Plant life on St Helens Duver

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Nationally important
The stabilised sand dunes of St Helens Duver on the Isle of Wight provide an unusual habitat for an amazing 250 species of flowering plants. Of these, no fewer than 13 are nationally scarce with a further 15 species recognised as being rare on the Isle of Wight. In fact, we have the highest concentration here of flowering plants anywhere on the Island and therefore richly deserves its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Early colonisers
The dunes here have existed for hundreds of years. The sand is colonised by tall plants with long, horizontal underground stems, such as Marram Grass, Lyme Grass and Sand Sedge. The sandy soil is poor in nutrients and dries out quickly in the salt-laden winds so dune plants are mostly deep-rooted perennials, or annuals which flower early before the summer droughts. The outer dunes and scrub areas are dominated by sea buckthorn. This provides cover for small birds such as thrushes, finches and sparrows, and its bright orange autumn berries are a valuable food source. 

Plants of the acidic grassland
The acidic grassland is especially rich in clovers, including Haresfoot clover – so called because its pink flower heads are covered with downy hair like a hare’s paw – and Suffocated clover.

Inner dunes overlying mud
Extensive areas of flower-rich, acid grassland have developed among the inner dunes with clumps of gorse scrub where the sand has accumulated over what were mud flats. Grazed by rabbits, the short turf is emblazoned with sea-pinks in May and June. This pretty plant was once believed to cure lead poisoning. The origin of its alternative name ‘thrift’ is unclear but thought to refer to its tight and economically formed tussocks of leaves.

Another plant to look out for is the bulbous Autumn Squill, a member of the lily family which carpets the Duver with its low growing, lilac-coloured bell-like flowers. You may also see the white flowers of Sea Campion and Sea Bindweed.   

Plants of the salt marshes
Salt marsh plants grow in the tidal millpond behind our  reserve, and have spread into low-lying areas of the Duver. Sea Purslane, Sea Beet, Sea Lavender and Sea Aster are prominent in this area, all adapted to life in their salty surroundings.