Scientific Illustrator out & about: Pembrokeshire coast plants 11th July 2014

Story posted: Friday, 11. July 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Natural history illustrators get to go on holiday too, and often this is where they find their inspiration.  It's certainly true for me, who was treated to a glorious weekend of walking along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, on the SW coast of Wales, recently.

We walked, in the sun and breeze, from Manorbier to Barafundle beach.  This stretch is not only gorgeous, taking in empty golden beaches and vertiginous cliffs; but also varied.  One half sees the coastal path weaving over sandstone and dunes; the second half it meanders amongst the limestome clifftops.  Thus, there are at least two totally different habitats and associated plant species.

In the sandstone there were the remnants of bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), tall sorrel (Rumex acetosa), gorse with golden flowers smelling of coconut (Ulex europaeus), and bell heather (Erica cinerea).  Tiny flashes of blue came from the milkworts (Polygala), and clumps of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) stood purple against the sea and the bracken, each with a few bumble bees popping in and out of the tubular flowers. We found some beautiful pink seaside centaury (Centaurium littorale).

Lizzie Harper botanical illustration of seaside centuray

Seaside centaury (Centaurium littorale)

Red ant hills were often topped with clusters of white saxifrage, with Greater knapweed behind (Centaurea scabiosa).  Lots of gorgeous Yorkshire fog grass (Holcus mollis), amongst others, and in the little streams winding to the sea were yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus), water mint (Mentha aquatica), and clouds of umbelliferae.

We passed an area of dunes where six-spot burnet moths fluttered up (Zygaena filipendulae), flashing their scarlet and black wings; and the ground was covered in pale yellow Burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia) and musk storksbill (Erodium moschatum), bound round with the shell-pink blooms of the Sea bindweed (Calystegia soldanella).  I made a mental note to study and illustrate the rose and storkbill soon.

In profusion were the aptly named pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of pyramidal orchid

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

Amongst, I found a plant which was new to me.  It looked parasitic, as it wasn’t green and photosynthesising.  My trusty Collins Flower Guide helped me i.d. the Ivy broomrape (Orobanche hederae). I shall make a full illustration and study of it soon; it parasitizes ivy on coastal dunes, hence the lack of chlorophyll.  (Yet another amazing parasite; it would certainly qualify for inclusion in my blog on parasites a few weeks ago...)


Photo of ivy broomrape by lizzie harper

Ivy broomrape (Orobanche hederae)

Suddenly, the path crosses to limestone and everything is different.  The grass on the towering grey cliffs is cropped, with daisies spangling the turf and buttercups filling every hollow.  The cliff tops are frosted pink with thrift (Armeria maritime), and the limestone is garlanded a glowing gold from the lichen.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of oystercatcher

This is a private comission I did of oystercatchers on the cliff-tops in Pembrokeshire; and shows a limestone habitat.  Although the plant species are representative, including thrift, milkweed, birds-foof trefoil, squill, and daisies; a commoner bird would have been a razorbill, a chough, or perhaps a puffin.

All over the cliffs sorrel (Rumex acetosa)  grows, and its tiny red flowers made the grass seem scarlet. Amongst this profusion, tall and erect, stand clumps of Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare).  The blue of these petals is probably my favourite colour on earth.

Lizzie Harper botanical illustration of vipers bugloss

Vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare)

It also happens to be one of the flowers I painted for the aforementioned Collins flower guide, so it’s good to see I got it right!

Throughout, the cliffs are starred with the deep yellow of birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), which in turn ensures a good supply of blue butterflies flitting through the summery coastal sky.

Lizzie Harper botanical illustration of birds foot trefoil

Birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Lizzie Harper view of Pembrokeshire coastline

Cliffs covered with thrift, near Freshwater east beach, Pembrokeshire

Next weeks blog will consider some of the amazing insects and other animals we saw.  It’s not called “The Butterfly Coast” for nothing!


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