Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Fumaria purpurea – purple ramping-fumitory

 

Distribution map

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Fumaria purpurea Pugsley
Family: Fumariaceae

Purple ramping-fumitory is an annual weedy climber which was first described as a separate species in 1902. It is not only regarded as a native, but is considered one of a very few plants whose whole distribution is confined to Britain and Ireland, that is, it is endemic to these islands.

In brief

  • It occurs mostly in coastal areas, and has been found in Counties Londonderry and Antrim

  • Being a scarce plant, it is possibly only a casual in many areas of the country but this may well be due to under-recording, as probably it is overlooked or mistakenly identified as some other fumitory by many recorders

  • Like all the other fumitories it frequents recently disturbed, acidic, free-draining soils or drought-affected areas

  • It appears more frequently in coastal areas, possibly indicating something of a preference for light, sandy soil

  • Typically it grows on arable ground (including, for example, potato fields), gardens, waste ground, in hedge banks, on old earth-core field walls, and occasionally sea cliffs.

  • Purple ramping-fumitory flowers between July and October

  • It is listed as a UK priority species

  • It is not understood why, or to what extent, this weedy species is declining. However, as with so many of our arable weeds, the likely cause is changes in farming practices, including the widespread use of agrochemicals and the cessation of crop rotation practices.

Species description
Purple ramping-fumitory is a climbing plant which can grow up to 100cm in height, but it can also be found sprawling across the ground. The leaves form three or five lobes and are arranged alternately along the stem. The upper stem bears numerous loose inflorescences (flower clusters), each consisting of 15 to 24 pinkish-purple flowers. The flowers are 10 to 13mm in length, and the petals and wings of each are tipped with a darker purple.

Life cycle
This plant is an annual, and probably like other fumitories, germinates mainly in spring. Since purple ramping-fumitory resembles other members of the genus, it has been somewhat overlooked by botanists, and therefore not a lot is known about the plant's biology and ecology. All fumitories are weedy and appear to prefer and occur most abundantly on light, sandy, acidic, rather infertile soils, especially where there is recent disturbance. Purple ramping-fumitory flowers between July and October. Like other fumitories it is self-compatible and habitually self-fertilises. Single-seeded fruit capsules are produced on downward curved stalks. Seed production of this rare species is clearly not plentiful.

Similar species
Apart from the flower colour purple ramping-fumitory differs from the other large-flowered fumitory, F. capreolata, white ramping-fumitory (which is much more common and occupies the same habitats), in that each flower cluster is as long as the stalk that carries it, not shorter. Also the tip of the upper petal of purple ramping-fumitory has narrow erect margins, not spreading margins as in white ramping-fumitory.

How to see this species
Since it is a rare, declining, yet robust weedy annual, it should be looked out for in any type of disturbed ground during the flowering period from July onwards. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
It is considered one of a very few plants whose whole distribution is confined to Britain and Ireland, it is endemic to these islands. It occurs mostly in coastal areas, and has been found in Counties Londonderry and Antrim. It is most frequently recorded in Cornwall and West Lancashire, but also occurs at several sites in southern Scotland and a few in northern Scotland, including on Orkney. In Ireland records of it are very thinly scattered throughout, but chiefly on or near the east and north coasts. The New Atlas survey carried out in the late 1990s by the Botanical Society of the British Isles suggests possibly that it has declined in some parts of Britain, but overall the population is thought to be stable in its core areas.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Listed as a UK Priority Species

  • Rare and declining

Threats/Causes of decline
Since purple ramping-fumitory has not been studied in any detail, it is not yet understood why, or to what extent, this weedy species is declining. However, as with so many of our arable weeds, the likely cause is changes in farming practices, including the widespread use of agrochemicals and the cessation of crop rotation practices.

Conservation of this species

Current action
There is a UK Species action Plan which was published in 1998.

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plan for Species-rich Hedgerows

  • Purple ramping-fumitory is one of many arable plants that should benefit from current agricultural/environment schemes. Efforts are underway to encourage farmers and landowners to adopt these schemes in order to preserve these scarce plants.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain the number of viable populations of the species

  • Increase the range of the species

  • The priority action for this species is to establish the true status of the plant, and to protect it at its present sites

  • As with any endangered plant, it is important to collect and store seeds as an insurance against possible extinction, and to use them to assist in any re-introduction programme. The Millennium Seed Bank, maintained by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at Wakehurst Place, stores seeds from many UK plants.

What you can do
Records of new sites and sizes of populations are always valuable. Send to: The Botanical Society of the British Isles c/o Botany Department, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU or to CEDaR, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU, Tel: 028 9039 5256, cedar.info [at] magni.org.uk.

Further information

Links
Flora of Northern Ireland

http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPlans.aspx?ID=316

Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Literature
Stewart, A., Pearman, D.A. and Preston, C.D. (1994). Scarce Plants in Britain. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

Text written by:
Dr Ralph Forbes