Saturday, 19 May 2012


In the last couple of weeks, despite the fact it has been so bitterly cold, a few flowers are beginning to poke through. I've taken birdwatching classes to Waulkmill and Corrigall in the last week and seen Red Campion, Common Milkwort, Common Dog Violet and Tormentil in flower.

The 'hill' can appear quite dead and brown over the winter - it's a long time till the first heathers start to bloom. Often the first plant of the hill to flower is Lousewort and its pink flowers brighten up some of the damper patches of the moorland. We came upon it at the end of April and each subsequent visit to the hill in early May has witnessed more and more in flower.

Here is the draft text for Lousewort:

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)   Figwort family
Money-in-the-purse, -the-box, -the-basket, -the-rattle.
Height to 15cm; flowers April to July. Widespread and abundant in Orkney (21/28); easy to find.

 The belief that this pretty perennial infests cattle and sheep with lice and liver fluke has been prevalent for centuries – hence its unfortunate name. Indeed recognition of this supposed ability no doubt accounts for the first part of its Latin name which means louse. The case for spreading lice is not proven but transmission of liver-flukes is possible. The plant succeeds in the poorest of wet and heathy soils; any browsing animals that have been sentenced to find nutrition in such conditions are in all probability likely to struggle and be susceptible to the water-borne liver-fluke embryos. Much better press is forthcoming from the Outer Hebrides where it is considered to increase the milk yield of goats and in Shetland where children used to seek out its sweet ‘honey’ flowers.

In Orkney it is most frequently found among heather where it has a distinct preference for the wetter areas; indeed occasionally it can be found in the drier parts of bogs and marshes. Like its close relative Yellow Rattle it is a part-parasite of roots, but unlike its close relative it occurs only on acidic soils. The many stems spread from the base and carry prettily crimped leaves while the fairly large Snapdragon-like flowers are composed of two dark pink petals the upper lip longer than the lower. As with many flowers, white-flowered forms are encountered sporadically. The inflated seed capsules, which persist into winter, are the reason for its other names Money-in-the-purse, -the- box, -the-basket and –the-rattle.

inflated seed capsules

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