The Lizard IPA
Location: The most southerly point of Cornwall and of Great Britain itself, it lies to the south of Helston.
Grid Reference: SW 699 123
Famous as the most southerly point of mainland Britain, the dramatic coastal cliffs and inland heaths of the Lizard Peninsula boast unique vegetation types and species. Nearly half of our all our native wildflower species can be found here, fifty-five of them being rare and special.
Surrounded by sea, almost frost-free in winter, bathed in hot sunshine and baked dry in the summer, it’s no wonder the Lizard is home to such a unique – almost Mediterranean - flora. Even the rocks are special; at over 600 million years old they were formed when a fragment of the deep Earth’s crust was from thrust upwards to reveal highly metamorphic serpentine, schist and gabbro rocks. These hard rocks release few nutrients and the thin, acidic and infertile soils further shape the remarkable flora.
Much of the action is centred around Kynance Cove, which remains dramatic and wild despite being a tourist hotspot. It’s at its best in May when the cliffs are awash with colour from common cliff-top flowers such as sea campion, thrift and kidney vetch. From the cove, two rugged valleys extend inland, with colourful specialities on the outcropping rocks. Bloody crane’s-bill, spotted cat’s-ear, green-winged orchid, hairy greenweed, thyme broomrape and wild chives are here, often with diminutive rarities such as land quillwort and dwarf rush. The rocks are also home to rare lichens, including the distinctive ciliate strap lichen and golden hair lichen.
Clovers are a speciality here. In nearby Caerthillian Cove fourteen species of clover can be found, making this small valley richest spot for clovers in the whole Britain. Rarities include upright clover, suffocated clover and western clover, but the real specialities are long-headed clover and twin-headed clover, found nowhere else in Britain.
Elsewhere on the cliff-tops, wild asparagus and prostrate broom can be seen. The weather can be very harsh on the Lizard and both these plants are flattened variants of normally upright species, the extreme exposure to wind and salt literally shaping the flora here.
Whilst the cliffs and rock outcrops are at their best in late May and June, the adjacent sweeps of heathland reach a peak in August and September, when one of the Lizard’s most famous plants is in full flower. Known from here and only one other place in Britain, Cornish Heath is astonishingly abundant on the Lizard and at its best around Kynance Cover. It’s a type of heather with dense spikes of beautiful pale pink flowers, each tipped with ring of beetroot-coloured anthers.
A final very special Lizard habitat are the shallow pools and seasonally-flooded trackways found on the heathland. These typically man-made habitats largely dry out in summer, and the unusual ‘Mediterranean’ conditions provide a home to both underwater algae such as strawberry stonewort, and species more typical of the drying muds. Three-lobed water-crowfoot, yellow centaury and pilwort (an unusual fern that looks like a carpet of grass) can be found here, along with the tiny pigmy rush which occurs nowhere else in Britain.