Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ferns and Hellebore in Binscarth

Hart's-tongue Fern

Binscarth wood is a great place to see a variety of plants. At the moment as spring gets underway you can find lots of Lesser Celandines, Opposite-leaved Saxifrage, Few-flowered Garlic, Daffodils and Salmonberry in flower, while a month ago there were carpets of Snowdrops. It's also possible to see some fairly
uncommon plants including a couple of ferns that are decidedly scarce in the county. Hart's-tongue fern, according to the late Elaine Bullard, can be found on rock outcrops, caves and dark, neglected constructions - that's exactly where it can be found in Binscarth. It occurs on Hoy, in the West Mainland and on Eynhallow

Hart's-tongue Fern

Hard Shield Fern

Another fern rarity is the Hard Shield Fern which is even less common than the Hart's-tongue Fern and according to 'Wildflowers in Orkney' is found exclusively along rocky burnsides on Hoy. Since publication of 'WiO' it has been found in two other localities, Binscarth and Gyre.


And I couldn't resist putting in this photo of a Hellebore - which like the previous two plants, will not feature in the Orkney Book of Wildflowers - the Hellebore because it is a garden plant and the ferns because they are too rare.

One fern that will though is Common Polypody (below). It can be found growing on trees and dykes in Binscarth and may also be found on rock outcrops and even storm beaches.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Amongst the first Primroses

Monday was one of those special early spring days when the new sun has enough power to penetrate clothing and skin and seeks out those winter bones that are aching for a degree of warmth. I took to the Firth hills desperate to make the most of this day. My route took me along some of Firth's nearly-forgotten hill tracks via Binnaquoy, Snaba Hill, Horraldshay, Burn of Geo, Burn of Vinden and Quoy of the Hill. The day was tailor-made for Buzzards - four of them circled on the thermals; and I flushed a Jack Snipe from a boggy flush and disturbed two feeding Red Grouse. But, birds aside, the day was notable for my first Primroses; in an ancient south-facing quarry, small clusters of 'the first rose' faced the sun. I thought this must be much earlier than previous years only to find my diary for 2010 recording them for February 27th on a Holm south-facing sea-cliff. Even though they weren't the earliest ever, they were still capable of putting a spring into my step.

The quarry at Binnaquoy - is that really a Primrose?

It is!.......

and more than just the one clump....

this is their view.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The lengthening day......

Salmonberry flower - a bit of a surprise

I paid a brief visit to Binscarth yesterday (Saturday). There had been a fresh southeasterly wind blowing for nearly eighteen hours bringing with it a greyness that is picked up as it passes over the North Sea. Binscarth was sheltered though and a watery but cold sun pierced through the branches lighting up the woodland floor. Lesser Celandines were bright yellow stars in some parts of the wood, in others they were the suggestion of buds. It was sobering to see that the Snowdrops were over - just a few white blossoms among the brown and dying flower-heads. Patches of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage were scattered along the burn edges and some of them were showing early yellow flowers. I was taken a little aback by finding quite a few fresh magenta flower-heads on the spindly branches of Salmonberry. I feel that spring flowering is early this year - the first Daffodils in the Willows, Kirkwall bloomed on February 27th; last year the first blooms were March 22nd.

Here is the draft for the gem that is the saxifrage:

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysoplenium oppositifolium)   Saxifrage family
Creeping Jenny, Buttered eggs
Height to 10cm; flowers March to July. Local and rare in Orkney (5/28); hard to find.

Individually these relatively tiny perennials with greasy green leaves and yellow flower-heads can easily be overlooked given their preference to be in damp and shady places. Elaine Bullard considers them to be frequently found under the stems of tall wetland plants; in such situations they can be  barely noticeable. However they are also frequently found on open ground in damp woodlands and when seen en masse they can be as vivid a carpet of yellow as Marsh Marigolds. In Orkney they are most usually found either alongside or close to some of the burns that run through Mainland plantations; some of the most extensive mats of this saxifrage can be found in Binscarth Wood, Firth and Wideford woodland in St Ola.

Medicinally it has been utilised to address melancholy and in the kitchen as a salad - in the Vosges it is esteemed as ‘cresson de roche’ – rock cress. The leaves are opposite and rounded and the flowers are in golden-yellow umbels.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage

clinging to the burn bank

miniature radiance