Virtually no records of Sark’s profusion of wildflowers were kept before the nineteenth century.
In 1564 Helier de Carteret would have found the island a windswept plateau top covered in brambles, bracken and furze (whin or gorse) with valleys devoid of trees.
The gardener, Thomas Knowlton (1691 – 1781), mentioned a white foxglove in 1726.
Professor CC Babington recorded 252 plants in 1838, and published his Primitiae Florae Sarnicae the following year with 247 species listed.
The habitats found on Sark are mostly maritime and coastal with many plants such as Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) familiar to those people living on the South West coast of England.
Some plants have been introduced to Sark, such as the Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum, also known locally as wild garlic) which is from the Mediterranean, and the distinctive giant Rocket plant (Echium pininanan), which is related to the native Vipers Bugloss (Echium vulgare) and grows to over 8 feet tall. This was introduced from the Canary Islands, and is now only found in the wild on La Palma island at 2000 feet in the cloud zone laurel forest.
Other plants which are familiar as weed species in England are rare here, for example Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium).
Many of the wild flowers on more exposed coastal positions (for example on the Hogsback, the Gouliot Headland and the Eperquerie) have adapted to the constant battering of the environment by keeping low, and by drastically reducing their size compared to their siblings in more favourable positions. Others have adapted by tolerating salt laden winds which would dry out ordinary plants. They do this by having long taproots to provide them with non-salty moisture in drought conditions, and by producing succulent leaves (which store water) with waxy surfaces to prevent moisture loss, or hairy leaves which trap a layer of moisture near the leaf surface.
Some familiar Mediterranean herb plants such as Rosemary and Lavender, and the Tamerisk and maritime Pines have rolled their leaves to make them long and narrow, another strategy for reducing moisture loss, whilst increasing the number of leaves so that the available surface of chlorophyll (the green colouring) for photosynthesis is not reduced.
Inland are fields surrounded by high banks, and drystone walls on which are found the Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), a good nectar source for many species of butterflies, and Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris). In some of the old meadows that have not been ‘improved’ with fertilisers or ploughed up one can find Yellow Bartsia (Parentucellia viscosa), a semi-parasitic plant with sticky hairs, and the tiny Heartsease (Viola tricolor).
In the valleys Sycamore trees are most commonly seen, along with ‘pioneer’ trees species such as Birch and Willow. The island did have Elm trees but they were killed by Dutch Elm disease, although some Elm suckers survive in the hedgerows.
Common plants used for hedging because they can survive these coastal conditions are Escallonia (with small, fragrant, tubular red or pink flowers and sticky dark green serrated leaves), Veronica (a member of the Hebe family with mauve flowers) and Elaeagnus (slow growing but evergreen and as tough as old boots!).
In spring the predominant colours are blue (Bluebells), pink (Red Campion) and white (not white Bluebells! but Three-cornered Leek or Garlic Allium triquetrum, known locally as wild garlic, which has a triangular stem and a distinctive garlicky smell when crushed). Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are found in spring in the woods of Dixcart valley, on the Eperquerie Common and in great profusion on rocky slopes. Also of the Lily family, the Autumn Squill (Scilla autumnalis) is found on Sark, though not the Spring Squill.
The cliff paths, valleys and field banks have a profusion of Primroses, Dog Violets and Celandines. The Gorse (Ulex europaeus) starts to flower in earnest and its coconut scent is all pervading on a warm sunny day.
In summer the white flowers of the Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) coat the slopes and tops of the cliffs (White Campion (Silene latifolia) and Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) do not grow on Sark).
Foxgloves and the Oxeye Daisies are also to be seen all over and above the cliffs as are Thrift, Thyme, Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) and the rarer Golden Samphire (Inula crithmoides), whilst banks and hedgerows are full of small blue Sheep’s-bit (Jasione montana) and Honeysuckle which is delightful on a summer night.
Later in the year Blackberries make their appearance, along with Sloes (used to make excellent Sloe Gin).
Taken from a document written by the late Penny Prevel.
At the Visitor Centre you can find an excellent guide written by local expert Susan Synnott, ‘Wild Flowers of Sark’ at £10. “Sark is a showcase of wild flowers growing naturally as, unlike in other parts of Europe, the island has never gone in for intensive farming. The hedgebanks have been retained, the fields are small and irregular, the borders of the fields have largely been left to nature, and the cliff tops are almost entirely undeveloped. With more than 160 species of Sark’s wildflowers photographed in their habitat, with brief descriptions of key features for easy identification, and with all species colour coded, this booklet encourages the reader to see why Sark is so special.”