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Goldilocks Aster Aster linosyris - Least concern and nationally rare

Found on coastal slopes and cliffs, Goldilocks Aster is an attractive perennial herb which favours short open turf. Berry Head is one of only six sites in Britain for this flower. It is the food plant for another Devon Special Species, the micromoth Coleophora linosyridella which is only known from Berry Head and the Thames Estuary. Goldilocks Aster is under threat at Berry Head from the conflicting pressures of scrub (blackthorn) invasion in places, and intense sheep grazing in others. Although the plant remains locally frequent, in places there may have been no seedling recruitment for decades, even a century. Carefully planned management is required to ensure the long-term survival of this flower.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Natural England
Lundy Cabbage Coincya wrightii - Vulnerable and nationally rare

This plant is endemic to British Isles, existing nowhere else in the world. It is found only on the slate and granite cliffs of the south-east side of Lundy island. The cabbage is the only food plant for another Devon Special Species, the Lundy cabbage flea beetle Psylliodes luridipennis, which is also endemic to the island, as well as for the Lundy cabbage weevil Ceutorhynchus insularis. Its preferred habitat is bare ground on cliffs or where landslips have occurred. Lundy Cabbage is threatened by grazing (rabbits and possibly goats, sheep and deer), tourist pressure (e.g. from trampling and erosion), and by invasive rhododendron. In 1994 a detailed monitoring programme was established by Leeds University and English Nature, working with the National Trust and Landmark Trust: it is not clear whether this continues to this day. Recent clearance of rhododendron has resulted in an increase in numbers, with over 50,000 plants in 2018. However, the plant typically fluctuates greatly in abundance from year to year.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Strapwort Corrigiola litoralis - Critically endangered and nationally rare

This low-growing annual is now only found growing naturally in the UK only around the margins of Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve in South Devon. It is threatened by the ongoing loss of seasonally inundated, open, muddy shingle due to invasion by other plants including reed and willow scrub, reflecting the loss of cattle grazing after WWII. Now it can only be found reliably at one or two locations at the northern end of the Ley. The Whitley Wildlife Trust (WWCT) and Natural England initiated a species recovery programme for Strapwort in 1996. Seed was collected and a population was established at Paignton Zoo. Propagated plants have been successfully translocated to additional sites around the Ley, but the continued existence of the plant remains perilous, not least because it would not survive the saline conditions that would result from the shingle bar which separates the freshwater Ley from the sea being breached.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Field Eryngo Eryngium campestre - Critically endangered and nationally rare

South Devon, with 6 sites, has most of British population of this thistle-like plant, although it is common across Channel. It's a perennial found on coastal cliffs and slopes, and dry, open calcaerous grasslands near the coast. Three of its sites, Western King and Billacombe in Plymouth and Scabbacombe near Brixham, have been designated as SSSIs for the plant. The Plymouth populations appear stable at present, but its status at other sites is currently unclear.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Cornish (Vigurs') Eyebright Euphrasia vigursii - Vulnerable and nationally rare

This small flower is endemic to Devon and Cornwall, being found nowhere else in the world. It is an annual of lightly grazed lowland heathland containing western gorse and bristle bent grass. Populations occur on Dartmoor, in particular on the south-western fringes. Here it is thought to be hemi-parasitic on western gorse. Any decline in grazing may put the plant at risk. It has recently been re-found on Roborough Down, but at its former best site, High Down near Lydford, where there were 21,000 plants in 2002, few plants have been found recently, probably because gorse has increased too much. It continues to be present on Fernworthy Down in small numbers but has not been seen on Vale Down, Lydford, since grazing temporarily ceased during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. Dartmoor National Park Authority has had an action plan for the species.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Werner Witte
White rock-rose Helianthemum apenninum - Vulnerable and nationally rare

This attractive flower is found in Britain only on dry, open, south-facing limestone grasslands in Somerset (Brean Down) and in Devon (Torbay). Berry Head, the southern-most promontory of Torbay, holds one of the larger British colonies: here it is stable. More at risk are the populations on the smaller sites that make up the northern Torbay limestones: here that on the southern unquarried slope of Wall’s Hill must be considered the strongest. On the southern slopes of the flagpole hill at the north-eastern end of Daddyhole Plain, Plantlife and the Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust managed to encourage significant regeneration from buried seed following clearance of gorse. In total about ten separate sub-populations are currently known along the northern Torbay limestone shores, from the 1km of coastline running immediately east of Peaked Tor Cove round to just north of Daddyhole Plain and from the 400 metre stretch along the southern and, more rarely, eastern sides of Wall’s Hill. The flower is vulnerable to overgrowth of scrub and to any decline in rabbit grazing.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


