F&F hunts wild flowers on Herm, an exquisite Channel Island.
It’s difficult to think of a part of the world that I love more than Herm, a tiny, peaceful island in the English Channel. This year I spent a week on holiday there, and one of the real treats was spending a morning doing a survey of the flora of the island.
Because Herm is only a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, it is very easy to get around and examine all of its flora. It does have a nice range of habitats where different types of wild flower flourish, and because it has been so protected by its owners over the years, those flowers flourish naturally and abundantly.
It is also a beautiful place.
To help my plant ID work, I used a small book called ‘Wild Flowers of the Bailiwick of Guernsey’ produced by La Société Guernesiaise. The book describes the island as a mixture of coast and common and cliffs – and there are some wooded areas too. Here’s what I found on my mid-summer survey.
Wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum). These lovely alliums were popping up everywhere around the island in mid-June. Very tall, and light purple-white, this plant is spreading on Herm now.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). We were a little late for the foxglove season, but a few dreaming spires remained. Jenny Wood, who owned the island with her husband from just after the Second World War until their deaths in the late 1990s, wrote in her book, Herm, Our Island Home about the foxgloves that sprung up all of a sudden when they cut our paths around the island for people to walk along. In peak season, there are thousands of them visible at any one time.
Wild carrot (Daucus carota). These umbellifers, growing to 50cm, cover the cliff edges and rocky outcrops in Herm, particularly around the South and Eastern sides.
Ivy broomrape (Orobanche hederae). This is the only broomrape that grows on Herm, and is shorter than the Greater Broomrape that grows on other islands. As you can see, the flowers have light purple veins. It is parasitic on ivy.
Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima). This is quite rare, and grows at the top of beaches. We found it on Fisherman’s Beach, which is close to the harbour.
Sea sandwort (Honkenya peploides). This is a funny succulent plant that creeps at the top of beaches. We found it growing close by to the Sea Rocket.
Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris). Reasonably common in the hedgerows bordering the island’s farmland.
Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum). This grew on almost every beach we visited, save Belvoir, which does not have any dunes. There is a particularly fine colony of sea holly mixed with sea bindweed that stretches almost the entire length of Shell Beach.
Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella). This flower has larger trumpets than the common garden bindweed, and prettier ones too. They are a rich pink with bold white stripes emanating in a star shape from the the white throat. It creeps through sand dunes, as pictured above.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olustratum). Very common in Herm, both in the hedgerows and the margins of the wooded areas. This plant has shiny green leaves and yellow-green flowers with shiny green seeds.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum). Some of the honeysuckles on Herm are this lovely cream-and-gold, while the others are the even lovelier pink-and-gold.
Wall Pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris). All over the wooded, walled and rocky bits of the island, this curious green-flowered plant with disc-shaped leaves growing to 30cm grows. It is particularly common under the trees in the wooded heart of the island.
Wild Thyme(Thymus praecox). This spreads in huge mats over the common on the North end of the island and smells beautiful. It really hugs the ground and is often found growing alongside lady’s bedstraw in a lovely mix of complimentary colours.
Frosted orache (Atriplex laciniata). This really does look like a common orache but with a white frosting on it. It grows alongside the Sea Rocket and Sea Sandwort at the top of the beach.
Gloddon (Iris foetidissima). Better known as the Stinking Iris. Lovely purple-brown veined flowers, common along the hedgerows of the island.
Slender thistle (Cardus tenuiflorus). Grows on the heath and in hedgerows.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). Only one specimen on this little shade-loving plant was visible during the survey: just off the path in the wooded heart of the island.
Common chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). The guide says this plant doesn’t grow on Herm, but as this was on the Western shore facing Guernsey, the chances are that a seed has either blown, been dropped by a bird, or been washed ashore.
Buck’s-horn plantain (Plantago coronopus). Common in the grassy areas.
Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum). This foamy yellow perennial wildflower spreads all over the common on the north shore.
Red campion (Silene dioica). This is abundant around the paths on the cliff edges.
Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). This is rampant around the Common.
Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia). The north Common, a magical place steeped in ancient history, is covered in these tiny little white roses and their hips. They can be as little as 5cm tall, though can reach 50cm.
Marram (Ammophila arenaria). The dunes above Shell Beach and Moussoniere Beach (the North shore) are covered in this creeping member o the grass family.
Portland spurge (Euphorbia portlandica). Grows on cliffs and common.
Sea radish (Raphus maritimus). Found on the dunes with Burnet rose.
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). A weed, seen here with a five-spot Burnet on it. These day-flying moths are common in Herm.
Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium). Seen here growing in the wooded area in the centre of the island.
Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). Spotted mostly at the edges of paths.
Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber). Particularly common in the walls around the ‘village’ in Herm, called Le Manoir.
Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare). This wild flower’s relative, the giant echium, seeds itself around the built-up areas on Herm (‘built-up’ on this island constitutes buildings that have been here for centuries around a castle keep, or the harbour village, which in total has about 15 buildings). But the Viper’s Bugloss is common around the common.
Haresfoot Clover (Trifolium arvense). A curious little plant with tufted seed heads. This is common to grassland, though most prevalent on the southern cliffs.
Sea campion (Silene maritima). This had finished flowering by the time we arrived. It is another plant that tends to populate the southern cliffs of the island.
Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo). Common, surprisingly enough, in hedges.
Kaffir fig (Carpobrotus edulis). Another southern cliff edge plant, particularly around the cliff ravine known rather alarmingly as ‘Barbara’s Leap’ (apparently Barbara leapt in the 1960s). This is not listed in the guide as growing in Herm, and I don’t remember it from my visits a decade ago, so it might be again that this has been transported from Guernsey, the only island in the Bailiwick where it grows, by a bird. Given the cliffs around this side of the island are a popular nesting site, this is quite plausible.
Common Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris). Only spotted in one location on the island, near a farm gate.
Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria). Not listed as a flower found on Herm, but there it was on our walk around the island, growing on a grassy bank above a cliff.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus). There are hundreds of different subspecies of blackberry in the UK, and the variety of flower colours on Herm shows that it has its own mix of subspecies too.
Hemlock (Oenanthe crocata). Reasonably common amongst the bracken that covers the island.
Buttercup (Ranunculus acris). Common around the meadows and hedge margins of the island.
Thrift (Armeria maritima). Very common around the south cliffs.
Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). This covers large areas of the island and is partly responsible for the special Herm smell that anyone who has ever visited makes slightly loopy comments about.
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris). Only spotted a couple of times at hedgerow edges.
Primroses (Primula vulgaris). Obviously not flowering at this point, and not prolific.
Creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans). Grows at the edge of the bracken where it meets the pathways.
Bird’s-eye speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys). Not particularly common, found at the edge of hedges and bracken.
Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non–scripta). Just the seedheads left from this spring display. Given the bracken may well have grown up over much larger colonies, it is difficult to say how common this plant is.
Pellitory (Parietaria judaica). Grows on banks, particularly those that have been carved out to form a path.
Sheeps-bit (Jasione montana). A much deeper, richer blue than a scabious, but quite similar from a distance. Mostly grows on the south side of the island.
Common cats-ear (Hypochaeris radicata). A common flower of grassland. Not prolific here.
With thanks to La Société Guernesiaise for its magnificent illustrated guide to such a beautiful island.