The right habitat for an autumn Carline Thistle

 © Bruce Shortland

Guest blogger and Botanist-in-learning Amanda Tuke visits Croydon's Chapel Bank reserve in search of autumn flowers.

I imagine that Croydon’s nearby Hutchinson Bank is better known and more frequently visited than these chalky slopes of Chapel Bank. But today I find it’s worth going the extra distance even with the alarming traffic of Featherbed Lane.

On a sunny autumn morning I hunt for plants still in flower. In the sparser vegetation I’m delighted to find the distinctive flower head of a Carline Thistle (Carlina Vulgaris) which while not uncommon is new for me. It’s around 3cm across and still has a number of florets but it would be hard to tell if it is still in flower or not. I read that the flowering heads can persist from year to the next.

Carline thistle close up

© Amanda Tuke

This plant is a specialist of well-grazed and dry chalky soils like this site. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland report that its distribution has declined dramatically since the 1960s as a result of habitat loss and/or lack of grazing. It’s presence here suggests that the management of this site is working effectively.

This thistle species attracts a very particular micro-moth, the Carline Neb (Metzneria aestivella), which is described as locally common on chalk grasslands where their food plants grow. I don’t have the patience to study micro-moths - I find butterfly and macromoth spotting challenging enough - but I’m always pleased to read about them and know that other naturalists are paying attention to them.

Carline thistle

 © Philip Precey