Thursday 24 June 2010

Botanical Beauties

As most of my blogs so far have made mention of the birds up here I though it was about time that I gave some publicity to the amazing plant life. Some of Britains rarest flowers grow up here, so it would have to be on the 'must visit' list of any botanist or naturalist. One thing I havn't done is include any scale object in these photos, so I'll try and include some measurements in the text. As many of the places these plants are found are particularly exposed and harsh the plants are themselves only very small. Definately a hands and knees task for getting a good look. All of the plants here are found on the Keen of Hamar NNR.

Starting off with one of our rarest plants, the Edmondston's Chickweed, which is only found on the serpentine debris of Unst. Amazingly it was discovered in 1837 by Thomas Edmondston who was only 12 at the time! The flowers are about 20mm.

Edmondston's chickweed

Norwegian Sandwort, a species more common in arctic alpine areas of Scandinavia, it survives here in the harsh conditions. It really is small, and very easy to miss with flowers only 6-8mm across consisting of 5 petals.

Norwegian sandwort

Another arctic alpine plant is the Northern rock cress. This is a pretty little plant, with the flowers attached to the end of a stalk that can be around 30mm long. The flowers are around 8mm across. This makes it tricky to get a good photo of the flowers and leaves. The flowers have 4 petals, and are often a pretty pink colour.

Northern rock cress

Some of the showier flowers are the orchids, Heath spotted orchid, Northern marsh orchid, Frog orchid, Early purple orchid, Fragrant orchid. The first three of these are pictured below. In exposed locations they may be only 30-50mm tall, but in sheltered spots the Northern marsh orchid can be around 150mm. This year there are some really nice examples of the Frog orchid.

Northern marsh orchid

Heath spotted orchid

Frog orchid

Growing low to the ground in the lower areas of the Keen is Stone bramble.

Stone bramble

Not all the plants are showy flowers though. Black spleenwort grows in the dry stone wall crossing part of the reserve. And there are tiny but quite incredible Moonwort too, which I havn't got a good photo of so far this year.

Black spleenwort

After what was quite a harsh winter the arctic-alpine plants seem to be having a bumper year, maybe the cold weather has helped in the germination of seed.

Please remember that the serpentine debris of the Keen of Hamar is quite a delicate habitat, try not to kick stones around, and look carefully where you walk, the plants are small and easy to overlook. There are some panels that are placed next to the key plant species, look carefully as you approach them so that you don't tread on other plants.