Taking stock on the Brighton cliffs – new hopes?

Brighton & Hove cliffs are home to hoary stockMatthiola incana – a nationally scarce plant that likes warm south facing coasts. I love the fact that another common name for the plant is ‘hopes‘.

Whilst there is some debate about its ancestry – is it native, but what does that mean anyway? – it is listed in the citation for the Brighton to Newhaven Cliffs Site of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England listed this SSSI in 2014 as ‘unfavourable recovering’ – it’s of variable quality no doubt but the section I explored as far as Roedean from the marina was very eutrophic (thanks, dog owners) and devoid of much particular diversity on first glance…except for the very cliff edge where I spied a few small patches closer to chalk grassland and even a few lone orchids.

Hoary stock on the cliffs above Brighton Marina

Hoary stock on the cliffs above Brighton Marina – part of the Brighton to Newhaven Site of Special Scientific Interest

A run along there recently shows it in its purple and white forms – and even a combination variegated form I hadn’t seen before (just visible on the right hand side of this photo)!

It was good to see large hoary stock plants along parts of the Madeira Drive green wall as well – where it is one of 100 species that have been recorded in this historic green wall wildlife site.

IMG_1523

Hoary stock at Madeira Drive green wall, Brighton

Richard Mabey, in his Flora Britannica, says hoary stock:

…is possibly a rare native of the southern chalk cliffs, now probably confined to Sussex and Isle of Wight, and is the parent of the garden stocks. In the wild it has short sprays of large, deep violet flowers [or white, or a combination!] with a clove-like fragrance, which produce seed-pods often more than four inches long. It was developed into the strain of ‘Brompton stocks’ in the eighteenth century at the Brompton Road nursery in London”.

By the way, it especially smells of cloves at night – but be careful on the cliff tops if you’re going to take a sniff! Other names it is known by include:

Brompton Stock
cluster-leaved stock
common stock
gilliflower
hopes
queen’s stock
wallflower stock.