Archive for March, 2009

Threatened Plants Project

March 25, 2009

This year’s target species for the Threatened Plants Project survey are:

Carex ericetorum

Rare Spring-sedge

Cephalanthera longifolia

Narrow-leaved Helleborine

Coeloglossum viride

Frog Orchid

Dianthus deltoides

Maiden Pink

Fallopia dumetorum


Gnaphalium sylvaticum

Heath Cudweed

Groenlandia densa

Opposite-leaved Pondweed

Melampyrum cristatum

Crested Cow-wheat

Oenanthe fistulosa

Tubular Water-dropwort

Vicia orobus

Wood Bitter-vetch

Four of these are not known in the vice-county, and two (D. deltoides and G. densa) are known from single introductions, one in an area around a house that might generously be called a garden, the other in a hotel pond.

This leaves four:

Cephalanthera longifolia I have been to every known site in the vice-county over the past three years and have agreed with the organisers of the TPP that such records as I have from those visits will suffice. One old site has been lost and perhaps a second, but a new site has been added.

C. longifolia on Skye

C. longifolia on Skye


Coeloglossum viride will be fun since on Skye there is only one post-1999 record and only one grid reference that is better than four figures. It is also easily overlooked when dwarfed in coastal grassland.  There are reliable well-documented sites on Raasay and the Small Isles – but I do not want to spend valuable days returning to well surveyed sites if I can avoid it when there is so much to do in places that I have not yet reached.

The situation with Gnaphalium sylvaticum is a bit better than that for C. viride but shares some of the same issues.

Vicia orobus is better in that there are quite a few records with six-figure G/Rs in places that I have not been.  This is a plant of coastal cliffs in this part of the world.

Rare Plant Register

March 25, 2009

One of the things I am supposed to be doing is producing a Rare Plants Register for VC104.  This is a listing by site of native plants that are rare or scarce in either a local or national context.  I made a start yesterday but then learnt that an automatic process is under development that will save  lot of labour in collating records. So botanists, conservationists, planners  etc will have to wait.  Something for later in the year.

More Whoopers

March 22, 2009

We spent  Friday night at the very fine Duisdale House having won dinner bed and breakfast for two at the Raasay School coffee day.  On our way we had a walk at Ardnish Peninsula, Broadford and then, after lunch, another to Leitir Fura.  Blue skies, 16C and windless.

On Saturday, after making the first post-2000 record for Hart’s-tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium) in the ten-kilometre square NG71, we had a tour of the north road on Sleat.  There were 45 whooper swans on Loch Meodal, presumably on their way to Iceland for the summer. Loch Meodal is an SSSI as it is a “pollen loch” which according to the Site Management Statement , “is a nationally important site which helps us understand the vegetation history of the west coast of Scotland over the last 10,000 years”.

Nearby is our only known extant site for Marsh Clubmoss (Lycopodiella inundata). 

There was lots of Water-cress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) in the burns running into the sea at Ord. Sadly the possibility of liver fluke makes harvesting it from the wild too risky.


March 19, 2009

Today I visited the three sites for snowdrops that I was told about last week.  All are now in fruit but well naturalised, two in cemeteries and one in the grounds of a big house.

As I was at or near sea-level all the time, I saw quite a few more species in flower. As always at this time of year any botanising leaves you saying “I must go back later”.  In this case, I want to see what is growing in the good-looking wetlands at Talisker Bay and check which species of comfrey has naturalised for hundreds of metres along a bank by a burn.

The first ants of the year for the Highland Ant Atlas project!   Also a fine view of a peregrine.

Swans & sedge

March 18, 2009

When I was in the Dunvegan area yesterday I spotted three whooper swans on a loch where they are well known in the winter.

Today, taking a long way round to the post office, I found a new site on Raasay for Carex laevigata (Smooth-stalked Sedge). Quite apart from the distinctive leaves, there were the remnants of last year’s inflorescences for confirmation.


March 17, 2009

I went to a hill north of Dunvegan today to have another look for Pyrola media (Intermediate Wintergreen) that I failed to find last year as part of the Threatened Plants Project.  No luck.  The heather in the area is quite young and I fear it has been lost to muirburn since the last record in 1993. However, the first record of this population was in 1985 and was in recently burnt moorland, so the wintergreen can survive muirburn.  Perhaps a more recent event was in conditions of lower moisture and hence higher temperatures.  There again, perhaps I just missed it. Again.

Lots of skylarks singing, a few snipe and flowering primrose, lesser celandine and hare’s-tail cottongrass made the trip a pleasure.  Some frogspawn had succumbed to this morning’s frost – the first for some time.  This happens every year but there are always plenty of frogs later in the year.

Updated Ragwort

March 17, 2009

The first half 2008 report available from my home page  shows Senecio x ostenfeldii as a new vice-county record.  I have recently learned of three 1985 records on Skye.  I fear this is going to keep on happening with hybrid and alien records as my predecessor was not a fan of these groups!

No partridges but one pear tree

March 16, 2009

On Saturday we went to hear the Skye Arts Guild concert given by the Alba String Quartet and stayed with friends in Treaslane as it is impossible to get back home to Raasay after 6 pm.

They told me of a pear tree nearby that gives small but delicious fruit year after year. It is the only remaining one of three, a relic of cultivation by a derelict house.

There are only two earlier records of pears from Skye, both pre-2000, one of which was almost certainly from this site in 1965.  A nice update on an old record, though I must get a better grid reference some time….

More on Adder’s-tongues

March 15, 2009

Now that I can be sure which is which, my Raasay populations of adder’s-tongues look like this in terms of 1 km square distributions:

Ophioglossum azoricum

Ophioglossum azoricum

Ophioglossum vulgatum

Ophioglossum vulgatum


Red dots show those confirmed by DNA analysis.  Black dots are populations where I am sure of the identity without need of molecular confirmation. Green dots are populations that need checking.

O. vulgatum populations are all under bracken.  However, two populations of O. azoricum are also under bracken, in both cases nearer to bigger populations in either short coastal turf or dried up pools.

O. azoricum is now confirmed on Raasay, Rum and Eigg but is not known on Skye, by far the biggest landmass in the vice-county.


March 15, 2009

During 2008 folks throughout Scotland and one kind soul from England provided specimens of adder’s-tongues –  tiny ferns that come in three species in the British Isles.  One of these is only found in Guernsey and the Scillies and so does not concern Scottish botanists very often.

The two other species when at their best look reasonably different:

Ophioglossum azoricum Small Adder’s-tongue

Ophioglossum azoricum Small Adder’s-tongue


Ophioglosum vulgatum Adder's-tongue

Ophioglossum vulgatum Adder's-tongue

However, some plants are not so easy:

Adder's-tongue in dried up lochan

Adder's-tongue in dried up lochan


Using these specimens, Jane Squirrel at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh has developed a DNA-based technique to definitively determine which species is present from a single sterile frond.  This has shown that all the odd-looking plants are in fact Small Adder’s-tongue. 

This leads to a new record for Eigg – Small Adder’s-tongue is now known from this island in addition to Adder’s-tongue itself.

For some specimens that were collected for this study it was not certain which species they belonged to – these all turned out to be O. azoricum . A few more were wrongly identified as the larger species. It makes one wonder whether the nationally scarce smaller species is in fact a little commoner than we thought.