Eight beautiful wildflowers to look out for at Cothill Pitt
Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)
This attractive orchid has a flower which is pink and brown, mimicking the body parts of a female bee, in order to attract the males to bring about pollination. The bee which does this pollination is rare so the orchid has to resort to self-pollination, usually setting abundant seed. Bee orchids like highly alkaline warm soils. The dust-like seed has to land in a suitable area with the right pH and the right fungus species to help it germinate and grow. After four years underground as a type of tuber, living symbiotically with the fungus, the bee orchid plant can put up some green leaves and in another year, a flower spike. After flowering the plant usually dies and so it is that bee orchids appear to move about a site, never being seen in exactly the same place from year to year.
Grass vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)
The single carmine-pink miniature sweet pea flowers of this plant are startling in a green grassy sward. The leaves are so long that they are almost indistinguishable from the surrounding grass leaves so this plant really is only findable when in flower. It is an annual with pods like miniature pea pods. When these dry they explosively eject the seeds some distance away.
Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
The numerous sugar-pink pyramidal flower spikes of this orchid are one of the most attractive features in Cothill Pitt. It thrives in the hot, dry sandy soil with very sparse vegetation. This is a species that is increasing on verges in the county. Pollinated by butterflies and moths, it is said to exude a ‘foxy’ scent, especially at night.
Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
This tall perennial with lilac disc-shaped inflorescences of a mass of smaller flowers is not rare but is found fairly frequently on verges on limy or chalky soil in Oxon. High summer sees the attractive flowers in July-August. The sheer abundance of the flowers on site is quite a spectacle. It is a good nectar producer and thus an extremely valuable food source for butterflies, moths and other insects.
Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
The big purple daisy-like flowers of this tall perennial are visible in high summer in July and August. Not rare, it is found quite commonly on verges on limy or chalky soil. It is another important plant on this site because it supports invertebrates so well. The flowers are extremely good nectar producers and thus are a valuable food source supporting the populations of adult bees, flies and butterflies on site.
Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
This is recognised by the clusters of small yellow pea-type flowers in a fluffy white ball at the ends of the stems. This is not a rare plant in Oxon but it is very local and its importance here is because it is the food plant for the population of Small Blue Butterflies (Save Cothill Pitt logo) on site.
Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
In the high summer months of July and August the tall wild parsnip plants with their flat plates of small yellow flowers become obvious in several parts of the site. Like it’s relatives the wild carrot and hogweed, they are covered in feeding insects of all sorts demonstrates the importance.
Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare)
The attractive purple-blue flower spikes of this plant are noticeable from a distance in July. It is a species that very much likes the dry sandy limy soil locally. A common sight in the county it is an exceptionally good food source, providing nectar and pollen for all sorts of insects especially bees and butterflies. It cannot stand competition and most frequently germinates in the disturbed soil around rabbit diggings.
Flowers and plants at Cothill Pitt
Written 2014 by Dr Judith A Webb
The old quarry site of Cothill Pitt boasts a mosaic of habitats, making it a superb place to see a range of flower and plant species. These habitats include;
bare sandy soil, with occasional short annuals
dry sandy, limey short turf with a high proportion of creeping mat-forming plants
lichen/moss heath with very sparse short vascular plants
taller, biodiverse grassland with perennials such as common restharrow, greater knapweed and field scabious
taller 'rank' grassland of low diversity with few obvious ‘flowers’
scrub including blackberry/bramble patches
woodland - mature trees – some isolated specimens in the grassland, most in the fringing linear tree screen all around the site