Shingle Ridge Flowers
An iconic plant of the shingle ridge is theYellow Horned-poppy (Glaucium flavum). Like the shingle ridge, it is a plant of contrasts. Delicate silky petals on the one hand, but thick succulent leaves, covered in protective hairs, on the other. The bright yellow petals signal a source of nectar to bees in summer. The grey-green leaves indicate a tough waxy covering which sees the plant through the winter as a neat rosette, keeping a low-profile amongst the stones.
Research has shown that the plant thrives on moving stones. Where storms and high seas dramatically shift huge quantities of shingle, Yellow Horned-poppy multiplies. How does it do this? The seed pod is one of the longest of any plant in the UK. Take a close look in late summer, when the pods have burst open and you may still see the remains of hundreds of tiny seeds, some of which have been flung across the shingle and then dispersed by constantly shifting stones.
Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) has taken seed production one step further. Its seeds are double-wrapped. A papery covering surrounds the back of the flower and then the developing seed capsule, making it more difficult for insects to penetrate. This way, insects in search of the rich source of nectar at the base of the flowers have to brush past the anthers, collecting pollen on their way. This creates the best chance for pollen to be transferred from one plant to another - the optimum opportunity for seed production.
Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) forms a low-growing mat which spread out like a carpet from the tiny central plant. Almost unnoticeable as a green carpet, it springs into colour in early summer, when its oranges, reds and yellows give rise to the nick-name "Eggs and Bacon". The "bird's-foot" in the common name refers to seed pods which are thought to be shaped like a bird's foot.
Brightly-coloured flowers are usually a mechanism for attracting insects, looking for food. Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) has been a source of food over the years for both humans and insects. Grown in Slapton village gardens as a vegetable, the plant is also at home in large isolated pioneering clumps at the top of the beach. It dies down in winter, then re-emerges in spring as a deep-purple rosette of leaves, which gradually turn to grey-green.
Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare)is noticeable for its spikey height and, from May onwards, its entrancing pink-to-indigo-blue flowers. The plant has evolved another survival strategy - it has very long roots, which delve deeply down amongst the shingle to find moisture and sustenance. In times past, specific plant characteristics were thought of as "doctrines of signature". From ancient times to the 17th century, herbalists thought of Viper's Bugloss as both a preventative and a cure against snake bites. The speckled stem was thought to resemble a serpent's skin and the mature seed-head to resemble a snake's head.
For the 21st century observer, the plant is covered with tiny protective hairs - regulating heat and preventing water loss - and its flowers emerge successively, maturing over a long period. Some may fail if conditions are particularly harsh, but some will emerge just when conditions are right.