The violets (probably Viola reichenbachiana) are taking advantage of the mild winter (so far!) this year and are flowering in mid-December. A large clump is to be found in the Sparrowhawk Woods at the western end of the ‘top’ level of the Reserve, which is in the process of being ‘thinned out’ to try and remove scrub, bramble and ivy as well as dead trees and reduce the number of self-seeded saplings.
Many Viola species contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. Fourteen anthocyanins have been identified and some show strong antioxidant activities. Violets are also used as a source for scents in the perfume industry. This is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as the fragrance comes and goes. Ionone is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability of humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time!
Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) is still to be spotted (sic) flowering in the chalk grassland of the lower level of the Reserve, although most has now gone following strimming of the scrub in the part of the area.
Spotted Knapweed is considered an invasive species in the Western USA, Canada and Eastern Europe. It produces a chemical called catechin that can cause allergies with prolonged contact, but when released from the roots can inhibit the growth of surrounding plants. It is not eaten by animals and in fact could be toxic.
Apple (Malus domestica var.)
This apple tree is currently a prominent feature on the main path through the lower part of the Reserve. We are currently trying to identify the variety as it is not a common English type. Almost certainly the result of a visitor’s discarded core, or dropped by a passing bird, this is obviously more of a ‘garden escapee’ than a standard inhabitant of a chalk grassland. Nevertheless it seems happy enough and has produced a good crop of clean fruit this year.
Hawthorn is an attractive shrub that grows expensively in the reserve and is very common on roadsides throughout Kent. it is also known as May, since its white flowers with prominent yellow centres are a feature of that month. These flowers produce bright red berries, known as haws, in the early autumn that are a favourite of many hedgerow and woodland birds.
Hawthorn is finding increasing use in medicine, particularly for diseases of the heart including chest pain and irregular heartbeat. It is also used for to control both high and low blood pressure, artherosclerosis and high cholesterol. The young leaves, flower buds and young flowers are all edible. The berries can be used to make jellies, wines and ketchups. Although they can be eaten raw, they may cause mild stomach upset.
The Carline Thistle, Carlina vulgaris, also known as Silver Thistle, is a prominent species growing on the dry, chalk grassland in August. It grows to about .3m in height and has quite sharp, spiny leaves. In an open, grazed, habitat it would typically be left untouched by sheep because of this. It looks like either a dead daisy or thistle head, but is actually in full flower and is the only member of the genus Carlina in the UK. It is a biennial, meaning the plant develops during its first year and flowers in its second, so does not become very woody and re-seeds. However the flower heads are quite tough and often survive through a second winter.
The Carline Thistle is a nectar source for a wide variety of butterflies including the Brimstone, Chalkhill Blue, Gatekeeper, Marbled White, Silver-spotted Skipper, Dark Green Fritillary and the once extinct, but recently reintroduced, Large Blue. Several of these can be found on the Monkton Reserve.