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
The Lizard IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Dry coastal heath with Cornish Heath;
Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
Mediterranean winter-flooded ponds (Lizard peninsula only);
Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic coast
The Lizard Peninsula boasts unique heathland vegetation types, nearly half of the British native flora, and 55 rare and special species.
The botanical pedigree of Lizard Point dates back to 1667, when the great Cambridge botanist John Ray recorded fringed rupturewort and wild asparagus here, new to the British flora, together with autumn squill. Later, further rarities were recorded, including long-headed and upright clovers, the hairy bird’s-foot trefoil and prostrate broom, which all survive here to this day. These plants reveal two of the three reasons why the Lizard is so rich in rare species: some are Mediterranean annuals or bulbous plants, reflecting the peninsula’s mild, largely frost-free, climate. The broom and asparagus occur as prostrate variants of normally upright growing species, with extreme exposure to wind and salt literally shaping the flora here.
A walk to Kynance Cove is best in May, when the cliffs are awash with colour from common cliff-top flowers such as sea campion, thrift and kidney vetch. The walk passes Caerthillian Cove, associated with the Reverend Charles Alexander Johns, author of Flowers of the Field. With 14 species of Trifolium, this small valley remains the richest spot for clovers in our islands.
Kynance Cove remains dramatic and wild, despite being a tourist hotspot. 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 and golden hair lichens.
Whilst the rock outcrops are at their floristic best in late May and June, the adjacent sweeps of heathland reach their peak in August and September, when the Lizard’s most famous plant is in full flower. Known from only one other native British locality, Cornish Heath is astonishingly abundant on the Lizard, and at its best around Kynance.
One cannot write about the Lizard without mentioning its shallow pools and seasonally-flooded trackways. These typically man-made habitats largely dry out in summer, and the unusual ‘Mediterranean’ conditions provide a home to both underwater charophytes, such as strawberry stonewort, and species more typical of the drying muds, such as three-lobed water-crowfoot, pigmy rush and yellow centaury.
Image: Lizard Peninsula © Liz under CC BY-NC 2.0