms of Centaury (Erythrea centaurium and E. Pulchella). At Cley there is a thicket of Suaeda fruticosa, supposed to have been brought here by shipwreck, whence it has spread to many other places, two rare and beautiful Grasses Polypogon monspeliensis and P. Littoralis), and at Wells an almost unique (so far as Great Britain is concerned) form of Sow-thistle (Sonchus angustifolius); at one point on this coast there is the rare Yellow Figwort (Scrophularia vernalis); at Brancaster there is the Great Sea Rush (Juncus acutus), and all along there is a host too numerous to mention of Scirpi, carices and brackish water plants. There is no more cliff except the curious red chalk cliff at Hunstanton, which yields no fresh plants, and from thence to Lynn we have beach and marsh again, and here we may find the quaint little Umbellifer, Bupleurum tenuissimum.

Just within the coastline north-westerly from Yarmouth, occupying a space which may be roughly estimated at ten miles square, lies the Norfolk " Broad " district, which, where undisturbed, still remains a paradise for botanists, it contains several specialities two of them found nowhere else in England. Naias marina which looks at first sight almost like a seaweed, discovered in 1883 and Carex trinervis discovered in 1884 and three other plants almost as rare. Senecio palustris, Carex paradoxa, and Lychnothamnus stelliger which last does not in some seasons develope the "stars" from which it takes its specific name: but the greatest interest of " Broadland" to the plant - lover consists in the enormous wealth of flowers which flourish in some parts of it - wide stretches of many colours - yellow and purple - Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris and Lythrum Salicaria) white and cream colour (Pyrola rotundifolia and Spirea ulmaria). Lilac shading off to red and purple (orchises of several kinds), mixed up with a dense crowd of common marsh weeds such as Ranunculi, Ragged Robin, and Marsh Marigold; it is not the number of species but the enormous number of the individuals of each species that strikes one most in these morasses. The water itself is also crowded with water-weeds and flowers. Pond-weeds by the thousand which make but little show. Water-lilies, white and yellow, Bladder-Worts (Utricularia) Batrachian Ranunculi, Polygonum amphibium, Water Plantains, and here and there dense clumps and ditches choked with the Water-Soldier (Stratiotes aloides), with its sword-shaped aloe-like leaves and pure white flowers which seem in our day never to bear fruit with us, though its extraordinary shaped seed-pods have been found fossil in the county. Reeds, grasses, and sedges hide both land and water. In some of these marshes milk parsley (Peucedanum palustre) grows freely, and this plant is the food of the larva of the swallow-tail butterfly (Papilio machaon).

The Fens of the western side of the county have recently been identified as one of the latest known localities for Senecio paludosus one of very scarcest of British plants.

Of the great middle portion of the county between the " Broads" on the east and the "Fens" on the west it is impossible within our limits to give more than a very slight sketch of the rarities which may reward a careful search. Starting from the south at Thetford we have Medicago syluestris, Veronica verna and V. Triphyllos, Artemisia campestris, Scleranthus perennis, and two grasses, Apera interrupta and Festuca ambigua, and as a well-established alien, Erigeron canadense; passing eastward we come to Harling, the home at one time, at all events, of Andromeda polifolia; eastward still to Harleston, the vicinity of which affords the true "Oxlip" (Primula elatior, Jacq.) The botany of this district (and of the adjoining portion of Suffolk) has been admirably described by the Rev. F. W. Galpin in his " Account of the Flowering Plants, Ferns and Allies, of Harleston "; then to Ditchingham where we have Blackstonia perfoliata and Panicum glabrum. The northernmost portion of this line up to Attleborough is a very prolific ground for orchids, bee orchis, fly orchis, frog orchis (Habenaria viridis), and great abundance of the commoner kinds; Orchis pyramidalis has been seen here almost more plentiful than the hay crop among which it grew and the very rare Liparis loeselii still survives in one locality. There is also that very rare fern Lastrea cristata.

Almost due north of Thetford is Swaffham, whose neighbourhood has afforded Phleum phalaroides; thence eastward we pass Dereham, where the heavy lands give (if they have not all been stolen) great quantities of the commoner ferns, Polystichum of slightly varying forms in almost endless variety and plenty of Scolopendrium. Still eastward the country round Norwich has many good plants, Arabis perfoliata, Medicago falcata, the Norfolk mullein (Verbascum pulverulentum) and in one locality there is still plenty of Gentiana pneumonanthe. From hence eastward to the " Broads" and northward to the sea, wherever you can find a scrap of original heathy, swampy bog, you will be well rewarded. Drosera, sometimes all three species, within a few yards; Parnassia, Hypericum elodes, even Limosella aquatica, spaces of some few yards square pink with Anagallis tenella, Butterfly orchis in both forms (Habenaria bifolia and H. Chlorantha) by the hundred, may all be found and Goodyera repens a northern orchid not truly wild south of Cumberland and Berwick has been found more than once.

