IN many a sheltered nook and cranny the spring wild flower will be found in bloom. Others will be found braving the bold sea wind, where "the murmuring surge On the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes," or flaunt their beauties on the dizzy cliffs. Many of the types of our garden vegetables are natives of the sea-shore, and amongst the earliest wild flowers in bloom are the yellow cross-shaped flowers of the Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), which stud the cliffs with their thick large lobed leaves, which though of a pale glaucous green now, in autumn turn to a brimstone or purple hue. As late as September some of the flowers will be found lingering on the tall stem. The leaves, though undoubtedly the parent of our garden variety, are bitter. The cultivated cabbage was introduced by the Romans, and the plant is remarkable for the number of variations it assumes under cultivation; and in thus it almost stands alone in the vegetable kingdom.
Sometimes we may find the Hoary Shrubby Stock of the sea-side (Matthiola incana), with its pale purplish flowers and white woolly leaves. It is not common even on the south coast, where it has made its home. It is the original of the Brompton stock. On the Welsh coast may be found the Great Sea-Stock (Matthiola sinuata), whose purple blossoms smell fragrantly in the evening. The "Wallflower, "sweet flower of the solitary place," is far more common on the cliffs of England.
The Sea-Buckthorn, or Sallow Thorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), grows on the sandy shore and occasionally on the cliffs. It is one of the few bushy shrubs of the shore. It has numerous branches, each terminating in a thorn. The narrow leaves have a peculiar leaden green above, and are silvery and scaly beneath. The greenish flowers appear in May, and in autumn are succeeded by numerous yellow acid berries, which are not only wholesome, but in some districts are made into an agreeable fish sauce.
The Common Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia officinalis) shows its white cross-shaped blossoms in the late spring. The succulent, thick, egg-shaped leaves are sometimes used in salads, and had for many years a high reputation as an antiscorbutic. The Horse Radish (Coch-learia armoracia) is another species of scurvy grass; but the appearance of the plants is very different.
The once favourite pot-herb Alisander or Alexander (Smyrnium olustratum) flowers in May, but its dark green leaves, not much unlike celery, appear earlier in the year. It was formerly cultivated, and is frequently found near the neglected gardens of old castles and ruined abbeys; but it loves the salt air. It is an umbelliferous plaut, and the flowers are greenish-yellow. The leaves grow out of a swollen sheath.
Another May flower, the Sea-Gromwell (Mertensia maritima), is not so common, being chiefly confined to the Scotch and Welsh coasts, where it blooms among the pebbles on the beach. It may be known by the delicate green tint of both stems and leaves, which are covered with a mealy bloom. The flowers are of a rich purple hue, with yellow dots inside. As the foliage withers and the bloom is rubbed off, rough callous points are seen upon the surface, which become stony or ivory-like in drying, when the rest of the plant is black. The flavour of the plant is thought to resemble that of oysters. The floral beauty of the sea-shore belongs rather to summer than the spring.