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Magnesian Limestone Flora

Common Rock-rose ( Helianthemum nummularium) Photo Credit to Dave Mitchel

Magnesian Limestone, often called Dolomite, was originally formed in the shallow tropical Zechstein sea some 250 million years ago, and now outcrops in only a few places in the North East of England. The limestone weathers to form thin, lime-rich soils, the specific composition of which allows the growth of unique wildflower meadows native to the North East.

Typically, such limestone grassland areas support scarce plant species, including blue moor grass, small scabious, rock-rose and dark red helleborine to name but a few. Insects abound with many unusual species present. Two notable examples are the salmacis form of the northern Brown-Argus butterfly and the glow-worm, visible in the wild for limited periods over the Summer.

In the Botanic Garden we have aimed to reproduce this regional curiosity with our own Magnesian Limestone habitat. This bed was created in 2005 to showcase some of the wildflowers that can be found amongst the several Magnesian Limestone areas in the North East. Twenty tonnes of large boulders were used to build a raised bed adjacent to a footpath for easy viewing. The wildflowers are at their best in early July but the real gems are the local Magnesian limestone meadows, some only a few miles from Durham, which are well worth a visit.

Local Magnesian Wildflower Sites and Reserves

LNR -Local Nature Reserve, NNR National Nature Reserve


You can also follow the link below and use this interactive MAGIC map to explore and discover the wide range of habitats in your area. To discover the Magnesian Limestone sites select Habitats, Grassland then specify "Lowland Calcareous Grassland".

Explore the Magic Map

Download a Garden Map

Visitors’ map of the Botanic Garden, including accessible routes. You can find the Magnesian Limestone area at number 35 on the map.

Download a Suggested Route

Follow this self-guided tour that takes in the entire Garden. You will find our Magnesian Limestone habitat close to the “Vessels of Life” sculpture on this suggested tour.