For some reason, my basic auto-run has changed from a 3 mile in Horsham to a 4.2 mile and then to an 8 mile here. I put it down to the extra light, time and seaside. It really does look different every single day. But I won’t bore you.
As the whole seaside flora thing is a bit foreign to me I thought I would try to pounce on them as they flower, take pics and find out what on earth they were. First one is one I found initially at the side of Thanet Way (A2990, to be distinguished from Thanet Way A299); but also a lot on Long Rock and assumed it was non-native. It was just too tarty. And I was more or less right, it is fairly well established but from the Med, so a little bit glamorous. You see? Couldn’t possibly be native, looking that pretty.
So, what is a Tragopogon ? (if you can tell me why the WordPress formatting has gone to pot for italics, I would love to know..)
Tragopogon porrifolius is probably from the Mediterranean, but in common with many useful plants, the exact area of origin is unclear. It is naturalised but not native to the UK and was first recorded here in 1695, so misses out on being an archaeophyte by a couple of hundred years. There are 150 species of Tragopogon, which means goat’s (trago) beard (pogon), of which T. porrifolius appears to be one of the more useful ones.
Appropriately for the area it supposedly tastes of oysters (the root), as its other common names disclose (purple salsify, oyster plant, vegetable oyster, Jerusalem star).Rather oddly I found out that the root of the word tragedy is also from the ancient Greek for goat, and appears to relate to the need to sacrifice a goat and dance around (as they used to say in Time Team, “Ritual..” with a heavy sigh). Oddly, considering I have found it metres from the sea it is listed as “not maritime exposure” in terms of cultivation. Though I have to say it was in road-side or semi-salt marsh area; not actually in the front line shingle of the beach.
Tragopogon is salsify (pronounced as in satisfy according to the BBC Good Food pages), but not all the salsify, and probably only in the UK (salsify in the US may be a whole different kettle of roots). The other salsify is Scorzonera hispanica, in the same family (the daisies, Asteraceae) and is distinguished by being (I am guessing) more amenable to cultivation and having a whole different set of common names, (Black salsify, serpent root, black oyster plant, viper’s root and so-on), it is not well established in the wild in the UK. You can buy Tragopogon plants and seeds in the UK, but it is not particularly popular, whereas Scorzonera is easier to obtain.
As with many plants the leaves are described as tasting like asparagus which is the plant equivalent for saying flesh tastes like chicken (click with caution), with just the roots tasting of oysters. I have a strong suspicion that its occurrence in the area has everything to do with climate and soil and nothing to do with a local craving for things that taste like oysters. If I manage to find some for sale, I will give it a go though. They both have very delicate roots, which is why neither have ever really made it as commercial crops; the root spoils quickly if damaged and it is difficult to harvest without damage.
It is also, as all plants are, a fantastic excuse to stop running, stick your arse in the air to take a photo and amuse the passers-by. Beach botanising is not a common thing to do on a Saturday afternoon here.