Wild flower turns St Abbs Head pink in early summer

Sea Pink growing along the side of the A1 at the Border
Sea Pink growing along the side of the A1 at the Border

The Sea Pink or Thrift is one of the iconic wild flowers found along the Berwickshire coast.

It can be found along the pebble strewn shore line where it gets washed by the highest tides and along the cliff tops and exposed promontory such as at St Abb’s Head where it grows in great abundance turning the Head pink in early summer.

The success of the Sea Pink is due to its ability to withstand soil containing salt and wind laden with salt spray, which is poison to most plants. Its leaves are small, narrow and tough and as well as being resistant to salt can stand exposure to very bright sunshine and dry, desiccating winds. The growth habit of the plant is to form a low, flat mat or compact mound so as to reduce exposure to strong wind. It can also grow in very nutrient poor soil and rock crevices and is not scorched by Gull poo. It is also tolerant of high concentrations of copper in the soil which gives it an advantage in some habitats. This allows the Sea Pink to thrive where many other plants would shrivel up and fail.

This ability to grow in harsh conditions has provided the Sea Pink a niche to colonise along some road verges where it can be seen in flower just now, such as the A1 at the Border. Salt is spread on the roads in the winter to melt the ice and the verges get continual salt laden spray all winter. For the rest of the year there is a constant wind from passing traffic which is often hot and dry from the road surface, not ideal for most plants but this narrow roadside strip suits the Sea Pink just fine.

As well as growing on the coast, Sea Pink can be found near the summits of our highest mountains, reaching an altitude of 4,200 feet, where it grows on exposed rock outcrops and open stony areas. There may be no salt spray here but its ability to stand persistent strong desiccating winds, intense sunshine and poor soil allows it to compete with our native mountain flowers.

The Sea Pink, Armeria maritima, is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere and can be found from Iceland to Spain and over much of Europe. There are about 60 species of Armeria in the world and they can be found in maritime, arctic and alpine habitats in temperate Europe, Asia, N. Africa, N. America and down through South America to Patagonia where their local species is almost identical to our native one.

Sea Pinks make ideal rock garden plants as they are tough, easy to grow and nice and compact. Colour forms have been selected with white, rose and red flowers and others have variegated or purple leaves. The normal forms grow 15 to 25cm tall in our gardens but there are selections where the flowers sit tight on the cushion and they are ideal for cultivation in sinks or troughs.

Older readers will remember the threepence coin issued between 1937 and1952 which had a design of Thrift on the reverse side of the coin.