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Flowers of Scotland

Flowers of Scotland

– where will we see your likes in glens?

Sorry, couldn’t resist it. Here’s my take on just some of the flowers of Scotland. Here’s a small selection I’ve enjoyed – high on the mountains, down by the sea, along the lush country lanes that you can find even in Scotland. I’ve tried where possible to relate these flowers of Scotland pictures to a place, as it may help you decide which part of Scotland you want to visit.

Botanically speaking, we’re probably not as spectacular as, say, the Alps, but there’s still good stuff to enjoy out there, with the Angus Glens (Glen Clova) and the Ben Lawers range in particular noted as especially species-rich. And I may return to this flowery topic as I haven’t even begun to look through these ancient scary boxes of 35mm transparencies labelled ‘flowers’! (Gosh, how I wish how I’d indexed them better…..)

Bluebells near Trowan, west of Crieff, Perthshire

Bluebells near Trowan, west of Crieff, Perthshire

(Above) Let’s start with bluebells doing their best in an uncertain Perthshire spring. The oaks aren’t really out yet and there’s a shower on the way – that’s the trouble with spring in Strathearn, near the town of Crieff, when the weather comes down the strath, out of the west.

Scots bluebells- an icon of the flowers of Scotland - are harebells.  At least that's the common name in English.

Scots bluebells are (in English) harebells

You know the difference between a bluebell and a ‘Scots bluebell’ – a famous Scottish blue flower, simply one of the best known of the flowers of Scotland? Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) usually grow in woodland in great swathes. ‘Scots bluebells’ are harebells (in English) and are really Campanula rotundifolia. (Stop me if I get too technical.) They’re common on heathland and verges, though the ones shown (left) have a sandy background as they were growing by the shores of Loch Tay, Perthshire. They’re on the site header as well. (Aren’t they? Och, don’t tell me I changed it and left that sentence in.)

One of the most iconic of the flowers of Scotland is heather. Here's a heather moor, August, above Kenmore, Loch Tay

Heather moor, August, above Kenmore, Loch Tay

Let’s get to the really characteristic flowers of Scotland now. Theheather moor here is above Kenmore on Loch Tay, Perthshire again. When the wind blows across the moor there’s a great scent. It’s worth tracking down some Perthshire heather honey. There are two types of heather – Calluna or common heather and Erica (sometimes called ‘bell heather’). Heather – sometimes also called ‘ling’ used to be a useful plant to the Highlands of old – for example, ropes were made out of the stems and these were used to hold down the croft roof.

Dark green fritillary butterfly on thistle.

Dark green fritillary butterfly on thistle.

(Left) What could be more Scottish than thistles? The traditional tale of how, of all the flowers of Scotland, the thistle came to be a Scottish symbol is, frankly, a bit far-fetched. Apparently, far back in the Scotch mists of time, a raiding party of Vikings landed at night to pillage a Scottish village. They went undetected until one of the barefoot Norsemen stood on a particularly sharp thistle. The resulting Viking bad language awoke the village who armed themselves and drove off the Norsemen. Yeah, right.

King James VII founded the Most Ancient Order of the Thistle in 1687. Their motto was Nemo me immune lacessit, translated into Scots as ‘Wha daur meddle wi me? (Or, into English: no-one assails me with impunity, which, to be honest, I find positively wimpy by comparison.) The Order had a generally spiky-looking thistle as an emblem. And that’s the problem with thistles. Among the flowers of Scotland, no-one is quite sure which one is meant to be a Scottish thistle. There are a lot of different types, including spear thistle, the pernicious creeping thistle, the damp loving marsh thistle and the melancholy thistle that you see in upland pasture and on the banks of streams (or burns, in Scots). And there’s also the Partick, Buckie and the Inverness Caley Thistle for those so inclined.

In the illustration (above, left), matters have been made worse by the fact there is a fritillary as sitting on the thistle. So we not only have a hard to identify thistle, but a not too easy butterfly as well. Thank you, helpful folk from the East Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation for identifying this Scottish butterfly as a dark green fritillary. Follow that link to find out more about their important conservation work in Scotland. My fritillary was photographed at Roseisle, near Burghead in Moray – my favourite beach. There’s a slightly wacky page on butterflies in Scotland here.

Mountain avens, lime-loving alpine.

Mountain avens, lime-loving alpine.

Let’s go up high again to find some special flowers of Scotland, firstly with mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) (left). If you see this plant, you’re on limestone. It won’t grow on the acid peaty soils that are so common in Scotland. You can find it by the roadside on a certain spot on Skye, and by the sea at Durness in the far north – in fact, anywhere that a thin band of limestone emerges in the north-west of Scotland. But mostly it’s high in the mountains. And, it is said that the cup formed by the petals follow the sun like a kind of tracking dish – to warm up the, uhmm, middle bit to attract pollinating insects. Aren’t the flowers of Scotland clever? The leaves, like miniature oak leaves, are another identifying feature.

Cloudberry in flower, Ben Chonzie.

Cloudberry in flower, Ben Chonzie.

Here’s another characteristic and fairly widespread plant of upland Scotland (above). This is cloudberry, in flower, recorded on Ben Chonzie, high above the Glenturret Distillery near Crieff. Later in the season, the red berries form. I reckon they just taste watery! Ben Chonzie is also famous for its mountain hares. (More on wildlife in Scotland here.)

Cushion-forming moss campion

Cushion-forming moss campion. Another fine wee thing to look out for, high on the hill.

(Right) Scattered across the wild uplands of Scotland, moss campion’s pink starry flowers usually grow out of a soft green cushion of moss-like foliage. These were photographed amongst the granites of the Cairngorms, but it’s pretty widespread and brightens up many an otherwise dull plateau (to be honest!). It’s a plant I especially associate with a long day’s hillwalk.

Gorse,(below) sometimes called whins in Scotland, brightens up the Lowland landscapes throughout the country. In the picture below, the foreground thicket is in woodland west of Elgin in Moray, looking east.

"Looking east from Monaughty Wood near Elgin. Bin Hill in the distance.

“Looking east from Monaughty Wood near Elgin. Bin Hill in the distance.

Here’s my favourite Scottish plant – bog myrtle.

Bog myrtle

Bog myrtle, sometimes called sweet gale. (Well, it’s a nicer name.)

Bog myrtle (below, right) is my favourite (and favorite) plant because, not only do the leaves, when crushed, give of a scent that, to me, simply, says ‘Oh good, I must be somewhere special in the Highlands’, but the scent also repels midges. Well, probably. This is the fully grown plant.

As its name suggests, it likes wet areas and so is widespread in the Highlands. It loses its leaves for winter, then little catkins appear in spring to give a reddish tinge to its native boggy habitat. Bog myrtle is also called sweet gale and is getting a lot of attention at the moment from natural beauty product producers.

There are good botanical sites at several parts of the north coast – with Scots primrose just one speciality. (That link takes you my picture of Scots primrose on the Natural Scotland page.) The limestone outcrops in the Assynt area (Inchnadamph), north of Ullapool, are also good. And where there are fine flowers, there is usually fine scenery too. Check out the beautiful scenery pictures page.  Or follow this link if you want to know what flowers were used to dye tartan.

Here’s some Scottish wildlife and some Scottish bird information to read.

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