It’s the height of blooming summer. And no, we’re not just saying that for the hay fever sufferers, who will be struggling with the grass right now. This cock’s foot grass was visibly shedding pollen as you brushed past it.
We’re actually saying it for all the wild flowers that are out just now. If you’re making the best of your ‘allowed’ 5 mile trip to go out, you can hardly help but notice all the dog roses out at the sides of the road just now. Although it’s easy just to think of them as a roadside shrub, they have a proud history – the white ‘throw’ of the dog rose was the white cockade of the Jacobites and there is one growing up a cathedral in Germany that is over 1000 years old.
The other shrub you can’t help noticing is the broom. Its yellow flowers are a brighter, more lemony yellow than gorse, which is a deeper gold colour. The other bonus of broom is that it isn’t covered in vicious spikes, unlike gorse! It is a member of the pea family and you can actually eat the flowers when they are in bud – but not too many, they’re a diuretic.
The edges of the paths are blooming with colour, too. Germander speedwells are an attractive splash of blue in amongst the vivid yellow of the buttercups.
And greater stitchworts are one of the white, starry flowers you will also see. They take their name from an old belief they could be used to cure s stitch in your side caused by running.
There are a few other starry white flowers here too. The chickweed wintergreen is out just now, but you are more likely to see it in the woodland than in the open areas the stitchworts like.
But our biggest, starry white flower is unmistakable and grows in the water! Right now, the water lilies are looking at their best. The fill every small bay on the loch and provide great habitat for invertebrates, which, in turn, feed birds like goldeneye.
Another flower you will see on profusion on the reserve is the pignut. It is an ‘umbellifer’ …one of those often hard-to-tell-apart plants with a cluster of small, white flowers at the top. They would have been hugely important to our ancestors; dig one up in early autumn and it will have a peanut-to-hazelnut sized edible starchy nodule on the root. These would have been one of the staple foods of early hunter gatherers. They’re not bad, actually…a starchy, slightly radish-y taste…but with inevitable random gritty bits!
One plant you don’t want to go eating is the foxglove. They contain digitalin, which can be used as a heart medicine when carefully processed or synthesised, but is likely to poison you, possibly fatally, if you eat the plant. But they are beautiful things and are extremely popular with visiting bees.
The gowans are at their height now, too. That’s ox-eye daisies if you’re not Scottish, but I grew up hearing them called ‘gowans’. If you live anywhere near Aberdeen and drive the northern part of the by-pass just now, there are hundred of thousands of these lining the road. Never seen so many, but they will be good news for pollinating insects -like all native flowers, they are an important food source for lots of different insects.
While these are by no means all of the flowers you will find on the reserve, we’ll finish off with another ‘Scottish’ one – the thistle. There are actually several species of thistle, from the prolific creeping thistle to the emblematic spear thistle. Also loved by insects, you soon know if you brush past these…they are one flower that demands attention!