Local botanist John Swindells has found the rare Jersey Cudweed (Gnaphalium luteoalbum) in three sites by the docks in Tower Hamlets. John first found the plant in pavement cracks at St Katherine’s Dock in June 2009. Two monthls later he found it in a similar location beside Millwall Dock, where it has reappeared in 2010 and 2011. The latest find was this year on bare ground at Poplar Dock Marina, where the photograph above was taken.
Jersey Cudweed is very rare in Britain, with just two surviving populations – in North Norfolk and at Dungeness in Kent – which are considered native, though it was previously also found in the Brecklands of Suffolk. Consequently, it is included in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, making it an offence to pick or damage it. It does occasionally appear elsewhere, perhaps imported with soil or escaping from gardens. We have no idea how Jersey Cudweed arrived in Docklands, but Natural England advises that, as there is no evidence that it was deliberately planted, the populations should be treated as natural and afforded legal protection.
Jersey Cudweed likes bare, sandy places where there is not too much competition from other plants, so urban areas can provide suitable habitat. Indeed, it is known as an urban weed in many parts of the world. Although only a few inches high, it is quite a distinctive plant, with cottony hairs all over its grey-green leaves and stems, and clusters of rusty-yellow flowers. Keep a lookout for it, as it might well be awaiting discovery elsewhere in the borough.
Photo by John Archer