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Toad-flax leaved St John’s-wort Hypericum linariifolium - Near threatened and nationally rare

This perennial plant now survives only in East Cornwall, South Devon and Caernarvonshire. In Devon its strongholds are on the edge of Dartmoor, in the Teign and Dart valleys, and on cliffs near Dartmouth. It occurs mainly on rocky outcrops in wooded valleys where it is threatened by the loss of bare ground and by scrub overgrowth. The plant seems still to be present in most of its known locations. Active management is necessary at many sites to maintain favourable conditions for the flower: the last review of site conditions and population strength was carried out in the mid-1990s. Further survey work is required now to establish the true extent of populations.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters

Wavy St Johns-wort Hypericum undulatum - Least concern and nationally rare


The main UK stronghold for this attractive flower is on the Culm Measures in north-west Devon, but it also occurs in Cornwall and in south-west Wales. A perennial herb, it grows in wet acidic grasslands and fen meadows. Sites have been lost in the past through agricultural intensification or through scrub invasion reflecting a lack of grazing. The population in Devon is currently likely to be stable or increasing - it is a species that will have benefited from several decades of work to save and conserve Culm Grasslands spearheaded by the Devon Wildlife Trust.
Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Rock Sea Lavender species Limonium binervosum agg. - Nationally scarce

An aggregate of three species, L. binervosum, L. procerum and L. britannicum, all of which are nationally very rare and endemic to the British Isles: some subspecies are endemic to the Devon coast. They are coastal plants of rocks and head deposits, but are occasionally also found on shingle, pebble beaches and upper saltmarsh. The subspecies which are found only in Devon occur on coastal rocks and head deposits along the south coast. Devon populations are probably stable, although very small on some sites.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Heath Lobelia Lobelia urens - Vulnerable and nationally rare

A perennial herb of wet, acidic, grassland, this flower is now known from only six sites in British Isles, all in southern England. The population in Andrew's Wood in south Devon, a Devon Wildlife Trust reserve, is the largest. Here numbers fluctuate greatly from year to year. When numbers start to dip, the Trust does more mechanical vegetation clearance to create the bare ground that the plant requires for seed germination. The warming climate may favour competitor species like rushes and purple moorgrass and be detrimental to the lobelia. There is a small remnant population near Shute in East Devon - the current status of this is currently unclear.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by Nicola Prisco
Sea Stock Matthiola sinuata - Vulnerable and nationally rare

Formerly known from several coastal areas in western Britain, from the Isles of Scilly to Anglesey, there are recent Great Britain records for this attractive plant of sand dune systems only from northern Devon (Braunton Burrows, Northam Burrows and Instow) and from Glamorgan. At Braunton Burrows the plant has increased as a result of dune vegetation clearance, and will doubtless benefit from further, much larger scale work under the Dynamic Dunescapes project, planned to start in autumn 2020, led by Plantlife working together with the Christie Estate. This will see the vegetation removed from about 22 hectares of wet slack and associated dry dunes, and from a further 10 hectares of dry foredune, all to encourage natural mobilisation of the duneland landscape, for the benefit plants like Sea Stock.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Bastard Balm Melittis melissophyllum - Vulnerable and nationally scarce

In the British Isles this perennial plant of woodland edge, open woodland, hedge bank, roadside and sheltered sea cliff is largely restricted to Devon and East Cornwall: elsewhere it is declining. The plant responds well to regular cutting of ground vegetation and to the coppicing of overhanging trees, to remove dense shade. Overall, it is probably holding its own in the core area of South Devon and the fringes of Dartmoor, but populations are often small and sporadic. In north Devon it is associated mainly with coastal woods and the Taw and Torridge valleys. A survey was carried out in 2010. Over the last 30 years it has been seen in 72% of the tetrads where it has ever been recorded in Devon, and in some new ones. Along with shade cast by overhead trees, eutrophication (artificial nutrient enrichment) along Devon lanes is a threat, leading to increased competition from other plants.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Plymouth Pear Pyrus cordata - Vulnerable and nationally rare

This tree is known naturally from only two places in the British Isles - Plymouth and near Truro, with a total of just 600-700 individuals. The two native Plymouth sites, together notified as an SSSI, occur on or immediately around the former Buckland Common, an expansive area that formerly linked to Roborough Down but was subsequently lost to airport and other development. Both sites are hedge remnants and the trees are growing in amongst other species. Natural England intends to assess site condition in 2020, and a workshop for stakeholders is planned this year too, to review the condition of the trees and sites, and to decide whether further conservation action is necessary. Although given special protection under law, the tree is at risk from unauthorised felling, as happened in 2012 when a large specimen was unlawfully felled. The tree has been propagated, and specimens introduced to a few sites within Plymouth and in Cornwall.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Sand Crocus Romulea columnae - Vulnerable and nationally rare