There now remains to be considered only the northwestern portion of the county, containing a good deal of chalky and heathy upland, and furnishing many interesting plants. Veronica spicata has been recorded, but not confirmed. Microcala filiformis has certainly been found, and an Epipactis, thought by Mr Kirby Trimmer to be E. Atrorubens; there is also an old record of Draba muralis. There is a decidedly different facies of the flora of this district to that of the flora of mid and south Norfolk, the change travelling north-westerly from Norwich seems to occur somewhere about Walsingham.

Some of our most interesting local plants are curiously sporadic and a visitor must not conclude that they are lost from their recorded localities simply because he cannot find them there; for instance Scutellaria minor has been known in one locality for at least seventy years. A few years since, when the Writer visited it, the ground was purple with the flowers of hundreds of plants; three years afterwards not a plant could be found though the locality was in no way altered by drainage or otherwise, but this is no evidence of loss. Again Arabis perfoliata will be in abundance one year seeding freely, but for the next two or three years not a plant will reward search, but it reappears there or thereabouts after a time. The foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) wild, though there are plenty of escapes, is decidedly a scarce plant in the county, but in the year 1867 some ditches were "fyed out" at Horsey and from the mud thrown out from them arose a crop of foxgloves. Poa nemoralis is a rare grass about Norwich, but in two cases where loam dug from a depth of several feet has been spread about, a plentiful crop of it has arisen which has held its own for years but gradually diminishing. On the other hand some local plants show great pertinacity, the same banks in the neighbourhood of Norwich have afforded Medicago falcata and Verbascum pulverulentum whenever visited for more than half a century. Hardly any plants seem to be "lost" unless their localities are permanently altered or destroyed; of course, if a bog is drained or a hill-side ploughed up and sown with gorse for game-cover the plants must disappear, at all events for a time, and as the old walls of Norwich are pulled down, and they are fast disappearing, Holosteum umbellatum must go with them - but take it for all in all the flora of Norfolk still affords as many species as it has ever done since it was first studied, for about as many species have been added to it of late years as are at all likely to have really disappeared.

Many aliens, some intentionally introduced and others accidentally sown with foreign seeds, occur. Among the former such plants as Spirea tomentosa an American and Sambucus racemosa the red-berried elder of Continental Europe, among the latter Alyssum calycinum, Melilotus arvensis, Saponaria vaccarta, Asperula arvensis, Orobanche flavescens, these sometimes make good their hold for a year or two. Veronica tournefortii is a good example of an alien successfully establishing itself, for it is now in many places quite a weed.

It is much to be desired that visitors either finding for themselves or being shown a locality for a rare plant, will exercise forbearance in over collection for themselves or indiscriminate communication of the exact place to less careful people. The conduct of a stranger who having been told of an exact locality for Senecio palustris (one of our scarcest plants) purposely destroyed the whole of it may be almost described as an outrage, nor is the conduct of those inconsiderate persons who tear up ferns by their roots and leave them to wither by the roadside much better. It has happened to the writer twice over by incautious betrayal of localities for one of our rarest ferns, to cause the disappearance of every root within a few years.

The latest census of rarity among the flowering plants of Great Britain is the Ninth Edition of the "London Catalogue" published in 1895; in it England, Wales and Scotland are divided into one hundred and twelve counties and vice-counties. Any plant that does not occur in more than twelve of these divisions may fairly be considered " rare," although there may be plenty of it where it does grow. The following is a list of plants, most of them presumably native, which are or have been reported to be found in Norfolk which do not occur in more than twelve divisions: -

Adonis autumnalis; Aconitum tiapellus; Roemeria hybrida; Draba muralis; Sisymbrium irio; Brassica oleracea; Frankenia loevis; Diant/ius prolifer; Silene conica; Silene otites; Holosteum umbellatum; Medicago sylvestris; Medicago falcata; Trifolium ochroleucon; Tillaa muscosa; Sedum rupestre; Lythrum hyssopifolia;

Galium anglicum; Gnaphalum luteo-album; Artemisia campestris; Senecio paludosus; Senecio palustris; Hypochoeris maculata; Lactuca scariola; Lactuca saligna; Sonchus palustris; Sonchus augustifolius; Statice reticulata; Primula elatior, Jacq; Microcala filiformis; Limnanthemum peltatum; Pulmonaria officinalis; Verbascum pulverulentum; Verbascum lychnitis; Vironica tripkyllos; Vironica verna; Melampyrum cristatum; Melampyrum arvense; Orobanche purpurea; Mentha alopecuroides; Mentha pubescens; Calamintha parviflora; Teucrium scordium; Herniaria glabra; Scleranthus perennis; Atriplex pedunculata; Salicornia radicans; Sueda fruticosa; Daphne mezereum; Hippophae rhamnoides; Liparis loeselii; Epipactis atro-rubens; Muscari racemosum; Ornithogalum pyrenaicum; Potamogeton acuminatus; Potamogeton trichoides; Naias marina; Scirpus triqueter; Carex paradoxa; Carex ericetorum; Carex trinervis; Panicum glabrum; Spartina stricta; Phleum phalaroides; Polypogon monspeliensis; Polypogon littoralis; Apera interrupta; Ammophila baltica; Weingterneria canescens; Poa bulbosa; Festuca ambigua; Lastrea cristata; Lastrea uliginosa; Lychnoihamnus sielliger; Nitella tenuissima;

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