With an open, shade-free aspect, high water table and damp peat soils, the Weald Moors have long been a favoured location for moisture loving plants. While classic fenland species like Common Reed are perhaps most emblematic of the area’s heritage, the moorlands harbour a variety of wetland-connected wildflowers in all shapes and sizes…
The Long And Short Of It: reeds, sedges and grasses are far from the only tall plants that thrive on the Weald Moors. A range of lofty flowering herbs can be found here, too, and among the most prolific are the Willowherbs, which are a ubiquitous feature of late summer along the margins of many open moorland ditches, stream and ponds. With its creamy white, four-lobed stigmas and bright rose-flushed flowers, Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) is among the most easily identifiable and widespread species, and is by no means limited to peatland landscapes either. However, it does grow abundantly in damp places and will often colonise dry seasonal ponds and flushes. Another arresting perennial late summer herb you can find growing in ditches, damp meadows and woodland all around the moors is Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris). This member of the Carrot family can reach heights of two metres and is distinguished by a purple tinged stem and tiny pink flowers that form larger umbels, making it somewhat reminiscent of Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium).
Like Great Willowherb, Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a common plant that can be found in a wide range of locations. However, it does have a close association with open areas where water levels regularly rise and fall, making its fuzzy clusters of small white flowers (which have an almond-like aroma) a notable and attractive feature of many a damp meadow and roadside ditch on the Weald Moors. A superficially similar but much rarer plant that thrives amid tall vegetation in wet, grassy places is Common Meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum). Recorded in just a few locations on the moorlands, this moisture-loving species has been in serious decline since the 1930s — owing largely to a widespread reduction in the grazing marsh habitat it favours. Consequently, it is now restricted to river and stream banks and wayside ditches in many places, although it can grow plentifully on wet grassland where a more traditional approach to drainage management is practiced.
Flagging-Up Yet More Flowers: of all the archetypal wetland plants you might find growing on the Weald Moors, one of the most widespread and easy to identify is the Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus). Its bluish-green sword-shaped leaves and bright fluttering flowers — which inspire its other common name, Flag Iris — is a common late spring and midsummer feature of ponds and ditches across the moorlands. Another frequently found plant typical of, but not totally exclusive to, wetland areas is Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Born on upright hairy stems, its drooping clusters of tubular, light purple flowers are, once encountered, hard to mistake — and not least for the many bees that regularly feed on them. Another conspicuous plant with a long wetland lineage is Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), which is said to take its name from the serendipitous habit of coming into bloom at the same time the Cuckoo begins to call. So, if you should hear that bird’s famous onomatopoeic refrain, be sure to scan any damp grassy patches for the distinctive cupped, pale lilac four-petalled flowers that lend this plant its alternative title of Lady’s-smock.
With around fifty different species, the Forget-Me-Not family are a ubiquitous feature of myriad locations, including many of our gardens. One example of this low growing spring herb to look out for on the Weald Moors is Tufted Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis laxa), which favours moist, open ground and the margins of waterbodies. Its small bright blue petals (which measure just two to four millimetres in diameter) are often a distinctive feature of disturbed locations, such as those trampled by livestock. Take care, though, not to confuse it with Water Forget-Me-Not (M. scorpioides), which thrives in similar climes but has larger flowers and hairless stems. Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) is another semi-aquatic herb that shares much in common with the Forget-Me-Nots, both in looks and preference for wetland habitat. However, with four, rather than five, blue petals (which are a more variable in shading) it isn’t too difficult to tell apart, especially because its thicker stems and larger leaves invariably result in its flower heads becoming enveloped by foliage, giving it the appearance of a floral moptop!
On the Weald Moors: like any area, flower richness on the Weald Moors is closely linked to the supply of good quality water. Although the open moorland landscape may offer hours of direct sunlight and plenty of damp places for plants to grow, where watercourses and ponds receive high amounts of nutrients that may not necessarily happen. Soils with low artificial fertiliser inputs will offer fewer opportunities for just a few grass species to become dominant, improving the prospects for other plants to find their own particular niche.
With ditches, ponds and damp woodland along its course, Kynnersley Drive is a good starting point for a journey of floristic discovery and, just over half way along this progressively green lane, you’ll find the Hincks Plantation — the location where Common Meadow Rue has been recorded on the moors. Crudgington Drive is another thoroughfare where a locally rare plant has been discovered on the roadside but Brookweed (Samolus valerandi) is just one of many plants, tall and small, you might find growing on its margins. With dedicated wildflower meadows, the permissive footpaths of Wall Farm offer a great chance to see an increasingly scarce traditional method of farming with flora in mind but just about any seasonal pond or area where damp, disturbed ground is present could yield an interesting find.
A Pinsticker’s Guide! If this short introduction to the wildflowers of the Weald Moors has whet your appetite for discovery, here is a more detailed (but not comprehensive) list of wetland plants recorded on the Moorlands: