Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Flower of The Axe

A few miles from here is the village of Kilmimgton which was very famous amongst 19th century botanists, but don't just take my word for it. Here's an extract from a 1893 publication entitled The Rivers of Devon from the Source to the Sea, by John Ll. W. Page.

In this neighbourhood, on Kilmington Hill, grows one of the rarest possibly the very rarest of our wild flowers, the Lobelia urens, commonly called 'the flower of the Axe'. I have never seen it myself, but those who have tell me it is of rich blue colour. Needless to remark, its habitat is eagerly sought out, and Kilmington Hill is the happy hunting-ground of the botanist.

The flower, also known as Heath Lobelia was first found at this location in 1768 by Lord Webb Seymour and was for a while thought to be its only site in the country. It was subsequently discovered in several more sites along the south coast but today remains at only six of them. It is easy enough to see at the Devon Wildlife Trust's reserve at Andrew's Wood but having never seen it I was eager to see it at the site it was first discovered, especially as it's on 'my local patch'. The plant remained growing on at least four sites around Kilmington Hill (which was birch woodland and heathland) until the early 1960s when it was heavily afforested with conifers causing the decline and eventually extinction of the species at all but one small site. The actual location of the plants is kept pretty secret but I went along and searched for it on three occasions in the last couple of weeks and I'm pleased to report that it was a case of third time lucky! 

I was doubly delighted when I spotted them, firstly because after all the effort I'd put in I'd finally located them but also because I simply wasn't prepared for how stunning they would look. I was expecting to see a few plants dotted about in the grass but they were growing in a couple of large swathes and were a lovely colour too, not quite purple, not quite blue but quite magnificent.

Heath Lobelia
Very rare and very beautiful too.

This morning on Black Hole Marsh there were many, many waders, far, far away, except this Common Sandpiper, one of about a zillion on patch at the moment!

Very Common Sandpiper


Rob said...

The Heath Lobelia is a great find - I've never even heard of it. A lovely flower, too. Well done!

Karen Woolley said...

Thanks Rob, nice to know you learnt something reading my blog. I only found out that it existed a couple of years ago when reading a book on the rare plants of Britain.

phil wilson said...

Did you ask permission of the owners? They are nice people who are very proud of the plant and it is so important not to annoy.

Karen Woolley said...

Phil, I wouldn't want to annoy anyone. I spotted the flowers from some adjacent woodland. I took photos from within this woodland (with a zoom lens) and never entered the field/garden. If the woods were private it didn't say so.

By the way, I have your excellent book on Arable Plants. I know it isn't meant for amateur enthusiasts like myself but I've learned a lot from it never the less.

phil wilson said...

Glad you like the book, and it is certainly meant for amateurs and anybody who likes arable plants. You may be interested to know that the Legacy to Landscape project is having a walk in Shute Woods with the hope of locating other potential Lobelia sites on August 3rd. You should get in touch with the project if you live in the area, I suspect there is a link on the E Devon AONB site.