Conservation Co-ordinator, Plantlife Scotland
15 suitably kitted-out explorers joined myself and Andy and Roz Summers from The Highland Council ranger Service to trek up the path toward The Bone Caves of Inchnadamph.
Milkwort (Polygara vulgaris) (right) was an interesting one for me as in Scotland I am used to finding the small, indigo flowers of Heath Milkwort lurking in the heather. Here however, due to the richness of the minerals in the limestone rocks it turned out to be Common Milkwort for a change, and had us rooting around the base of the stem to see if the leaves were opposite or alternate – one of the more obvious diagnostic features.
Viviparous Fescue (Fetusca vivipara) caused some exclamations on the curiousness of nature – a grass that doesn’t produce flowers and set seed, but the flowerhead composed of small, living plantlets, that drop off and, hopefully, take root.
The specialty of the place was saved until after lunch and a criss-crossing of the boulder-strewn bed of a burn. What caught our eye first was the bright curving blades of Holly Fern (Polystichum lonchitis), clear, glossy green, with slightly pointed tips to the leaflets. Since it grows on calcareous rocks it is something of a rarity to see in Scotland.
Hedwig Storch under Creative Commons BY-SA licence). This wildflower is tiny, so its hard to find but don't let its size put you off. A hidden treasure, it usually grows up on mountain slopes and is rarely found on the coast. But because of its unique environment, Inchnadamph is one of the few locations this miniature beauty grows.
One sharp-eyed plant hunter said quietly to me “what’s that beside the Holly Fern?” and yes, we had been focused on the bright green fern and hadn’t noticed the small delicate spike of white flowers that was the Scottish Asphodel, nestling in a crack in the rock where some soil had accumulated.
Back to the lochside, the botanising at an end, and we each of us learned something that we had never known before about the wild plants that we share the land with. We didn’t walk too far, but we scrambled off the track, up over rocky knowes, and hopped cautiously over burns. We peered closely at the form and structure of the wild plants we found; from the tiny perforations in the leaf of St John’s Wort, to the shape of the lips of the Twayblade flowerhead. Pleasantly tired we knew we had had a good day out and certainly left me wanting to roam the hills again.
Its special places like these that the Plantlife Scotland team works to protect. By providing landowners with help and advice, they can manage their land in such a way that helps our threatened wild flora and fungi. And where there are wild plants, you get other wildlife: butterflies, bees, birds and other creatures all creating a healthy habitat. Just recently we produced a free management guide for coastal grasslands like those those found at Assynt. You can find out what we're up to on our webpage or even better why not join us?