Somerset’s County Flower

Side view of the Cheddar Pink, Dianthus gratianopolitanus. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Latin Name: Dianthus gratianopolitanus

Vernacular Name: Cheddar Pink

Other Common Names: Cleeve Pink, Cliff Pink, Clove Pink, Mountain Pink, Sweet Pink.

Plant Family: Caryophyllaceae

QUICK FACTS

  • Perennial plant with rose pink flowers on solitary stems
  • Shallow pinking of petals differentiates the flower from other Pinks
  • Hairless greyish-green stems and leaves
  • Flowers from May to July.
  • Densely tufted, prostrate mat of non-flowering shoots and leaves.
  • Dry, dead matter often found around flowering plants.
  • Flowers are fragrant if you can get close enough to sniff them.

HABITAT

  • In thin soils and in rock crevices at or on cliff edges and ledges.
  • Forms compact mats among short vegetation or trailing across bare rock outcrops.
  • It can also in short-grazed grassland where the competition from other plants is not too great.
  • Open, sunny sites as not shade-tolerant.
  • Easily overlooked in grass turf during winter months.

UK DISTRIBUTION

Online Atlas of British and Irish Flora Distribution. European endemic species.

The NBN Atlas seems to include introduced species and garden escapes.

Kew’s Plant’s of the World Online gives a false impression of the restricted distribution of the species in the UK and across Europe. Its native range is said to be from the UK to the Ukraine but whole countries are filled in on Kew’s maps. According to Dixon in A Guide to Britain’s Rarest Plants, the Ukrainian population has died out.

SOMERSET DISTRIBUTION

British native species only on carboniferous limestone in North Somerset. Up to 5 kms from Cheddar, also considered native. Introduced species or garden escape in other parts of the county and country.

The Cheddar Pink was first discovered by the Trowbridge, botanist, Samuel Brewer (1669- 1743?). His discovery was recorded by the English naturalist John Ray (1627-1705) in the third edition of his Synopsis, published in 1724. In those days, the plant turned the Cheddar cliffs pink with its flowers. The Cheddar population remains the largest today. However, you may well need binoculars to see the much diminished population.

2020: VC5: Species presumed lost. Last record 1957 ; VC6: Rare/Scarce

Comments

Somerset VC6 Recorders reported that Cheddar Pink was still plentiful along the cliff edges on both sides of Cheddar Gorge at a Somerset Rare Plants Group meeting and in the subsequent 2017 newsletter.

THREATS

The Cheddar Pink’s attractiveness has led to overcollection and picking without any thought for the plant’s sustainability. In the past, there was an ill-advised, local tradition of making posies with the flowers for the Cheddar tourist trade. As a result, it is now mostly to be found on high, inaccessible cliffs. The lower ledges were stripped of their flowers many years ago. Despite special protected status, picking and collecting still occur.

The greatest threat is from the encroachment of scrub and the growth of secondary woodland. Much of the species-rich grassland has become invaded by mixed scrub and woodland with a dense undergrowth of ivy. These cast shade on the cliff ledges and continue to encroach into open grassland.

The Cheddar Pink will not tolerant wet soil. The increasingly wet South West winters due to climate change may pose an additional threat. Soil erosion was noted at cliff edges after the exceptionally wet February of 2020.

OPPORTUNITIES

Conservation is a delicate balancing act with the requirements of other rare species in the area. A programme of scrub clearance and grazing was initiated to turn the past decline around. This led to the re-establishment of open species-rich swards. Cheddar Pink populations increased as a result in some areas.

UK PROTECTED STATUS

The Cheddar Pink first gained protected species status in the UK in 1975 under the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act. It remains a protected plant species today under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. It has additional protection under Schedule 13 from:

  • intentional picking, uprooting or destruction
  • selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale (live or dead, part or derivative)
  • advertising (any of these) for buying or selling.

CONSERVATION STATUS

IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated). International records show many cultivars giving a false impression of the rarity of this wild flower with restricted habitat range.

Great Britain Red List (2005): VU (Vulnerable) D2. Locations: 4. Population within a very restricted area of occupancy (typically less than 20km2) or number of locations (typically five or fewer) such that it is prone to the effects of human activities or random events within a short time period in an uncertain future, and is thus capable of becoming Critically Endangered or even extinct in a very short time period. Reductions may not have eased over a prolonged period or may not be reversible.

England Red List (2014): VU (Vulnerable) D1. Locations 8? Population size estimated to be fewer than 1,000 mature individual plants. Substantial habitat reduction in size and quality over prolonged period.

Other European Red Lists

Luxembourg (2004): R (Extremely Rare) B Small distribution – fragmented, declining or fluctuating.

France: Not included in French Red List. Regional Protections according to eFlora.

Germany (1996): Endangered. Reviews carried out regionally.

Poland (2016): EN (Endangered) C2a(i) – An observed, estimate, projected or inferred continuing decline. Population of or less than 250.

Switzerland (2016): VU (Vulnerable) C – Small population assessed in continued decline.

European Status: NT (Not Threatened).Dianthus gratianopolitanus is a European endemic, occurring in western and central Europe. Despite being an apparently widespread species, it is rare in nearly all the countries in which it occurs. It is believed to be in general decline throughout its range. It is found mainly on limestone outcrops on mountains up to the sub-alpine zone.

