Archive for May, 2017

Pirri-pirri & Lime

May 30, 2017

Not the latest from Ocado – well perhaps it is – but here, I am describing recent botanical work on Skye.

Acaena anserinifolia 3

Acaena anserinifolia      Photo: S. Gibson

See his blog on the subject which also covers Mimulus x robertsii (Hybrid Monkeyflower (M. guttatus x luteus)).  This is the first record for Acaena anserinifolia in VC104, though M. x robertsii is quite widespread.  This find made me go and check the Acaena that is rampant on Raasay and has been for over 80 years. I am pleased to say that it IS Acaena inermis as I have called it in the past. The following image shows two of the significant differences from A. anserinifolia – hairless upper leaf surfaces and the two apical leaflets being about as long as they are wide.

Acaena inermis lf

Acaena inermis

And so back to limes (Tilia spp.) I have now been in contact with Professor Donald Pigott who has published widely on these trees. To cut a long story short, the hybrid Tilia x europaea is fertile and can “produce individuals that vary from similarity to the parent, all stages of intermediacy to T. platyphyllos and genetic dwarfs but rarely, if ever, trees you would confuse with T. cordata”.

So, the trees on Skye, Raasay and Rum (Thanks, Trudi) that have hairs on the veins may very well be within the range of the hybrid rather than T. platyphyllos.

And another thing – both Steve and Seth have been finding hybrid bluebells (Hyacinthoides x massartiana (H. non-scripta x hispanica)). I have recorded them occasionally but mostly as planted or garden throw-outs. These new records appear to be amongst populations of the native plant.



May 29, 2017

Legend has it that Storab, son of a Viking king, was shipwrecked and sought refuge on Raasay – or was part of a raiding party. The islanders chased him to what is now Loch Storab where he swam to the island in the middle. The islanders, who couldn’t swim, drained the loch and chased him down what is now the Storab Burn, killing him at the place now called Storab’s Grave where there is a large cairn.

When Harrison Birtwistle lived on Raasay the last piece he completed was called Duets for Storab, a piece for two flutes, based on this tale.

I have a couple of issues with this story – there is no island in Loch Storab and Storab’s Grave is on the right bank of the Allt a Bhràghad, which flows into Storab’s Burn after meandering downhill for about 1 km.

Alternatively, Big Storab, son of the King of Denmark, visited a house which stood close by what is now Storab’s Grave when he and the occupants had a dispute. On his departure he was followed and stabbed with a dirk, and buried where he fell.

But hey, Loch Storab is home to the Nationally Scarce Deschampsia setacea (Bog Hair-grass) and whilst it is not yet flowering, it was easy to spot today if you know where to look:

Deschampsia setacea

Deschampsia setacea

Not the prettiest picture I have ever put on the blog, so here are a couple of things that are in flower:

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and a couple that were not:

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Further down the Storab Burn than I went today, beyond Loch Eadar dà Bhaile, there is said to be a stone circle.

Finally some insects:

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Thanks to Nigel and Seth for probable caddisfly identification. Interestingly, the caddisfly Philopotamus montanus was recorded from the small loch south west of Loch na Meilich in 1934 by J. W and G. Heslop Harrison, which is in the adjacent monad (same tetrad).

Small Things

May 27, 2017

This micro-moth was in the garden yesterday. Nigel tells me it is Syndemis musculana sometimes known as Dark-barred Twist, though verncular names do not seem to be much used in the micromothing world.

Syndemis musculana 170526

and today this looper caterpillar which Nigel tells me is the Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) fell onto the lawnmower.

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This fly, Murdo tells me is a Phaonia, a very large genus of the family Muscidae, but since I have had seven different species over the past five years it will need to go for proper determination:

fly 20170519 (1)

Meanwhile, the fungus on Dryas octopetala from Wednesday is looking very likely to be Isothea rhytismoides. The NBN Atlas has 22 records for the British Isles, all in Scotland or Ireland, but none since 1993, and none in Scotland since 1990. (Also none anywhere near Skye.) Here is a better image:

Dryas fungus 3

and a link to things found on Dryas. (The English starts below the Dutch.)

Allt Osglan

May 26, 2017

It was never going to match up with the previous day, but the Osglan Burn is pleasantly wooded and I managed 137 plant taxa in the previously very thinly recorded (4 spp) tetrad NG43Z. There were still Wood Anemones in flower

Anemones Allt Osglan

and I saw my first damselfly (Large Red) and dragonfly (Four-spotted Chaser) of the year.

The roadside by the northern edge of the tetrad yielded a nice patch of Trollius europaeus (Globeflower) next to some fine specimens of Orchis mascula (Early-purple Orchid).

Berraraig Bay and Beyond

May 26, 2017

Back in the last century Dryas octopetala (Mountain Avens) (1976) and Epipactis atrorubens (Dark-red Helleborine) (1996) were discovered on the cliffs of Berraraig Bay. Then in 2006 I added a third Nationally Scare species to the same habitat, Cephalanthera longifolia (Narrow-leaved Helleborine).

For several years I have been meaning to get there in May when the Cephalanthera is in flower and on Thursday I achieved it. I counted over 40 plants, over a 700m stretch. I will certainly have missed some non-flowering specimens as quite a few plants are a little way up a near-vertical cliff.

This was an exceptional day for me in that I added the three Nationally Scarce species above to tetrad NG55C (as well as other nice things like Neottia ovata (Common Twayblade), and two to NG55H, Dryas and Equisetum x font-queri (Font-Quer’s Horsetail) as well as Neottia ovata again, and Vicia sylvatica (Wood Vetch).

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Now I know Equisetum x font-queri, unlike Equisetum telmateia (Great Horsetail), is supposed to bear a cone at the top of fertile stems but this is ridiculous:

Equisetum font-queri Berreraig Bay Malformed

There were rusts and similar I haven’t found before:

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and all sorts of other things – generally a great day.

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.