28 June 2009

Abnormal flowers

Recently I've noticed several abnormal forms of flowers.

Butterwort normally has only one flower on each stalk, but this one had two. The two stems are joined at the bottom right corner of the picture.

In April I found a Fritillary in our garden that had done the same thing.

Two weeks ago Fred bought me a bunch of flowers, but it was only after several days that I noticed this double-headed Gerbera among them.

Last Friday I was doing an orchid survey and discovered this Heath Spotted Orchid which appears to be opening its buds from the top of the spike downward - the opposite direction to the normal.

In the same field were several white Ragged Robins. This flower is normally pink.

For more abnormal plants we have found, see Botanical abnormalities

27 June 2009

Scottish wild orchids

Today I have been doing a survey of wild orchids at our local country park. This site is well known locally for the wide range of orchid species present.

The rarest of these, and the subject of our most detailed survey, is the Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride). Not only is this orchid usually green or brown, but it is also rather small and very difficult to spot. This photo was taken there today.

Some of the other species present are much easier to see, including the very common Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata). The photo was taken earlier this week at another site.

The Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) also grows in our garden (as in this picture) where we have around 500 flowering spikes.

The Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) is a very deep purple colour and tends to grow in damper areas. It very often hybridises with the previous two species. This one was growing in woodland which we passed when visiting another site this week.

The Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) is easily identified by its scent, and also by its lack of spots and its long spurs. This species was also growing at another site which we visited on Thursday.

Common Twayblade (Listera ovata) grows in certain areas of the site we visited today, and this picture was taken last year.

The much smaller Lesser Twayblade (Listera cordata) is hard to spot as it mostly grows under heather or on moss in woodland. A few years ago I found one plant at the site we visited today, but this picture was taken 2 years ago at another site.

Another showy orchid is the Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) and we also have about a dozen of these growing wild in our garden.

It is hard to distinguish between the Greater and the Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia). The latter species does not grow at the site we visited today, but has been the subject of a survey for the past three years. Most of my visits to other sites this week have been to count this orchid. The two species can be distinguished by looking at the pollinia inside the hood of the flower. In the Greater Butterfly Orchid they diverge and are far apart, but in the Lesser Butterfly Orchid they are parallel and close together. This photo of a Lesser Butterfly Orchid was taken on Thursday.

Another species found near to the site, and also in our garden, is the Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), but that is not yet in flower.
For two other Scottish orchid species see June Flowers

24 June 2009

Veronica fruticans

Last July a group of us visited a glen in Central Scotland where we had seen large quantities of Purple Saxifrage in the spring. We hoped to find other alpines, as the Purple Saxifrage indicated that the soil would be right for them.

We found a wide variety of species, but I also discovered a small shrub that I didn't recognise and which had no flowers. Two botanists present agreed that it was almost certainly Veronica fruticans - a rare and beautiful alpine - so today we returned in the hope of finding it in flower.

The chances seemed quite low, as we were not sure when to expect it to flower, and had been warned that any wind or rain would be likely to blow off the petals.

To our delight, and probably thanks to a week of fine weather, we found a whole lot of plants flowering profusely.

We hope to return to this glen in the next few weeks to find other alpines.

22 June 2009

June flowers

This and next week are when we will try to get as much as possible of the wild orchid recording done, as more species are in flower than at any other time of the year.

On Saturday we went to a site where Early Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza incarnata) had been reported. We found a number of these beautiful orchids which come in 4 subspecies, and we suspect that there could have been 2 of these present, but we still have to get this verified.

Early marsh orchids like to grow in extremely wet areas, as in the picture below, often on hummocks sticking up out of the water.

Later we went to another site which turned out to be rather disappointing, but on our way back one member of the party spotted some Coral Root Orchids (Corallorhiza trifida) among grass under birch trees. This will certainly rank among the most exciting finds we have made this year, and it is the only current record for this orchid in West Perth.

