What is the county flower of Dorset?

Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) our county flower which grows in the heaths around the Isle of Purbeck

Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) our county flower which grows in the heaths around the Isle of Purbeck - Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

To mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Plantlife - the conservation charity working nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi - launched their County Flowers campaign, which invited people to vote for a flower that summed up their county.  

foxglove was the top wild bloom for Leicestershire, Argyll and Monmouthshire

Foxglove was the top wild bloom for Leicestershire, Argyll and Monmouthshire - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With 109 counties involved, some had to share their choices: foxglove was the top wild bloom for Leicestershire, Argyll and Monmouthshire, and cowslip was the county flower for Northamptonshire, Surrey and Worcestershire. Thrift, whose pink candy floss blooms are rippling along the shoreline at Hengistbury Head on the cover of Dorset Magazine this month (April), was chosen by the Isles of Scilly, Buteshire and Pembrokeshire. 

Cowslip was the county flower of choice for Northamptonshire, Surrey and Worcestershire

Cowslip was the county flower of choice for Northamptonshire, Surrey and Worcestershire - Credit: Getty Images

So, what was Dorset’s flower of choice? It is a plant that is an intrinsic part of an ancient and increasingly rare habitat, one that once covered huge areas of the county, a wild landscape that consistently appears as a backdrop in Thomas Hardy’s novels.  

Our county flower is Erica ciliaris, a species of heather that is also known as Dorset heath. It’s only found in a few places in the British Isles, the clue is in the name. Apart from a few areas in Devon and Cornwall, its stronghold is south-east Dorset, especially on the Isle of Purbeck. Between July and September its large, long, balloon-shaped blooms turn the moist heathland and bogs of areas such as Godlingston and Studland Heath and Hartland Moor into a sea of pink and purple. Plantlife describe it as ‘a defining species of Dorset’s special heaths and bogs’ which is why this is our county flower.  

Bedfordshire’s county flower is the bee orchid 

Bedfordshire’s county flower is the bee orchid - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It may not be as glamorous as Bedfordshire’s bee orchid or the Isle of Man’s fuchsia, but I love the fact that this is the only plant with ‘Dorset’ in its name, and it is so deeply rooted in our landscape. Another wild treasure from this very special county.  

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Thrift or sea pink at Hengistbury Head one of the hot spots for seeing this coastal bloom 

Thrift or sea pink at Hengistbury Head one of the hot spots for seeing this coastal bloom - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wildflower of the Month: Thrift  

Dorset heath won’t be in bloom until July, but from April to July, Dorset’s coastal cliffs and shingle beaches are transformed into a sea of pink when the clover-like thrift blooms. Enid Blyton, who set her Famous Five adventures in Purbeck, described it growing around Kirrin Castle: ‘The coarse green grass sprang everywhere, and pink thrift grew its cushions in holes and crannies.’ Also known as sea pink and cliff clover, its pink candy floss blooms ripple along our coastline in early summer.

Where to see it: Thrift hot spots include Hengistbury Head, Lulworth Cove, Portland, Chesil Beach, West Bexington, Eype and Seatown  

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