Pollination of Sword-leaved Helleborines

May 22, 2017

As it is the season for flowers on Cephalanthera longifolia (Narrow- or Sword-leaved Helleborine) and it is a wet afternoon, I decided to see what was known about its pollination.  The short answer is that, according to an article in the Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society in 2013, “Regular pollinators are small Halictus or Lasioglossum bees” These are known as sweat bees as they are attracted to the salt in human sweat, apparently.

There are no records on the National Biodiversity Network Atlas of Halictus spp. in the NW of Scotland but Lasioglossum spp. are here – so the chances are that these are what pollinate our Narrow-leaved Helleborines.

The lip of the flower has yellow-orange ridges that imitate pollen and tempt insects to visit. The insect bends forward searching for nectar. When it finds out there isn’t any, it retreats and lifts its body, touching the stigmatic surface and scraping off sticky stigmatic fluid. Continuing its retreat it touches the pollinia which are pulled out of the anther and stick to the insect’s back. When it visits another flower, the forward sticking pollinia are pushed against the stigma and pollination is completed. Amazing plants, orchids.

Fertilisation is clearly a bit hit and miss, with a visitor to the main Sleat colony in 2014 reporting “flowers had clearly not been fertilised, and had simply dropped off after withering.” Similarly the Bearreraig Bay colony in 2011 had no fruits.  However, in 2006 a couple of plants at the latter site had fruits .

ceph long fruits

Bearreraig Bay  plant in  2006

It may be that early flowering equates to a lack of pollinators in some years.

Glam Burn & Allt an Doire Domhain, Raasay

May 21, 2017

Recovering from a heavy cold, I wasn’t up for a long hike today but (mostly) before the rain came I walked along the Glam Burn from Glam and back up to the road by the Allt an Doire Domhain, all in tetrad NG54L. It was an excellent wander and I refreshed quite a lot of pre-2000 records as well as adding a few that were completely new.

Glam Burn May 2017

Glam Burn

Many plants are now in flower, including a variety of sedges. Here are a couple that are not, but are very much in evidence:

The Pyrola media (Intermediate Wintergreen) colony, which I first found in 1997, contained just six plants.  In 2008 I recorded 18, which makes today’s count a bit worrying. The Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew) has set to work catching midges.

I had a close encounter with a stag and also, on a different scale, with this chap:

Staphylinus erythropterus Glam Burn May 2017

Staphylinus erythropterus – A Rove Beetle

This is a beastie I see most years.

Sleat Again

May 19, 2017

I had a varied day in Sleat, the highlight being the Cephalanthera longifolia (Narrow-leaved Helleborine) near Achnacloich which is flowering well this year.

Cephalanthera longifolia Stonefield 2017 LR

I checked on more Tilia sp. (Lime) and Tellima/Tolmiea uncertainties.  The limes around Armadale/Arvasar all appear to be Tilia platyphyllos (Large-leaved Lime) as Steve pointed out last year, which is what started me on this exercise. In the case of Tellima grandiflora (Fringecups) and Tolmiea menziesii (Pick-a-back-plant) I now have many sites for the former but only two confirmed for the latter (Geary and Allt na Beiste, Sleat).

Most of the other interest concerned non-natives.  It can be difficult to decide what to record in places like Armadale Castle grounds. I failed to re-find Lamium album (White Dead-nettle) from 1987 and Cephalanthera longifolia (Narrow-leaved Helleborine) from 1977, but I was not surprised as I have tried before. However, I added Gaultheria shallon (Shallon) to the list as it is on the roadside cliffs as well as in the grounds proper.

Some way away from the Castle on a forestry track I found a patch of plants obviously derived from the castle grounds: Euphorbia griffithii (Griffith’s Spurge), Rubus tricolor (Chinese Bramble), a Bamboo I am struggling with, and daffodils. Along the track for 200m there was a mass of Gunnera tinctoria (Giant-rhubarb) – at least 200 plants. The Rubus tricolor is not far from where Steve found it eighteen months ago but it is definitely a second site. The Euphorbia griffithii was not previously known as an escape in VC104.

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The bamboo is about 3 m tall. There is plenty of it near the road at the front of the Clandonald Centre and I have e-mailed them to see if anyone knows which bamboo it is.  I am also consulting a bamboo expert  – and I have two others for him to consider if I can get samples together.

Bamboo Armadale 5

Otherwise, I was pleased to find my annual specimen of Rhagium bifasciatum (Two-banded longhorn beetle).  I have been finding one per year each May at home. This year it was in Armadale Castle grounds


Italian Lords-and-Ladies

May 18, 2017

We do not have a reliable record for Arum maculatum (Lords-and-Ladies) in the vice-county, only three unlocalised and undated old records.  Now we have one for Arum italicum (Italian Lords-and-Ladies) as Maggie has found it under hazel on her croft in Glendale. This is a garden escape that is quite widespread in the British Isles and is probably bird-sown.

Arum italicum 1

The Adventures of Hairy Lime (contd)

May 17, 2017

Back in the 1930s J. W. Heslop Harrison and his crew reported Tilia vulgaris Hayne (Lime) as “Planted at Big Harbour, Rona and likewise in Raasay House grounds”.

As far as I can tell Tilia vulgaris = Tilia x vulgaris = Tilia x europaea (Common Lime), the naturally occurring but very widely planted hybrid between Tilia cordata (Small-leaved Lime) and Tilia platyphyllos (Large-leaved Lime).

