If you stop to get an ice cream by Bonningstedt Promenade on the Seafront, take a few minutes to sit at one of the benches to the east of the ice cream van. If you are lucky and look down carefully at the shingle in front of you, you may spot one of Seaford’s star plants.
The Sea Heath (Frankenia laevis) is a tiny but beautifully formed, nationally scarce wild flower, that only grows in a few locations – normally in salt, mud, sand or shingle. On our the beach it appears to cling right to the shingle, expanding out in quite large mats all the way along the length of the beach parallel to the Salts.
Some patches are actually found under the seafront benches! The Sea Heath has a delicate pastel pink flower with five petals, and waxy succulent leaves with tiny spikes that can be seen with a magnifying device.
In some places such as Rottingdean, the Sea Heath is thought to be a garden escape, but there are older records in Seaford, that suggest it may actually be native here. (*)
Another Sussex plant that you might spot along the seafront – again not in a proper verge but this time sneaking up from the dirt between the pavement edges and warmer sea facing garden walls – is Sea Lavender. There are a number of species of Sea Lavender, though none are that common. The one we spotted is Rottingdean Sea-lavender (Limonium hyblaeum).
It is thought that this plant was first grown in the garden of the White Horse Hotel, where it has escaped and is frequently found on chalk cliffs from Brighton through to Peacehaven, on shingle at Newhaven and now in many urban habitats in Seaford (*)! A quite delightful and very resilient plant.
Less rare, but still beautiful is Armeria Maritima, also known as Thrift, or Sea Pinks, which were delightfully abundant this year, on the cliffs above Splash Point.
Many thanks to the “On the Verge” Botany help group for assistance with this blog! If you would like to get involved with our botany group, to help with surveys and wild flower identification, do get in touch.
* from “The Flora of Sussex”, Sussex Botanical Recording Society