In the British Isles, this tiny crocus is only known from Dawlish Warren in Devon and from a site in Cornwall: it is also found in the Channel Islands. The Dawlish Warren colony is far larger than the Cornish one. At Dawlish Warren, a National Nature Reserve, the plant occurs in dry short sandy turf. The area occupied by the crocus has recently expanded on land managed by Teignbridge District Council and the plant is also doing well on the adjacent golf course which forms part of a Devon Wildlife Trust reserve. Sea level rise, leading to habitat loss through erosion, is a threat.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


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Triangular Club-rush Schoenoplectus triqueter - Critically endangered and nationally rare

The only known British site for this club-rush is on the muddy banks of a tidal stretch of the river Tamar. The plant was last seen on the Cornish side in 1958 and finally disappeared from the Devon side by 2010. However, in 1997/8 and again in 2010 it was re-introduced into sites on both banks, with seed taken from Tamar populations. By 2013 plants were still present at all sites - no more recent information is available. The club-rush is thought to have been lost because it was out-competed by expanding reedbeds, perhaps resulting from raised nutrient levels in the river.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


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Round-headed Club-rush Scirpoides holoschoenus - Endangered and nationally rare

In the British Isles, native populations of this club-rush occur only at Braunton Burrows in North Devon and at Berrow Dunes in North Somerset. Braunton Burrows, a major sand dune system, is the national stronghold. Here the population is considered stable and has benefited from recent scrub and other vegetation removal. It will doubtless benefit from further, much larger scale, work under the Dynamic Dunescapes project, planned to start in autumn 2020, led by Plantlife working together with the Christie Estate. This will see 22 hectares of wet slack and associated dry dunes devegetated, and about 10 hectares of dry foredune devegetated and notched (to encourage natural mobilisation of the duneland landscape). The plant does, however, remain under some threat from heavy grazing by cattle and this will need careful monitoring.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


Image above by John Walters
Devon Whitebeam (and allied species) Sorbus devoniensis - Devon whitebeam is Nationally Scarce, most of the allied species are Nationally Rare

Devon Whitebeam is endemic to the British Isles, being found nowhere else in the world. The tree is largely restricted to Devon (especially north Devon) and to a small area of south-east Ireland. In Devon most trees occur in hedges, although some grow open woodland. The species is representative of a suite of other rare or scarce whitebeams restricted wholly or mainly to Devon, including English Whitebeam Sorbus anglica, Grey-leaved Whitebeam Sorbus porrigentiformis, Rock Whitebeam Sorbus rupicola, Bloody Whitebeam Sorbus vexans, Slender Whitebeam Sorbus subcuneata, Watersmeeet Whitebeam Sorbus admonitor and Margeret's Whitebeam Sorbus margaretae. The county population of Devon Whitebeam appears stable, with new sites being found every year. Natural regeneration was noted under two trees on Roborough Common in 2018. Populations of allied species are probably stable too, although some of these are very small.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species


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Water Germander Teucrium scordium - Endangered and nationally rare

This very rare perennial is now known only from two places in Britain: a site in Cambridgeshire and Braunton Burrows in Devon. It is also found in western Ireland. Braunton Burrows has by far the largest population in Britain. Here numbers have declined from 36,000 about 20 years ago to a few thousand in 2019, but there has been a small resurgence in numbers following vegetation clearance and fencing off a small pool to prevent excessive cattle trampling, carried out by Plantlife and the Christie Estate. The plant used to occur at Northam Burrows on the other side of the mouth of the Taw-Torridge estuary from Braunton Burrows. Here the population numbered about 10,000 shoots in c. 2000, confined to just a single slack: by 2011 this had reduced massively to just nine shoots, and no plants were seen in the following three seasons. Following very tight strimming four small shoots appeared in 2014 but is thought the plant is now extinct at Northam Burrows. Water Germander is at particular risk from dry summers, when a falling water table results in the slacks (wet dune hollows) where the plant occurs becoming dry for lengthy periods: it is at risk from climate change. The Dynamic Dunescapes project, planned to start in autumn 2020, led by Plantlife working together with the Christie Estate, will include scraping or lowering eight to ten slacks at Braunton Burrows where Water Germander occurs, to create favourable conditions for the plant and to reduce the likelihood of the slacks drying out.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species

Further sources of information:

Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI)

Devon Botany