Sunday, July 21, 2013

Salty tales

During a visit to Northumberland earlier this month we came across two interesting examples of wild flowers that occupy a very specialised habitat close to the edge of the sea.

This one is sea milwort Glaux maritima, growing along the upper edge of a small saltmarsh in Budle Bay, where it will occasionally be inundated with sea water during extreme high spring tides.

Those pink petals are not, strictly speaking, petals at all; the plant has no petals - these are substituted by bright pink sepals. 

Another unusual feature is that the flowers are pollinated by ants, like this one that ....

..... visited each flower in search of nectar while we watched.

The second of these specialised coastal wild flowers was sea rocket Cakile maritima, whose pale mauve flowers appear along the strand line on sandy shores.

Sea rocket produces inflated, spongy seed pods that are highly buoyant and can drift long distances on ocean currents before being cast up on the strand line. In 1965 a sea rocket species whose seed pod was carried by the waves was the first flowering plant to colonise the new volcanic island of Surtsey , which first appeared above the surface off the coast of Iceland in 1963.

Sea rocket is a member of the cabbage family, with flowers that are pollinated by bumblebees and butterflies. Green-veined white and small white butterfly caterpillars sometimes feed on its leaves.

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