Western ramping-fumitory (Fumaria occidentalis)

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Western ramping-fumitory inflorescence
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Western ramping-fumitory fact file

Western ramping-fumitory description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderPapaverales
FamilyFumariaceae
GenusFumaria

This rare plant is the largest of the fumitories occurring in the UK, and is endemic, occurring no-where else in the world. Fumitories are all rather similar in appearance and are usually distinguished by their flowers. The Western ramping-fumitory has large, rather striking flowers, 12-14mm in length and with broad margins to the upper and lower petals, whitish at first, then turn pink with age. All members of this family have flowers with dark-tipped petals, which look as if they have been dipped in purple ink.

This plant was only recognised as a distinct species in 1904. The name 'fumitory' and the scientific name Fumaria 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'.

Size
Height: up to 100 cm
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Western ramping-fumitory biology

It is an annual plant, flowering as early as March on the Isle of Scilly. On the mainland, it usually flowers in May or June. It seems to be a ready coloniser of disturbed ground, and appears to have a good buried seed bank as it can germinate - albeit irregularly - whenever the right conditions become available.

It is also beginning to appear on a number of old mine spoil heaps where these are being covered by arable soil.

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Western ramping-fumitory range

This plant is found only in the UK where it is restricted to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Western ramping-fumitory habitat

Western ramping-fumitory is locally abundant on roadside banks and verges, along field-borders, in waste places and on the sides of Cornish 'hedges'. It prefers sunny (unshaded) situations, and tends to occur in places where the vegetation is kept open by occasional management or disturbance. It seems to be spreading in west Cornwall but not in the east of that county. Many of its sites are associated with human activity; at one time it was a frequent 'weed' of bulb fields on the Isles of Scilly.

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Western ramping-fumitory status

Classified as Lower Risk: Nationally Scarce.

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Western ramping-fumitory threats

It is thought that western ramping-fumitory is not currently under serious threat. However, as an endemic plant it needs to be carefully conserved as its loss from Britain would mean a global extinction. Changes in agricultural practice could be seen as a threat to some of the plant's sites.

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Western ramping-fumitory conservation

Western ramping-fumitory is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plans (UKBAPs), and included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme (SRP). As many new sites have been discovered in the last few years, it may be that this plant is spreading, especially as it seems to be a ready coloniser of recently disturbed ground.

It is known, however, to be irregular in its appearance. At some locations, such as Newquay and Lelant, it has been present ever since it was first discovered in the early 20th century, but other populations are considerably less reliable, or else are known to be in decline: for example, many populations on the Isles of Scilly have been lost, and it is now restricted there to small areas on St. Mary's, St. Martin's and St. Agnes.

The chief threat to the plant seems to be from the use of herbicides to control the growth of 'weeds' on field-borders and along roadside verges and Cornish 'hedges', and the general 'tidying up' of the waste ground and 'scruffy corners' so favoured by the plant.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
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Authentication

Information supplied by English Nature.

http://www.english-nature.org.uk

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Glossary

Annual
Lives or grows for just one year.
Colonise
Establish a colony (group of organisms living together).
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
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References

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Image credit

Western ramping-fumitory inflorescence  
Western ramping-fumitory inflorescence

© Ro FitzGerald

Ro FitzGerald
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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