There Are Some Gorgeous Beauties Basking On Sidmouth’s Beach Everyday,  And They Don’t Mind If You Just Stand And Stare At Them Because They Are Flowers, Yellow Horned-Poppies.

We are lucky enough to have an area of our beach set aside for nature, rare and endangered species that can make a life in the harsh conditions.  There is plenty of room for holiday makers on the beach and the plants are on a part where people wouldn’t sit anyway.

Among the seaside specialist plants one stands out at this time of the year, the beautiful Yellow Horned-poppy, Glaucium flavum.  As with many common names, this one does what it says on the tin, it is a stunning yellow poppy and the elongated seed pods look like horns.  The scientific name Glaucium means waxy grey-green, referring to the leaf colour, and flavum is yellow.

Life on the beach is tough for plants, lack of fresh water, no proper soil around the roots and harsh burning sun, although that last one has been in short supply so far this year.  Plants that have adapted to thrive under these conditions have many tricks to survive.  The colour of the grey-green leaves is caused by a coating of tiny wax scales that prevent the plant losing too much precious water through transpiration, and there is a long tap root to find fresh water deep in the shingle.

The Yellow Horned-poppy is a biennial, it has a two year life cycle.  In the first year the plant is a flat rosette of feathery leaves keeping their head down while they establish the deep roots.  In the second year the plant grows erect to give its beautiful flowers a good chance of being pollinated.  They are a great favourite of Bumblebees which can often be seen feeding on them.  Then the remarkable seed pods develop as twisting and writhing horns up to 30cm (about a foot) long.

Poppies as a family are known to contain dangerous chemicals, presumably a defence against being eaten.  The Yellow Horned-poppy has a foul smelling orange sap if you break the stem and the whole plant is toxic.

Although the tall Tree Mallows with their deep purple trumpet flowers and the electric blue of the Viper’s Bugloss might also stand as garden flowers, most of the plants on the beach are not as visually pleasing as the poppies but that doesn’t make them less important.  Nature is an interconnected network that we understand only partially.  It is helpful if people value biodiversity for its visual beauty but we need to value it for its importance in supporting our existence in ways we have yet to discover.

As with all plant collections, the beach garden needs gardeners if the valued plants are not to be swamped by the weeds, yes wild flowers are weeds if they are growing where they are not wanted.  There is a small group of local volunteers who devote some time to tending the beach garden, the next session is 10-12 on Saturday 22nd June if you want to come along and help or just talk to people about the garden and admire the plants.

Ed Dolphin

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