CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 9



A study in pink
suited it well – there is an exposure of the Thanet
Sand Formation, surrounded by sands, gravels and
small inliers of nodular chalk, about Deptford.
The common name ‘Deptford Pink’ should have
been given to Maiden Pink, whose more generic
common name would have suited the pink blushes
of D. armeria rather well.
This takes the shine off the pedigree which
Gerard’s Herbal appeared to bestow on Deptford
Pink. So, what do we know about its status?
Native or adventurer?
Dianthus armeria is a species with the ability to
colonise disturbed places. To get there it must be
able to hitch lifts. It may have been hitchhiking for
hundreds of years. The open, dry situations where
it pops up include roadsides, railway lines, gardens
and greenhouses, car parks and, sometimes, open
grassland. Former sites included monasteries, so its
seed may have been carried where the monks trod, in
sandals and folds of clothing. To my astonishment I
found the plant growing in a New Zealand car park
miles from anywhere, and, as we have seen, it has
spread across North America. Human agency is the
most likely cause of its spread around the temperate
world, including parts of northern Europe.
Anne Pratt (1889) noted that, while D. armeria
is not generally a common plant in England, ‘it
grows in many places in Kent’, and she once found
it ‘on a stem nearly a yard high’. I shall come back
to this tall plant later.
The first convincing record which I can find in
my collection of Floras is from a roadside in Buckinghamshire in 1737 (Druce 1926). Other early
sites are also typically roadsides. In Hertfordshire
it is recorded from gravel pits (Coleman & Webb
1849). In Oxfordshire there is a record from 1762,
and, while it is described as a native, Killick et al.
(1998) include a ‘wild garden’ among its locations,
and note that the plant could not be refound at
several old sites where it was recorded. In Surrey
it was first recorded in 1746, but Lousley (1976)
comments that for all current records, such as ‘on
made up soil by gates to Army Depot, Chobham
Common’, there are doubts about the plant’s status.
Authors of early Floras do not accord a status
to Deptford Pink, while later ones accept that the
species may be a ‘casual’ or ‘garden escape’ today,
but ascribe native status to it because there are old
The Maiden Pink is thought to be the species
identifed as Deptford Pink in the 1633 version
of Gerard’s Herbal. Roger Tidman/FLPA
records. Authors of later Floras expect to refind
the plant in old localities, and conclude that it is
in decline when they fail to do so. Yet new sites do
occur, where populations last for a number of years
and then disappear. It seems likely that many nineteenth- and twentieth-century records have been
short-lived. If you consider that Deptford Pink is
a native wild flower, a rare, static component of a
specialist plant community which has been around
for millennia, this looks like catastrophic decline.
If Deptford Pink is more of a long-term casual, an
adventurer, hitchhiking around with humans and
taking advantage of opportunities to flourish in
disturbed places, the pattern of records becomes
more understandable.
Irish interlude
Let us head over the sea to Ireland. Not long
after the last glaciation, the land bridge between
Ireland and Scotland was severed, interrupting
the spread of plants and animals northwards and
westwards across Europe. This left Ireland with an
impoverished but fascinating flora, which has been
augmented in recent decades and past centuries
by many plant arrivals from around the world,
assisted by human agency.
In 1992, Deptford Pink was discovered on Horse
Island, off the coast of County Cork, by a group of
botanists based at Sherkin Island Marine Station.
This was written up in Watsonia as a species new
to Ireland (Akeroyd & Clarke 1993). One earlier
February 2016 British Wildlife 155
BWM27_3 02 deptford pink.indd 155
29/01/2016 11:44

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