CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 8



A study in pink
A study in pink
James Robertson
Not all plants sit easily at one end of the
spectrum running from ‘native’ to ‘alien’.
The author considers the case of Deptford
Pink, which leads him to take a sideways
look at wild-plant conservation and the
urge to garden.
This is the story of a delightful little pink which
has been the subject of ardent conservation efforts
in Britain, because it is thought to be a rare native
plant in rapid decline. It illustrates the risk of
concentrating conservation efforts on what are
thought to be declining, native rare plants; of
putting species before habitats. Whether or not
Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria is pulling the
wool over botanical eyes, as I argue, there are other
reasons to go gently on the fashion for gardening
rare, favoured native species.
Wild-plant conservation accords huge significance to native status, and to rarity. Deptford
Pink ticks these boxes. But is it in fact native to
the islands of Britain and Ireland? Does it occur
naturally and without the involvement of human
activity or intervention? A clue to its autecology,
how it fits into its environment, comes from across
the Atlantic.
Flowering Deptford Pink. Bob Gibbons/FLPA
On a website called ‘Wildflowers of the United
States’ you will find the following: ‘Deptford Pink,
Mountain Pink. Some authorities consider this
plant, a European native, to be weedy or invasive.
This is supported by the fact that this introduced
species is now found in the wild in all but three
States (not known in Arizona, Alaska, or North
Dakota) as well as much of Canada. Deptford is a
town in the south of England where the plant grew
in such abundance that it became the source of the
common name.’
Deptford has long since been absorbed into
London, and the sixteenth-century botanist John
Gerard did not describe his pink as abundant. And
this was not Deptford Pink, which has probably
never grown in Deptford. The error which turned ‘a
little wild creeping Pink found in the great field next
to Detford’ into the upright Dianthus armeria was
introduced by the apothecary Thomas Johnston in
his greatly extended edition of Gerard’s Herbal in
1633 (Mabey 1996). In 1958, in his classic The
Englishman’s Flora, Geoffrey Grigson pointed out
that Gerard must have been referring to the Maiden
Pink Dianthus deltoides. This is a species of dry
grassland habitats, usually on sand. The land which
stretched from Deptford to the Thames would have
154 British Wildlife February 2016
BWM27_3 02 deptford pink.indd 154
29/01/2016 11:44

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