Horizontal Gene Transfer

July 23, 2019

We don’t have any of the Dodders  in VC104, indeed there are not many records for Scotland but I think this is of general interest from ScienceDaily:

Some parasitic plants steal genetic material from their host plants and use the stolen genes to siphon off the host’s nutrients more effectively. A new study led by researchers at Penn State and Virginia Tech reveals that the parasitic plant dodder has stolen a large amount of genetic material from its hosts, including over 100 functional genes. These stolen genes contribute to dodder’s ability to latch onto and steal nutrients from the host and even to send genetic weapons back into the host. The new study appears on July 22, 2019, in the journal Nature Plants.

More here.


July 19, 2019

I am away seeing plants not normally encountered in Skye or Raasay:


But before I left I had a long day starting from Orbost and taking in the Idrigill Burn, Ben Idrigill and Beinn na Boineid. These last two lie in tetrad NG23J which had only a handful of post-1999 records. This allowed me to re-find several plants not recorded in NG23 since last century such as Gymnocarpium dryopteris (Oak Fern), Potentilla sterilis (Barren Strawberry) and Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry) and also adding several  completely new to the hectad such as Aira caryophyllea (Silver Hair-grass), Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort) and Myosotis discolor (Changing Forget-me-not).

The Idrigill Burn turned out to be more a machete and crampons event than the gentle stroll along a mountain stream I had imagined.

Idrigill Burn

Idrigill Burn

Then on Sunday I went to visit the small area of land in NG72D, which had no plant records. I had missed that this needed surveying for reasons too tedious to go into here. Anyway, the land area is 0.6% of a full tetrad and I found 68 taxa including Ceratocapnos claviculata (Climbing Corydalis):

Ceratocapnos claviculata

Ceratocapnos claviculata (Climbing Corydalis)

At Broadford Co-op there was an area of newly seeded grassland and in there were a number of weeds some of which are very uncommon locally – Papaver dubium (Long-headed Poppy) and a Fumaria that I am fairly sure is Fumaria muralis (Common Ramping-fumitory) but need to get home to some reference works to confirm. Later: Confirmed by Heather McHaffie.

Fumaria sp

Fumaria sp.

Meanwhile, Lee has found an extraordinary number of Orobanche alba (Thyme Broomrape) spikes  – over 300 – near Cocaire,


Just part of the colony.               Image L. Thickett

and Seth followed by Keith have reported Alstroemeria aurea (Peruvian Lily) as garden escapes.

Nic has been high in the Cuillin to help with poorly recorded squares and John has been working a monad at Fairy Bridge and adding many species to the relevant tetrad.

Images from Colonsay – Insects

July 10, 2019
Belted Beauty larva Colonsay

Belted Beauty Larva

Celypha cespitana

Micro-moth Celypha cespitana

Omocestus viridulus

Common Green Grasshopper

Clouded Buff

Clouded Buff

Northen Eggar Larva

Northen Eggar Larva

Parasitic Wasp

Parasitic Wasp

Yellow Shell

Yellow Shell

Images from Colonsay – Plants

July 10, 2019
Anacamptis pyramidalis

Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid)

Beta vulgaris ssp maritima

Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima (Sea Beet)

Coeloglossum viride

Coeloglossum viride (Frog Orchid)

Crithmum maritimum

Crithmum maritimum (Rock Samphire)

Gentianella amarella ssp occidentalis

Gentianella amarella subsp. occidentalis (Dune Gentian)

Ivy on the Beach

Ivy on the Beach

Orobanche alba

Orobanche alba (Thyme Broomrape)


July 8, 2019

I spent a week on Colonsay with five other botanists refreshing my skills in sand dune and sandy soil habitats, amongst other things. An excellent week in which I learnt about several new galls, saw a Small Copper butterfly, which I have never seen on Skye/Raasay and found nice things in the local context like Atriplex laciniata (Frosted Orache) and Orobanche alba (Thyme Broomrape).

I made the most of my refreshed and new skills by going to Canna/Sanday on Saturday. On summer Saturdays it is possible to have over eight hours on the islands by catching the 0730 ferry from Mallaig and leaving Canna on the 1820.

This proved very useful as I re-found 1930s records in the Sanday dunes for Catapodium marinum (Sea Fern-grass) and Trifolium campestre (Hop Trefoil). In both cases these are only the second recent records for the vice-county, the others being on Rum and Eigg respectively.

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I also inadvertently made the first Canna/Sanday record and therefore the first NG20 record for several species including Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort), Carex remota (Remote Sedge) and Scrophularia auriculata (Water Figwort), the last looking like a recent import at the ferry terminal.

Even more importantly, I made the first VC104 record for Polygonum boreale (Northern Knotgrass), distinguished from P. aviculare by having oblong-ovate, petiolate leaves (and large nuts, but it is too early in the year for that to be apparent).

Polygonum boreale 2.JPG

This is a species that was thought to be restricted to the Northern Isles but has since been found in the Outer Isles and Tiree and Colonsay.

