Sea kale, Shoreham

Sea kale (Crambe Maritima) is a wild cabbage often found on shingle beaches in clumps that disappear in winter. Coloured pencil on paper – 15 x 26 cm


Shoreham beach, where I found this Sea kale, is one of the richest vegetated shingles in the world. It hosts an extraordinary mixture of plants and animals, all of which contend with salinity, fierce wind and a lack of fresh water – not to mention trampling and destruction by humans. The landscape can look slightly surreal, the haphazard clumps of vegetation make formations that make strange silhouettes against the flat planes of shingle, sea and sky.

Sea kale (Crambe Maritima) is a wild cabbage. It grows in vigorous clumps on shingle beaches that disappear in the winter. Around March, tiny succulent purple shoots push up through the cold pebbles. Before long there are masses of flowers, then hard seeds, then – once again – nothing but a few shrivelled brown leaves. The young purple shoots are delicious steamed like asparagus, and the roots are edible too. The Romans preserved it in barrels for sea voyages. These days I prefer to look rather than forage, at least unless there are masses of the plant available.

I used coloured pencil – as a medium, it lends itself particularly well to the rendering of pebbles.

You might also like these other plants from the Shoreham shingle: Beach asters and Bittersweet. Or here is a view of the lower beach where even these hardy plants cannot survive.

Photo of Sea kale, Shoreham