Eight beautiful Norfolk seashore plants to spot

PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 July 2020

The rich golden colour of biting stonecrop. Photo: Serena Shores

The rich golden colour of biting stonecrop. Photo: Serena Shores


North Norfolk’s coast has some amazing seashore plants - here are eight to look out for when walking along the beaches

How many seashore plants can you spot on a Norfolk coast walk? Photo: Serena ShoresHow many seashore plants can you spot on a Norfolk coast walk? Photo: Serena Shores

Like the stoic photographer out on a chilly dawn, dedicated bird watcher, or well-weathered member of the boating fraternity, the plants to be found around Blakeney Point are highly specialised, determined in their enterprise, but more than anything else, truly hardy. On closer inspection they can often appear almost alien to our inland flora, due to the way they have adapted to cope with wind, salty air, occasional submersion by the sea and a landscape which is often very dry and inhospitable to other species.

The four-mile-long spit, which officially runs from Cley Beach to the outer reaches of the point, is a relatively young geological phenomenon created by the process of longshore drift; the motion of sand and shingle being carried by the tide in an east-west direction. The shingle bank and sand dunes enclose a range of unique habitats including salt marsh, reed beds and tidal channels.

The bird life and celebrated seal colony found here can easily overshadow the remarkable plants that make this wild and virtually unspoilt Area of Special Scientific Interest their home. Beyond the beds of that arch-pioneer of the bleak and briny, the culinary delicacy samphire, and great carpets of common sea lavender decorating the quayside, they are waiting there to delight an eagle-eyed walker with their often-striking colour and unusual form.

Matted sea lavender with its delicate purple blooms. Photo: Serena ShoresMatted sea lavender with its delicate purple blooms. Photo: Serena Shores

MATTED SEA LAVENDER: (Limonium bellidifolium)

In Britain, this sea lavender is almost exclusively unique to north Norfolk (there is a small colony to be found at Snettisham). Preferring drier upper saltmarsh and flat areas of sand and shingle, despite its similarities to the other three species in the area, it is distinct in the way the slightly knobbly stems form in interlocking leafless tangles – giving rise to the name ‘matted.’ It comes into bloom between July and August, the rounded bushy design producing many clusters of delicate pinkish-white flowers with five petals, which are often smaller than those of common sea lavender, which varies through pink, to mauve and even violet in colour.

YELLOW HORNED-POPPY: (Glaucium flavum)

The beautiful white flowers of sea campion. Photo: Serena ShoresThe beautiful white flowers of sea campion. Photo: Serena Shores

This dramatic, one metre tall spreading plant has to be one of the most amazing species to come across on the shingle bank from Weybourne to the point. Although large colonies can be seen from Salthouse westward, nationally it is becoming increasingly vulnerable, so the startling, large, lemon-yellow flowers, which appear from June to August, lighting up the terrain like series of suns, should really be treasured. When the flowers are gone the plant is a mass of extraordinarily long curved seed pods which account for the name ‘horned.’ Its crimped lower leaves have fine hairs which help it survive droughts and are often the only interesting sign of botanical life on a blustery winter beach.

SEA SANDWORT: (Honckenya peploides)

There can be few more peculiar sights in sand and gravel on the upper shingle bank, than emerald-green towers of extremely fleshy pointed ovals, arranged at right-angles to those above and below, resembling some kind of succulent or cactus. With diminutive whitish flowers from May to August, it is definitely the feisty leaves of sea sandwort which steal the show, as it spreads out in densely-packed geometric ‘forests’ across the shingle. This robust plant has adapted to store water in a way more common in deserts and if you fancy braving the slightly bitter taste, the young shoots (either cooked or raw) are a good source of vitamins A and C.

Sea lavender in the marshes at Blakeney. Photo: Serena ShoresSea lavender in the marshes at Blakeney. Photo: Serena Shores

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Appearing between April and July, the hornet-yellow spiky flowers of this plant seem to scream danger – standing out from the shingle in an eye-catching crowd. The leaves have a strong peppery taste and it was once considered a cure for warts and rashes. Its cylindrical stumpy leaves and patch-forming habit prevent loss of water vapour and the intricately designed star-shaped flowers really do deserve capturing, if only for their striking hue and otherworldliness.

Sea sandwort, viewed from above, creates eye-catching patterns. Photo: Serena ShoresSea sandwort, viewed from above, creates eye-catching patterns. Photo: Serena Shores

SHRUBBY SEA-BLITE: (Suaeda vera)

Walking the winding path from Blakeney Quay car park towards the pit, great metre-high bushes of this dense plant dominate the saltmarsh. Despite its abundance in this area, shrubby sea-blite is relatively rare. The flowers which occur between July and October are difficult to discern, but it brings an unexpected surprise during the winter months when the small, fleshy leaves seem to glow an attractive shade of burgundy. Although it happily tolerates a saline environment, the colonies are a good guide to the location of the extreme high water mark.

Sea sandwort in flower. Photo: Serena ShoresSea sandwort in flower. Photo: Serena Shores

SEA CAMPION: (Silene uniflora)

The masses of dainty white flowers can be found nestling in between the shingle on the bank perhaps the longest, as it is possible to observe them from March to October. Related to its inland cousins, the deceptively tender plant forms tight low-growing cushions to rebuff the wind and densely matted foliage to conserve moisture. Historically the compound saponin contained in its roots was used to make soap for washing clothes and hair. It was also considered good for treating snake bites.

SEA WORMWOOD: (Seriphidium maritimum)

The delicate fronds of sea wormwood. Photo: Serena ShoresThe delicate fronds of sea wormwood. Photo: Serena Shores

Otherwise known (a little disparagingly) as ‘Old Woman’, this woody grey herb, which prefers upper salt marshes where flooding is rare, has fine hairs on its grey-green leaves which give it a silvery haze when viewed from a distance. It produces tiny yellow/reddish flowers later in the summer and emanates a strong, not unpleasant, aroma when rubbed. Like its inland cousin which was used to flavour absinthe, the plant has many medicinal properties, although taken in any quantity it is poisonous.

SILVERWEED: (Potentilla anserina)

The underside of the leaves of this surface-spreading plant are covered with silvery hairs which contrast with the matt greyish-green upper-side, giving silverweed its name. It grows quite happily at height in sand and on the top of the shingle beach and surprises with slightly untidy-looking bright yellow flowers between May and August. Although not uncommon, in ancient times a tonic made from the whole plant was used from everything to gargle a sore throat, to stop the bleeding of piles!

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