The dipteran Janetiella frankumi makes this gall on Rosa spinosissima (Burnet Rose):

Janetiella frankumi

Janetiella frankumi

Simon showed it to me on Colonsay, and there it was on Canna.

So much more I could write but I must get on with entering records into the database……

To Coire Balaig

June 24, 2019

Today I walked from the Bla Bheinn car park to Coire Balaig. Coire Balaig itself turned out to be pretty dull botanically but on the way there and back I made some useful records. The best from my point of view was Carex pauciflora (Few-flowered Sedge) – two sites with plenty of plants. This had no records in NG52 post-1999 and the previous records were at the opposite (NE) corner of the hectad.

Carex pauciflora

Carex pauciflora (Few-flowered Sedge)

This is difficult to find except when the flowers/fruits are there and they don’t last all that long. Also, it tends to be in the middle of otherwise unexciting wet moor which is not that inviting for careful survey.

On Wednesday, I am off to Colonsay for a week in VC 102.

Hybrid Bluebells

June 23, 2019

There was an interesting paper earlier this year in Conservation Genetics by Peter Hollingsworth and Markus Rusham at RBGE, plus collaborators in Canada and New Zealand, concerning hybridization potential between native and introduced bluebells. Using an experimental array allowing natural pollination to occur among flowering plants, and determining the paternity of offspring using microsatellite markers, they conclude that “lower reproductive success of non-natives coupled with the massive numerical advantage of natives represents a substantial constraint against ‘extinction-by-hybridization’ of H. non-scripta in the UK”. Some good news then.

A Shrub at Skinadin

June 23, 2019

Steve has spotted this planted shub at Skinadin. Please can ayone tell us what it is?

Skinadin Shrub 3Skinadin Shrub 2

Skinadin Shrub 1

Photos: S. Terry

Later: Mike suggests  Photinia davidiana (Stranvaesia) which looks right to me. I knew it looked familiar……

The Week Just Gone

June 22, 2019

Last Saturday I headed across the Skye Bridge to help out with recording in the adjacent VC105 (W. Ross). Of relevance to my own patch was the finding of Veronica montana (Wood Speedwell) not far from Kyle in NG72 – it is not recorded in NG72 in VC104.

When I got home I broke my laptop. It failed whilst doing a System Restore and I couldn’t even open it in Safe Mode. To cut a long story short, I am now back in business with the same machine but I am trying to buy a new laptop (turns out to be more chaos!).

The upshot of all this is that whilst I have continued to get out and about, computer time has been dedicated to sorting this out rather than writing my blog.

So… back in VC104, fourteen member of Skye Botany Group went to Torrin on Tuesday and re-found Epipactis atrorubens (Dark-red Helleborine) amongst other nice things and added 13 taxa to the well-recorded tetrad NG52Q.

Rosa sherardii

Rosa sherardii (Sherard’s Downy-rose)

On Wednesday Seth, Neil and I went to Bay and Sgùrr a’ Bhàgh in search of an old record for Paris quadrifolia (Herb-paris). We failed on that but had an excellent day adding  Draba incana (Hoary Whitlowgrass) to the tetrad and finding daffodils on the top of a stack. Heaven knows who thought planting them there was a good idea.

Draba incana

Draba incana                   Photo: S Gibson (edited)

Yesterday I toured a number of sites in Trotternish and re-found Petasites hybridus (Butterbur) at Brogaig, last recorded in 1980 (not tricky given the details from the old record). The Carex diandra (Lesser Tussock-sedge) at Loch Cleat is flourishing. It is in large quantities in the marsh at the west end but also at intervals around the loch:

Carex diandra

I found this leaf-spot on Caltha palustris (Marsh-marigold) which I have only seen once before:

Ramularia calthae

There were large numbers of Gymnadenia borealis (Heath Fragrant-orchid) all over the place including road verges.

Gymnadenia borealis (Heath Fragrant-orchid)





What Else Has Been Going On

June 14, 2019

Joanna and Julian have had a look at parts of NG60P in Sleat that had not been surveyed before, particularly small areas of woodland. They added nearly 50 taxa to the tetrad including Platanthera chlorantha (Greater Butterfly-orchid) and new to NG60, Carex canescens (White Sedge).

Bridgette re-found the Kalmia procumbens (Trailing Azalea) on An Diallaid. Hoorah!

Les has helped me with some willow issues so that I have settled on Salix x fragilis  (Hybrid Crack-willow) without trying to be too clever for the trees near Borve, confirmed Salix phylicifolia (Tea-leaved Willow) from Kilmauag and sorted out records for Salix x ambigua (S. aurita x repens) that had previously been mis-identified.

A recent specimen with sericeous hairs on young leaves from the S. repens parent:


Here on Raasay, Lisa pointed me towards an Acer with curiously purple undersides to the leaves.


Purple Sycamore

It appears to be Sycamore but why it is that colour remains a mystery.