From: Michael Woodhouse, Oakfield Road, Hastings
The interesting photograph by Bob Beaney (Observer, September 7) of blackthorn and alexanders, two principal plants of the Old Town, reminded me of the newly published Flora of Sussex book which I had just been studying.
I couldn’t put it down, once I had managed to pick it up as it is huge!
Here too, there were photographs of plants in their environment, rather than isolated on the pages of a conventional flower guide, essential and often excellent though these are. For instance the shingly desert dotted with seakale (Pett Level) and mousetail (farm gateways, Crowhurst).
Flora of Sussex is available for reference at the library and the Visitor Centre at the Country Park. Maps show locations, frequency, and a marked decline in native species since the Sussex Plant Atlas (1980).
No one has found the distinctive heath cudweed or wood horsetail anywhere near here recently (woodland paths, formerly Brede and Cripps Corner). Over half of the species recorded nowadays are introduced. The Flora is a grand mix including garden-escapes (Winter Heliotrope, North Trade Road) and plants arising from seed fallen from trucks (oilseed rape, Silverhill lights and the birdseed plant, rough bristle grass, Halton lights – this one can pull threads from the hem of your skirt).
I was amused at the glorious mix of Latin and commercial names: Pleioblastus, Hemerocallis, Sweet Sultan, Baby Blue Eyes, while old English names retain their charm (Toothwart, Old Roar Ghyll, Coral Root, Church wood – a beautiful Hastings plant).
Things have changed very much since Marianne North pioneered plant illustration and introduced exotic plants. The introductions have created problems and a fascinating complexity. The Flora makes it clear that neglect – including uncut verges – will not help to preserve species.
Subtle maintenance – as at Church-in-the-Wood and Bexhill cemetery – can reproduce a meadow something like the 1930s.
There is something for everyone in this voluntary effort from many specialisms.
The plant descriptions offer delightful, unexpected information: their special requirements and nature, their history and former medical uses.
Perhaps this flora will re-educate us in knowledge and identification, and in the obvious love of plants that Marianne North had.
They are often needlessly destroyed. Gardeners in particular, like myself, can develop a sort of hatred of plant life through being so occupied with killing weeds. We are all utterly dependent on plants every day of our lives.