Both Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles and John Poland’s The Vegetative Key to the British Flora make the distinction between T. platyphyllos  on the one hand and T. cordata and T. x europaea on the other, that only T. platyphyllos has hairs on the leaves anywhere other than in tufts in the vein axils on the underside of the leaves.

So the old limes in Raasay House have veins on the underside of the leaves that look like this:

Tilia platyphyllos hairs

i.e. this is Tilia platyphyllos.

I do not know what the state of Tilia taxonomy was in the 1930s but I suspect that it may be similar to the situation whereby Heslop Harrison et al. reported Carex vulpina L. (Fox Sedge) when what we actually have is Carex otrubae Podp.  (False Fox-sedge) – so much has been learnt in the past 80 years.

This encourages me to keep checking limes throughout Skye and I am grateful to Steve Terry for starting me off down this route last year.

A Short Time in Sleat

May 16, 2017

On the way home from family on Sunday I had couple of hours to spare in Sleat. I have been having misgivings about earlier Tellima and Tolmiea records (mine, mostly) and so was reassured to find both species:

Tellima & Tolmiea Sleat

Tellima grandiflora (Fringecups) Photo S. Terry   &   Tolmiea menziesii (Pick-a-back Plant)

There was Tilia platyphyllos (Large-leaved Lime) planted in Kilmore Parish Churchyard and it had also established itself on the shore below as an old but short windswept shrub:

Lime on shore

Several limes have tufts of hairs in the vein axils on the under side of the leaves, but Tilia platyphyllos also has hairs at least along the veins as well.

Tilia platyphyllos leaves

I need to check various records for Tilia x europaea around Skye (mine and others’) as I suspect that some, if not all of them, are in fact Tilia platyphyllos.

Finally, I am not sure what this is in a garden throw-out area on the shore at Camus Croise:

I shall have to go back unless someone can enlighten me. Later: I think this is just young, vigorous Lapsana communis (Nipplewort), which is what I thought to begin with but then had a wobble…..

Skye Botany Group Trip – Updated

May 9, 2017

Nine of us, some from a considerable distance away, had a very pleasant day on the hill in the sunshine watching eagles but failing dismally to re-find 1982 records for Kalmia procumbens (Trailing Azalea).  Botanically the area was generally pretty thin but we added a few species to three tetrads.

The next day Ian went into the hills above Cluanie on the mainland and fell over the plant in question:

Kalmia procumbens

Kalmia procumbens   Photo: I Moir

In other news, Steve has added Sagina subulata (Heath Pearlwort) to the list for NG50 and Robin and Rachel spotted a male adder between Glen Brittle Beach and Rubha an Dùnain a couple of days ago.


May 6, 2017

Otherwise known as tetrad NG56B. NG56 as a whole needs a bit more work, though only 12% is land. NG56B has 97% land but until yesterday only 61 vascular plant species were recorded. Yesterday I recorded 171 (may rise to 172 once I have sorted out a young sedge) making the new tetrad count about 180. It turned out to be quite a rich tetrad, the highlight being a huge colony of Equisetum pratense (Shady Horsetail) including a few fertile shoots.

equisetum pratense NG56B

Equisetum pratense Shady Horsetail   Fertile and sterile shoots

After  some time on the moor, roadside , cliffs, etc., I expected to add a few more along the shore but even though I walked most of the shoreline I did not find any suitable habitat for things like Glaux maritima (Sea-milkwort) and Juncus gerardii (Saltmarsh Rush) or Tripleurospermum maritimum (Sea Mayweed) and Atriplex spp. (Oraches).

Coastal Woodland Herishader

Coastal rocky woodland below Herishader

and finally, a watercress garnish:

Nasturtium officinale agg

Nasturtium officinale agg.


May 4, 2017

I put the trap out a few nights ago and caught 33 moths including three species I hadn’t had before:

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Geary – Updated

May 3, 2017

In the past I have driven to the end of the road at Geary in order to hasten to the botanically rich Geary Ravine SSSI. Today I stopped a little sooner and had a go at tetrad NG25Q, in particular the coastal woodland.

This tetrad is unusual in VC104 in that there were lots of records (155) from before the year 2000 but none since. There is one other in a similar category with 96 earlier records but none recent, but that is more difficult to reach.

The reason for all these earlier records at Geary is a 1996 visit by Jackie Muscott and the Edinburgh Natural History Society. Despite the earliness of the season, I was able to re-find the majority of the previous records – and add some more.

The woodland ground flora was at its best, flowering before being shaded by tree leaves. Along the road there were some interesting escapes like Myrrhis odorata (Sweet Cicely), Tolmiea menziesii (Pick-a-back-plant), Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry) and Symphytum x uplandicum (Russian Comfrey).

Some plants in flower, or nearly so:

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This little fellow dropped onto my recording card but I didn’t have the heart to take him home and try to determine exactly which land snail he is as he was unlikely to survive the experience:

Snail Geary 2

Clearly a Balea, just need to check the species….. see comments below.

There were interesting fungi on plants too, some awaiting determination; the one on  Veronica beccabunga (Brooklime) may be unusual:

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Later: Bruce has confirmed my tentative identifications of

Uromyces muscari on Bluebell
Ramularia calthae on Marsh-marigold
Puccinia obscura on Great Wood-rush

and says that the rust on Brooklime is probably Puccinia veronicae on a previously unknown host, but wants the specimen I took.