Our website

Visit our website at www.arran-campsite.com
and our Blog of our
"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Wild Flowers of Arran

Long, cold winters can have a silver lining: ice and frost delay the growth of bracken giving wildflowers a longer window of opportunity to bloom in spring. Some of these plants have shared the earth’s history for a very long time. Did you know that the common horsetail grass existed 400 million years ago? I know it now from joining in the Arran Natural History Society’s Wildflower Identification Walk with enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide Sarah Cowan in lovely Glen Rosa. Sarah began the walk by informing us that she had identified more than three hundred species of plant just in our immediate vicinity.

Sarah’s sharp eyes picked out many wee species flourishing quietly in hidden places. In the past, most of our ancestors would have known the names and properties of a wide array of plants because they had uses. Sarah informed us how bracken was actually encouraged in order to make potash for whitening linen, as well as stuffing bedding and making glass. Ribwort plantain was rubbed on the skin to be a midge repellent and fragrant valerian was used as an aid to sleep. Bog myrtle still makes a delicious but highly intoxicating beer whilst ling heather can be a great pan scrubber. Distinguishing your heathers can help you keep your feet dry on a hill walk because bright bell heather’s roots form a mat which stops you sinking into bog.

It is always surprising to learn how much the wild landscapes of Britain and their ecology have been influenced by human beings. Sarah told us that the widespread hawthorn was, surprisingly, not native to Arran but introduced at the time of the 18th century enclosures as a means to demarcate land. Brambles and rosehips are likely to be found growing where cottage gardens used to be, as well as hazel for building. Nettles nearly always flag up a place where humans have been active in the past.

To appreciate the beauty and variety of wildflowers you have to look closely and attentively. Apparently, in the Gaelic some grass names are described as grey and blue, not green as you might expect. On looking closer, we agreed that some of the grass stems had a grey-blue sheen, begging the question does language respond to what we perceive or is what we perceive determined by language?

As our short walk neared its end we all came to a standstill at the sight of a flowering creamy Scottish burnet rose spreading over the banks of the burn. Sarah said it had not flowered since 1994 and must have benefited from the cold winter and warm, dry spring. Nearby, deep blue milkwort, bright pink lousewort and sky-blue germander speedwell were bright splashes in the grass attracting the pollinators as well as the insect-eating butterwort and delicate heath spotted orchids. All this natural treasure on a slow stroll of a few hundred metres!

No comments:

Post a Comment