You might just be able to spot them in the grass near the bottom towards the right in this picture.

The next day I took the opportunity of a walk up Ben Lawers, which is well known for its alpine flowers, and also its neighbour, Beinn Ghlas. As I was with a non-botanical group, I didn't get a lot of opportunity to look for the rarer species, but hope to be returning there for a more detailed search in 2 weeks' time.

Although not uncommon on the Scottish hills, Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) made a beautiful display all over the hills.

I even found one Purple Saxifrage still in flower.

Another species commonly seen was Alpine Mouse-ear (Cerastium alpinum), a flower which is very local and only found on high mountains.

12 June 2009

Morning visitors

The birds in our garden seem to become more tame every day. All the following photos of our most frequent visitors were taken yesterday morning and this morning.

11th. 7:04am
This duck is usually the first to arrive at around 6.30am. She feeds on corn submerged in water, but also likes Fred's home-made bread which we soak in water.

11th. 7.08am
The starlings are next to arrive. They get dried mealworms.

12th. 6.50am
The jackdaws like peanuts and currants as well as the mealworms.

12th. 7.06am.

This morning we had 3 blackbirds all queuing up for currants which they were taking away, presumably to feed young.

10 June 2009

Dragonfly emergence

Today I went to check on a site where I had previously discovered some interesting sundews - Drosera anglica and Drosera x obovata (the hybrid between D. anglica and the common D. rotundifolia) - see the Drosera pages on our website.

In the stream where most of them were growing, we saw a dragonfly which had just emerged. I noticed it because the wings were held together above the body rather than flat like an aeroplane as is normal.

In the picture below, the discarded nymph skin can be seen to the left of the adult dragonfly.

Dragonfly nymphs are aquatic, and this stage in the life cycle may take several years, while the adult lives for a few months at most.

This dragonfly is a male Common Hawker, though the colouring is very different from that of a mature adult. Thanks to Jeanne Robinson of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the identification.

09 June 2009

Labrador tea

Labrador Tea (Ledum) is widespread in Greenland where I have seen it (Ledum palustre) growing in great quantities, so I was intrigued when I heard that it also grows at a site in central Scotland.

Two years ago I was taken to visit this site, and I returned in May this year as part of a botanical project to monitor its spread. The species here is a different one - Ledum groenlandicum (or L. palustre ssp. groenlandicum) - which also grows in Greenland although I had not seen it there. The chief difference is that L. groenlandicum has broader leaves.

Also L. groenlandicum usually has 6-8 stamens while L. palustre has 10.

It is generally considered that it was introduced at this site, though this is difficult to verify and it has been present in the area for at least 150 years.

The plant is closely related to the Rhododendrons and is now frequently included in the genus Rhododendron rather than Ledum. The leaves are used to make tea in some parts of north America, though they contain toxins.
The site is rich in other interesting species, and one of the most abundant is Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos).

These tiny flowers grow on thread-like stems with narrow leaves, and often carpet the ground.

The berries form later in the year, and are disproportionately large compared to the size of the plant.

A rarer species found at the site is Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), and this year we found it in flower.

In addition, we saw large numbers of Green Hairstreak butterflies, though trying to take photos proved difficult.

08 June 2009

Painted ladies

During the past few weeks there has been a huge influx of Painted ladies arriving in the UK. These butterflies migrate here from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco - a journey of around 1000 miles.

They were first seen in Britain in large numbers on 21st May, but the first time we saw any here in Scotland was 29th May. That evening we went for a walk along a country path near our home and saw at least half a dozen of these beautiful butterflies.

Since then we have seen fewer, and most have been flying past at such a speed that it was hard to be sure of the species, but this one conveniently perched on a bluebell flower.

Another was feeding on buttercup flowers close to the canal.

Usually we would expect to see only one or two of these butterflies all summer.

You are asked to submit any sightings to Butterfly Conservation at
where you can also find out more about them.