The Grom valley and Friezland wood

Yesterday was my first chance to get along to a field meeting of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, which also happened to be a joint meeting with the Kent Botanical Recording Group. Consequently, it was quite a large group (there were 20 of us) which certainly increased the risk of losing people on the way.

Led by Helen Proctor and Geoffrey Kitchener, we met on the fringes of Tunbridge Wells and our route took us along both sides of the Grom, which is the boundary between East Sussex (vice-county 14) and West Kent (vice-county 16). This certainly resulted in our finding a species on one bank of the river, and then having to carefully check on the other side in case it could be claimed for the other area too!

Once we were in the woods the first attraction was a patch of Tuberous Comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum) by a stream. It is one of Britain’s two native comfreys, with its pale yellow flowers, long pointed sepal-teeth and its upper stem leaves running a little way down the stem.

Picture of Tuberous Comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum)

Tuberous Comfrey (Symphytum tuberosum)

A quick diversion across the river enabled us to see the large colonies of the scarce Coralroot (Cardamine bulbifera) on the shady bank by the road. Its known populations are mostly in Kent, Sussex and Buckinghamshire, as well as other parts of the south east. There are fewer than about 200 sites where it occurs in the country. It is also interesting in that it mostly propagates by axillary bulbils, which were readily observable.[1]

Picture of Coralroot (Cardamine bulbifera)

Coralroot (Cardamine bulbifera), showing the axillary bulbils

Passing back into East Sussex we could see some Dusky Crane’s-bill (Geranium phaeum) and Fringe Cup (Tellima grandiflora) on the shady Kent side of the river, though none in vice-county 14.

Picture of Dusky Crane’s-bill (Geranium phaeum)

Dusky Crane’s-bill (Geranium phaeum)

There were ferns aplenty, and once a frond had been retrieved from the Kent side of the Grom, Geoffrey Kitchener explained the key features of Dryopteris borreri. Like others in the Dryopteris affinis group, it is very scaly, and has a (sometimes faint) dark mark where the pinna joins the rachis. It also has almost squared tips to the pinnules.[2]

Tramping through a large nettle patch enabled us to get back to the water’s edge and observe some Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara), mercifully growing in both counties.

Picture of Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara)

Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara)

A few of us stragglers then got a bit distracted by High Rocks, the lovely sandstone outcrop, climbing through the brambles to look at the bryophytes. That was a mistake since we lost the main group and then spent ages trying to find them, and only located them once they’d all finished lunch and were about to move off. We even missed the group photo. Maybe we could be Photoshopped in?

Picture of High Rocks

High Rocks

So, after ‘lunch’ we met the road where it crosses the railway, and at last I saw some Hairy Wood-rush (Luzula pilosa), which I’d not seen before, being much more familiar with the similar Southern Wood-rush (L. forsteri). Both are in fact hairy, but pilosa has the stalks on its inflorescence sticking out (with pendant peduncles, as Helen noted, alliteratively), and its fruit is sort-of pear-shaped, whereas that of forsteri is much more globular and evenly tapering.

Picture of Hairy Wood-rush (Luzula pilosa)

Hairy Wood-rush (Luzula pilosa)

The bridge over the railway line was home to a few plants of Wall Lettuce (Mycelis muralis), and by the roadside we found some Spiked Sedge (Carex spicata), which I’d not seen for a while.

Picture of Wall Lettuce (Mycelis muralis)

Wall Lettuce (Mycelis muralis)

It was a busy day on the Spa Valley Railway, with trains running up and down the little line throughout the field meeting, so we spent the day observing plants to the sound of whistles and steam, occasionally getting a closer look as they went by.

Picture of a steam engine

The smell of steam

It was a useful day for grasses revision too, and the chance for me to see some new ones, such as Wood Meadow-grass (Poa nemoralis) with its fairly distinctive habit. Another wet area housed more Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara), which was somewhat easier to photograph than the earlier patch.

Finally, heading up the appropriately-named Cabbage Stalk Lane we neared the end of the route, passing a Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus carnea), before being treated to tea and cakes on the roadside by the Kent group, which was a nice way to finish off a very enjoyable day.

SBRS group minus those of us who went missing

SBRS group minus those of us who went missing

[1] Showler, A.J., and T.C.G. Rich. ‘Cardamine bulbifera (L.) Crantz (Cruciferae) in the British Isles.’ Watsonia 19 (1993): 231-245. Web. Available from: <>; and R.A. Nicholson, A.J. Showler and T.C.G. Rich. ‘Further observations on the ecology and distribution of Cardamine bulbifera (L.) Crantz (Brassicaceae) in the British Isles.’ Watsonia 25 (2004): 99-106. Web. Available from: <>

[2] See also Golding, Roger. ‘Dryopteris borreri . Borrer’s Scaly Male Fern.’ Ferns in Britain and Ireland: A guide to ferns, horsetails, clubmosses and quillworts. Web. 18 May 2015. <>


2 thoughts on “The Grom valley and Friezland wood

  1. I’m officially an “average” botanist but most of my botanical knowledge is used when looking at plant associations for invertebrates so I’ll learn loads from your botanical blog. I look forward to reading more!
    Cheers Pete


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