It is important to protect species at the edges of their range, so as to maintain genetic diversity which is no less vital in wild species than in crop plants.

Council of Europe (1982)

Biodiversity Support

Butterflies and day-flying moths: species not specified.

Reproduction

By seed germinating in autumn.

Hazards

Often inaccessible or on dangerous cliff edges if you try to get close. As a child, my father taught me to be wary of adders sunning themselves on exposed Cheddar rocks during the summer. Keeping a safe distance and using binoculars is therefore advised.

Remarks for Gardeners

There is no need to risk life and limb. There are plenty of garden cultivars that are easier to access and will make more suitable, vigorous garden plants. Check the RHS link below for its Award for Garden merit and list of 12 nursery suppliers.

Gallery of Images

All photos © Karen Netto (Andrews). Top left to bottom left: Dianthus gratianopolitanus with its lightly frilled edges; growing laterally on cliff edge; flower seen from above; growing in rock crevice; prostrate in its rocky habitat; flower with unopened buds; dead material surrounding living plant; growing on a precarious cliff edge.

Further Details

Plant Naming

Binomial: Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill.

Genus: Dianthus – originates from Greek Dios + anthos = Gods + flower. Flower of the Gods.

Epithet: gratianopolitanus – is the Latin word for the French city of Grenoble, where the flower was first discovered.

First described by: French botanist Dominique Villars (1745-1814) in Grenoble, France. The abbreviation Vill. after the epithet reveals this. The description was published in Histoire des Plantes de Dauphiné 3: 598 in 1789. Surprisingly, this is considerably later than Ray published Brewer’s Cheddar Pink account. Thus, our common name refers to Cheddar and the Latin name refers to Grenoble.

Other Language Vernacular Names:

French: Oeillet bleu, Oeillet bleuâtre, Oeillet de la Pentecôte

German: Pfingst-Nelke, Grenobler Nelke

Dutch: Rotsanjer

Italian: Garofano di Grenoble

Swedish: Bergnejlika

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

References and Further Reading

BGCI (2020): Dianthus gratianopolitanus. Plant Search. Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Last accessed 5 August 2020.

Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit (2014?): Steckbrief: Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill. – Pfingst-Nelke (Caryophyllaceae). Last accessed 6 August 2020.

Cheffings, C.M. & Farrell, L. (Eds), Dines, T.D., Jones, R.A., Leach, S.J., McKean, D.R., Pearman, D.A., Preston, C.D., Rumsey, F.J., Taylor, I. (2005). The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. Species Status 7: 1-116. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough. UK

Chollat, Henri (?): Un Dauphinois mal connu : Dominique VILLARS. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

Colling, Guy (2005): Red list of the Vascular Plants of Luxembourg. Ferrantia 42. 2005. Travaux scientifiques du Musée national d’histoire naturelle Luxembourg. (pp. 14-15).

Dixon, Christopher J. (2017): A Guide to Britains’s Rarest Plants. Pelagic Publishing. Exeter. UK

eFlora (2020): Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill. Caryophyllaceae. Tele Botanica. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

Erhardt, Andreas (1990): Pollination of Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Caryophyllaceae). Plant Systematics and Evolution. Issue 170, March 1990. pp.125–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00937854

GBIF (2020): Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill. Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Last accessed 5 August 2020

Green, Paul R. & Green, Ian P. & Crouch, Geraldine A. (1997): The Atlas Flora of Somerset (self-published).

Grigson, Geoffrey (1996): The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon. Oxford. UK.

McDonnell, E. J. (?): Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill. (Caryophyllaceae). RDB Species Accounts. Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. BSBI/BRC. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

NBN Atlas (2017): Dianthus gratianopolitanus Vill. Cheddar Pink. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

OFEV (2016): Liste rouge Plantes vasculaires. Espèces menacées en Suisse. Info Flora. Switzerland. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

Plantlife (2020): Cheddar Pink, Dianthus gratianopolitanus. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

Putz, Christina M. & Schmid, Christoph & Reisch, Christoph (2015): Living in isolation – population structure, reproduction, and genetic variation of the endangered plant species Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Cheddar pink). Ecology and Evolution. Volume 5, Issue 17. September 2015. pp.3610-3621. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

RHS (2020): Dianthus gratianopolitanus, Cheddar Pink. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

Roe, R. G. B. (2020): The Flora of Somerset. Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. Taunton. UK.

Smith, Lisa (2020): Samuel Brewer. The Sloane Letters Project. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

SRPG (2020): Rare Plant Register 2020. Somerset Rare Plants Group. Last accessed 4 August 2020.

SRPG (2017): Somerset Rare Plants Group 2017 Newsletter Issue 18. Ed. Liz McDonnell. (p.3). Last accessed 6 August 2020.

Streeter, David et al. (2016): Collins Wild Flower Guide. The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. 2nd Edition. HarperCollins. London.

Stroh, P. et al. (?): A Vascular Plant Red List for England. BSBI. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

UICN (2018): La Liste rouge des espèces menacées en France. Last accessed 6 August 2020.

UK Wildlife (2016): Schedule 8 and 13. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Plants which are protected. Last accessed 4 August 2020,

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