Sunday, 29 May 2011

Today's snap! - the perfect subject

Even though I see Oysterplant every year, I find it impossible not to take pictures.

Pool o'Cletts - South Ronaldsay

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

It's well worth the wait Anne!

Links 3

At long last the drought of paintings is over and I've finished the third links plate.  This one has Grass of Parnassus, Cowslip, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Field Gentian and Autumn Gentian.  In a previous post I'd suggested that there were only to be three links plates in the book but it turns out there are two more needed to fit all the plants of this habitat in.  So, a few more of Orkney's sweeping bays are in store before we move on to higher ground. 

Monday, 23 May 2011

Bogbean - a floral water carpet

While Anne is putting the final touches to the latest Links plate, I've been plugging away at the text for some of the freshwater plants. This particular section is actually called 'Lochs, burns, freshwater marshes and wet grasslands' . It's a wide field and I've finally narrowed it down to 6 plates taking in 33 species.

It's always good to be writing about something that's immediately relevant and at present many still waters are clothed with spectacular coverings of Bogbean or, I suppose, Bogbeans. I've included a couple of photos of Bogbean on Egilsay where it can be found in many of those superb wetlands that the island is justifiably important for. I've uploaded also, as a sneak preview, the full draft text from our 'waiting in the wings' book.

Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)        Crawshoe
Bogbean family
Height to 30cm; flowers June to July. Widespread and frequent in Orkney (18/28) and in Britain (1451/2852).

Few plants can have had such significance to such a wide range of peoples in the northern hemisphere as Bogbean. As a food, the roots were ground into flour by Laplanders and native Americans in Alaska. As a stimulant, its roots were chewed in the Outer Hebrides and elsewhere in Scotland made into tobacco. As a medicine, it was esteemed as a cure-all and used to treat digestive ailments, headaches, migraine, ague and rheumatism. Known as Gulsa girse in Shetland it treated jaundice and in Germany it was known as fever clover. Its bruised leaves were applied to the sores of scrofula and in brewing it was a sought after bittering agent in England and Scotland.

Bogbean grows in bogs, swamps and fens and in the shallow waters at the edge of lochs. With its ability to trap sediments, it can be responsible for drying out areas of open water. In his Herbal, Gerard described this ‘beauty of the black moorland waters’ as follows: “toward the tip of the stalk standeth a bush of feather-like flowers of a white colour dasht with a wash of light carnation”. The flowers have five lobes, star-shaped and fringed with stiff white hairs. The long-stalked, grey-green, oval leaves are in threes and stand proud out of the water.

towards Grugar, Egilsay


Saturday, 14 May 2011

The first of the wildflower walks - the Orphir coast

I notice that the last entry was 4th May - that's ten days ago - too long by far - apologies. But it's that time of the year when it's non-stop. Last Monday Anne and I (yes we are still talking) chaperoned Dounby school on the MV Graemsay as it steamed across Scapa Flow and we talked of World War 1 and 2 and the birdlife. Tuesday was seven hours of birdwatching - firstly with two visitors to Orkney from upstate New York, Ann and Joan. We toured the West Mainland - a trip that included Puffins at Marwick and Whimbrel and Scaup at Skaill. This was followed by an evening class on Hunda - a perfect and calm spring evening serenaded by the cooing and purring of Eiders and the creaking of a hundred Arctic Terns.

The Orkneyinga Saga Centre

The Round Kirk at the Bu, Orphir

The Orkneyinga circular walk - coastal heath in July

And today was the first Wildflower class. We went to Orphir and walked the circular route that starts and finishes at the Orkneyinga Saga Centre. It's a good wee walk in that it introduces folk to half a dozen habitats in little more than a mile and a bit. There's wetland adjacent to the Orphir burn, shore plants down in the bay, coastal grassland, coastal heath, hard rock sea cliff, tame woodland and arable. The cliff walk faces south and is sheltered by a sandstone dyke that is covered with Sea Ivory - the wildflowers here have a head start.

Arguably the most noticeable plants along the cliff were Spring Squill and Creeping Willow. The former were not that plentiful (the coastal grassland was probably too lush in places) but the Willow was flowering prolifically.
Spring Squill
Spring Squill

Creeping Willow

Common Dog Violets were in profusion along this stretch of the walk. Red Campion was in flower but not that abundant as was Primrose. Bluebells, Daffodils, Red Poppies and Montbretia had been dumped over the cliff and were thriving. Though colourful, I think the natural cliff vegetation would be better off without them.

The wood at Gyre was blooming. A month ago the understorey barely tickled your ankles. Today the ferns were a metre high and the Butterbur leaves twice as big as dinner plates. But it was probably the Pink Purslane that stole the show. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was the most abundant flowering plant not only in the wood but also along the road past the wood and to the Bu.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Pink Purslane

Across the road from me is one of Kirkwall's green bits - a little gem - the Willows. It's full of Sycamores and Wych Elms, nesting Rooks, Jackdaws and Collared Doves, flowering Lesser Celandines, Crocuses, Snowdrops, Bluebells, Daffodils, a teeny bit of Ground Ivy and now, masses of Pink Purslane.

Pink Purslane isn't always pink - the flowers can be any faint or deep shade of white through to pink. While obviously attractive, it does have a darker side - the ability to take hold and dominate at the expense of some of our native plants. It's a plant of eastern Asia and North America and was brought to Britain probably in the 18th century. The belief is that it arrived in Manchester with imported cotton. By 1838 it was noted in the wild and has spread rapidly since then.

It succeeds where others do not ie. it has the ability to flourish in deep shade and is one of the few plants that can colonise the poor soil under Sycamores. It is prolific and its mass of spring leaves suppresses other vegetation - the leaves flop over and take a long, long time to die back. It also has the ability to penetrate tarmac.

In Orkney it has invaded virtually all 'tame woods' and is even found in some of the 'wild woods'.

This last image shows the plant at Gyre Woods in Orphir - the floppy leaves have taken possession of the woodland floor.