Wildflowers

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The 250 million year old lime-rich bedrock of the Durham Magnesian Limestone plateau (which runs from South Shields to Hartlepool) produces soils that support unique wildflower grassland and scrub habitats. Vegetated sea cliffs range from vertical cliffs with scattered vegetated ledges, to the Magnesian Limestone grassland slopes. Their diversity and ever changing state are recognised by the designation as a Special Area of Conservation.

Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium)

Common Rockrose (Helianthemum nummularium)

A low-growing, five petal, sunshine yellow flower that grows on sunny, dry chalk and limestone grassland. Although it has a similar flower-head to the Creeping Cinquefoil, the plant can be distinguished by a dark orange base on each petal and its lanceolate leaves that are white and woolly underneath. While this plant provides a good nectar source to many invertebrates, it is currently most important as a larval-food plant for the rare Durham Argus butterfly.

*Fun fact: Helianthemum, means ‘sunflower’. The bright yellow flowers of the Common Rock-rose only open in the sunshine and close at night.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to August
  • Height: Up to 40mm
  • Habitat: Restricted to Magnesian Limestone
  • Conservation status: Priority Species under the UK Biodiversity Framework.
Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Possibly one of the most flamboyant flowers found on our coastal grasslands, this small orchid mimics the female bee in looks and in velvety texture in order to trick male bees into a disappointing mating attempt that results in the flowers pollination. Here in the UK however, these orchids are self-pollinating as the bee species it has evolved to attract is not found in our parts.  The brown bee-resembling flower lip is framed by three large pink sepals that look like wings and two fuzzy green upper petals that resemble antennae.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to July
  • Height: 20 to 30cm
  • Habitat: Coastal and grassland
  • Conservation status: Green
Common spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Common spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

The UK’s most common orchid brightens up a wide range of habitats but is most often found on chalk and limestone grassland. The flowers are tightly packed in a cone shaped cluster and colours range from pale pink to pink purple with darker markings on the 3-lobed lower lip, while the leaves are covered in distinguishing dark spots.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: May to August
  • Height: 60cm
  • Habitat: Woodland, Grassland, Wetland, Chalk and Limestone downs.
  • Conservation status: Green
Pyrimidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

Pyrimidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

Named for the pyramid shape that the flower cluster takes on, these highly attractive wildflowers can range in colour from a deep magenta to a pure albino white, and the flower spike can hold up to 100 flowers. While this flower prefers to grow in chalk and limestone grasslands, it requires a particular soil fungus to be present in order for it to bloom. The flower cannot store enough food on its own and relies on a symbiotic relationship with the fungus which stores food for the orchid, while the orchid’s roots protect the fungus in return.

*Fun fact: the ground up tuber of this orchid produces a nutritious and sweet white powder that is used in breads, cereals and drinks.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to July
  • Height: Up to 55cm
  • Habitat: Chalk/limestone grassland, sand dunes, roadside verges and quarries.
  • Conservation status: Green
Common knapweed

Common knapweed

A favourite to many butterflies and moths, the bright pink-purple thistle-like ‘flowers’ of Common Knapweed are actually composite flower heads made up of many small ‘florets’ (tiny flowers), surrounded by a crown of long, ragged, pink bracts (leaf-like structures). It has deeply divided, oblong leaves.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to September
  • Height: Up to 1m
  • Habitat: Grasslands, road verges, woodlands, clifftops
  • Conservation status: Green

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