Purple ramping-fumitory is a climbing plant which can also be found sprawling across the ground. It bears up to 24 purple flowers, 12 mm in length, in clusters on the end of its stems. The leaves form three or five lobes and are arranged alternately up the stems.
The fumitory family's English and scientific names derive from the Latin fumus terrae, meaning 'earth smoke'. This is believed to stem from an early botanist who described the appearance of fumitory 'as if the ground were all of a smoak'.
This plant is an annual, and flowers between July and October. The fruits are produced on downward curved pedicels. As the purple ramping-fumitory resembles others in the family, it has been somewhat overlooked by botanists, and not a lot is known about the plant.
This species is endemic to Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands. It is widely distributed but the main concentrations are in western and northern Britain. Its present strongholds are Cornwall and Lancashire.
This species was not discovered until 1902 and, as it has not been fully studied, it is little understood why it is declining. However, as with so many of our arable weeds, the likely cause is changes in farming practices.
Purple ramping-fumitory is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plans (UKBAPs), and included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme (SRP). The priority action for this species is to establish the true status of the plant, and to protect it at its present sites. Once this is achieved, work can begin on increasing the range and populations.
With any endangered plant, it is important to ensure that seeds are collected and stored as an insurance against possible extinction, and to assist in any re-introduction programme. The Millennium Seed Bank, maintained by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at Wakehurst Place, has stored seeds from many UK plants.
Purple ramping-fumitory is one of many arable plants that could benefit from agricultural/environment schemes. Efforts are underway to encourage farmers and landowners to adopt these schemes in order to preserve these scarce plants.
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