THE summer sun brings out the sea-side flowers in profusion. The visitor will find the strange vegetation full of beauty. Many have a curious resemblance to the inland flowers, but the majority will be strangers to him. One could hardly fail to recognize the Sea-Kale (Crambe maritima) when it sends its white cross-shaped blossom to salute the sun of June, its large, curled, rich-coloured foliage varying from light purple to deep plum-colour, relieved occasionally by the most delicate sea-green hue. It is common in the west of England, and sometimes it is blanched in the sand and eaten.
The sea-side Bladder Campion (Silene maritima) will also be familiar, though its stalk is short, and the grey green leaves much smaller than its inland relative. The flower is of the old form, and springs from the swelled seed-cup, marked with purple streaks, which has given it its name. The flowers grow singly on the stem, and are frequent amongst the pebbles of many of our beaches. On the east coast, where the shore is somewhat muddy, the Teazle-headed Trefoil (Trifolium maritimum) will he found. Its small pale red flowers form a round teazle-like head. The Starry-headed Trefoil (Trifolium stellatum) is distinguished by the star-like flower of the calyx, when the small yellowish-grey flowers are departed. It is not unfrequent on the south coast. In the salt marsh the Tassel Grass (Ruppia maritima) may sometimes be found where the water forms a stagnant pool. It is hardly a flowering plant, but its greenish flowers appear above the surface, to ripen its pollen, about midsummer, after which its branched stem and thread-like leaves are again submerged.
The Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima), or, as it is sometimes called, Black Saltwort, grows in muddy places, some four inches high. Its pale pink flowers are dotted with black, and its leaves smooth and fleshy. The Sea-Sandwort (Arenaria maritima) is also common.
"Among the loose and arid sands The humble arenaria creeps; Slowly the purple star expands, But soon within the calyx sleeps."
The sea-sandwort, however, has pale lilac flowers, which grow plentifully on its slender creeping stems.
The leaves are cylindrical, and not much thicker than threads.
As the summer advances we shall find the large golden blossoms of the yellow-horned Sea-side Poppy (Glaucium luteum). The rough-waved sea-green leaves clasp the stem, which is much branched, and bears several flowers. The horn, as the seed-pod is called, is sometimes a foot long, and distinguishes the plant when its bright yellow crumpled petals and golden stamens have departed. The plant is acrid, and the stalk is full of yellow juice, which leaves a stain on the lingers.
The rose-coloured trumpet-shaped flowers of the Sea-Convolvulus (Calystegia soldanella) also claim our attention. Its kidney-shaped glossy leaves are often hidden by the pebbles of the beach. The seed-vessels, like those of the horned poppy, are large and conspicuous when the flowers have departed.
The edge of the cliff is frequently fringed by the sweet-scented Burnet Rose (Rosa spinosissima). Its cream-coloured flowers have the odour of raspberries. Its dark brown thickly-set prickles distinguish it from the other roses. It is not uncommon in wild heaths and moorlands, where it assumes a more branched and open habit of growth. I have found it in the very centre of England, and on the wildest portion of the south coast of Ireland.
Another cliff flower is the strongly-scented Nottingham Catchfly (Silene nutans). Its white flowers, jagged petals, and brown-streaked flower-cups, mark the plant. The flowers, however, do not open until evening. They grow in clusters on a stem about a foot high, not only on many parts of the coast, but about Nottingham : hence its name.
A little later and we may find the handsome Sea-Lavender (Statice limonium.) Its bluish-lilac flowers grow in branched tufts, or corymbs, and are nearly level at the head. Its long glossy leaves turn back at the point. The angular stem is frequently two feet high. Notwithstanding its similarity of appearance to the garden lavender, it is but "The sea-lavender 'which lacks perfume.'
The island of Steep Holmes, in the Bristol Channel, is the only known place where the Peony (Poeonia corallina) grows wild. Here, too, and in one or two other places, may be found the purplish-coloured blossoms of the Sea-Mallow (Lavatera arborea).
The red stems, pinkish flowers, and feathery pale green boughs of the Tamarisk (Tamarix Anglica) - the accursed tamarisk of the Romans - are also common on the cliffs in July. The pretty spikes of flowers are well known to sea-side strollers. It is an astringent plant, but is not supposed to be a native. The "huswives" of the coast frequently make besoms of its branching stems.
In describing the flowers of the mountain and moorland, I pointed out the thrift and saxifrage. On many sea-coasts they grow nearly down to the high-water mark. Near Bonmahon, County Waterford, London Pride, Thrift, and the Burnet Rose are very common on the cliffs.
Two plants frequently growing and blooming together are much alike. The Sea-Arrowgrass (Triglochin maritirnum) begins to bloom in May, and continues to bloom until August. Its thick fleshy leaves all grow from the root, and are rounded on one side. The spike of greenish flowers is from ten to twelve inches high. The Sea-Plantain (Plantago maritima) has a spike more like the common plantain: it is thicker and more cylindrical than that of the sea-arrowgrass. The leaves are long, slender, and channelled.
The Sea-Heath (Frankenia Ioevis) lies amongst the grass on the cliff-tops. Its fine and thin but rigid leaves and stem are very small; its rich-coloured flowers are bluish and sometimes of a pink hue. The petals have a long stalk, and the foliage is much darker than the grass amongst which it lies.
The Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - the common fennel, so common in our fishmongers' shops - grows wild at the sea-shore. Its thread-like foliage grows out of large sheaths, and its savoury odour is familiar to all those who have eaten fennel sauce with their mackerel. Its umbels of white flowers appear in July. A somewhat similar flowering plant is the Lovage (Ligusticum Scoticum), but its stem is no more than twelve inches high, and striated. The leaves are composed of numerous leaflets. It is commonly eaten in the north, and it is said to have some carminative virtues.
The Sea-Pea (Lathyrus maritimus) blooms in July. It is sufficiently like the sweet garden pea to remind us of that flower. Its purple tassels and green leaflets are not uncommon on some shores, trailing amongst the stones. There is a legend about this pea being sent in a time of famine to relieve the hunger of the people; but those who know its acrid qualities doubt if even hunger would render so bitter a dish palatable.
Seldom do we now meet with the pretty purple flower of the Stork's-bill (Erodium maritimum), or recognize its lobed ovate leaves on the sands; but the purple Sea-Rocket (Cakile maritima) is more common. Gerarde said it was a "good sallet berb," but its virtues and utility are not much thought of now. Its succulent, grey-green, deeply-cut leaves and spreading zigzag branches, support the tall cluster of purple flowers throughout the whole of the summer months.