Sunday, 31 July 2011

Latest Wildflower walk - Saturday 30th July

Our fourth wildflower walk of the summer took us to Burray and South Ronaldsay to look at both the 'yellow dune' and the 'grey dune'.

Los Afficionados admiring Oysterplant at the Pool o'Cletts, Eastside, South Ronaldsay

No4 barrier, Burray
Immature dunes (or Yellow dunes) are the sandy areas closest to the shore. The plants that grow there are integral to the formation of the dunes – their roots and leaves trap and hold the sand and are the first stage in the process of stabilisation. At the Fourth barrier, where the dunes are sixty years old, there is little maturity. The barrier is still very dynamic and ‘yellow’ and consequently is covered with early stage plants such as Lyme-grass, Marram Grass, Sea Sandwort and Orache. We also saw Perennial Sowthistle, Prickly Sowthistle, Common Catsear and Curled Dock, typical of this habitat and help in the formation of the mature or Grey dune.

Seeding Sea Sandwort
Immature dunes and beach
Orache, Sea Rocket, Lyme-grass, Marram Grass, Oysterplant, Sea Sandwort, Curled Dock.
Sea Rocket, in white and lilac, tended to lie lower on the beach than the Oysterplant. Both species still showed well but the Oysterplant, which in Britain only occurs in Scotland, was just beginning to turn. Orkney is very important for this plant; the county is its national stronghold with South Ronaldsay and Sanday pre-eminent.

Leaves the size of small cabbages on this Oysterplant

Mature dunes (or Grey dunes) are stable dunes which are characterised by species such as Ladies Bedstraw and Yarrow. Our walk along the upper path took us across carpets of bedstraw and passed clumps of Yarrow in many assorted pastel colours – white, pinks, magentas and lilacs.

Yarrow's stunning colours

Bird’s-foot Trefoil was still in flower but at this time in the year, the leaves begin to dominate. Angelica was beginning to unfurl while the Hogweed was starting to seed. Spear Thistles and Creeping Thistles grew abundantly in the overgrazed dunes inside the fence. At the southern end of the dunes were massed clumps of Lesser Meadow-rue none of which was in flower although we saw its seed-pods. However our exertions across the sands were not in vain – on a small sandy headland, Orkney’s only patch of Sea Bindweed was in full flower and we were a very appreciative audience. This little patch is out on a limb – the next nearest in Scotland is on the links at Arbroath.

Sea Bindweed

Monday, 25 July 2011

Links plate 4

Having said I'd finish this near the start of the month - here we are, rapidly heading into August.  This leaves me about 6 days to complete the 5th and final links plate if I'm to stop falling further behind...... sadly, I think end of August is more likely.  The problem (apart from having too much else on)  is getting bogged down with detail.  The more we go along the more I want to add, not just to the flowers, which aren't that detailed as flower paintings go, but to the backgrounds too.  I may have to go back over everything adding bits at the end - at this rate 2023 is a more realistic publication date.  My only hope is a long spell of unemployment  when my current ranger contract finishes. Great .


Tuesday, 19 July 2011


If you are travelling along the Kirkwall/Stromness road at this time of the year, it's well worth stopping at Davey's Brig. Just south of the picnic tables at Davey's Brig, lying in the valley, is a swathe of yellow - Monkeyflowers in their golden glory. I haven't seen a more extensive spread. Smaller patches can be found in many waters including near the dam at Tormiston and even in the Willow Burn in Kirkwall. Arguably the upper reaches of the Desso Burn in Evie has some of the most spectacular clumps of Monkeyflowers.


Monkeyflowers at Tormiston Mill

Desso Burn, Evie

Desso Burn, Evie
Here is the draft text for Monkeyflowers for the Orkney Book of Wildflowers

Monkeyflowers (Mimulus agg.)                   
Figwort family
Height to 40cm; flowers July to September. Local and scarce in Orkney (10/28); widespread and frequent in Britain (1275/2852)

Monkeyflowers originate in the Americas; native Americans and early travellers used it as a salt substitute to flavour wild game. It appears that the first plants to reach Europe came from the Aleutian Islands off the western coast of Alaska in the 18th century. The family includes Monkeyflower, Coppery Monkeyflower, Musk and Blood-drop-emlets and a very complex assortment of hybrids. By 1812, English gardens were resplendent with the family’s colourful blossoms and escaped plants were first noted during 1824 in South Wales. In the following 100 years members of the family became widely naturalised throughout Britain especially on marshy ground, along the edges of watercourses and on river shingle. Colonisation was made easier with the great increase in mileage of Britain’s canal system

In Orkney the most common species are Monkeyflower and Blood-drop-emlets. Both have yellow flowerheads but Monkeyflower has small red spots in its throat while Blood-drop-emlets has large red or purple blotches. Coppery Monkeyflower, with its coppery-orange flowers, occurs sparingly. It is believed to have been introduced in 1903 but Magnus Spence’s Flora Orcadensis (1914) makes no mention. They are thoroughly naturalised in Orkney and although looking quite at home along burns and ditches, they are absent from many parts of the county. Apparently it was common practice for a couple who were moving to a new parish to take a handful of roots to naturalise in their new surroundings.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Wildflower walk at Yesnaby - July 9th

The heavens opened and rain of biblical proportions fell on Stenness and Sandwick. The road to Yesnaby was under 6" of water in three places - flash flooding - the soil was impervious to the rain and it ran in torrents across the baked earth. But by the time we assembled at Yesnaby, the deluge was but a recent memory. We were looking at the wildflowers of Coastal Grassland and Coastal Heath and were privileged to find that the Scottish Primrose (Primula scotica) was in the middle of one of its finest displays of recent years. The grassland was liberally sprinkled with Grass of Parnassus, Kidney Vetch, Wild Thyme (including the white variant), Sea Arrowgrass, Sea Plantain, Buck's-horn Plantain, Eyebright, Glaucous Sedge and Carnation Sedge. In the heathier areas at Inga Ness we found a fine population of Mountain Everlasting along with Slender St.John's-wort, Ling, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Yellow Rattle, Crowberry, Flea Sedge, Viviparous Fescue and Creeping Willow.

Primula scotica, Yesnaby

Primula scotica, Yesnaby
Los Afficionados on Coastal Heath with Coastal Grassland over their shoulders

Grass of Parnassus

Grass of Parnassus

Mountain Everlasting

Mountain Everlasting

Wild Thyme with white variant

Saturday, 2 July 2011


We have chosen all the species that we are going to write about and illustrate for the Orkney Book of Wildflowers. It wasn't an easy task and there are some species that we would have liked to incorporate not just because they are common or pretty but also because they are part of the Orkney landscape. Species that fall into that category include Red Poppy, Blue Geranium and even Rhubarb. Last Tuesday while returning from Yesnaby, I came across another flower, Fox-and-cubs, that falls into this category.  It is certainly not as common as either of the three I've just mentioned but according to Elaine Bullard, does occur in two 'islandised squares', Rousay and Papa Westray. Well in fact it occurs in at least three squares - add Sandwick to that list. However, we've decided that it won't feature in the book and that's down to two reasons: i) it's not widespread enough and ii) it's a garden escape or outcast. I know that's all rather damning so I thought it would be reasonable to put in a few photos of this rather stunning plant and the slash of red that lights up the Voy quarry.

                                                                                                           The slash of red