Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Botanising on Arthur's Seat

Warren looking up at Sticky
Catchfly, Salisbury Crags.
Image courtesy of W. Maguire
I've never been entirely sure where the Botanical Society of Scotland (BSS) ends and BSBI Scotland begins! 

But I'm not sure it really matters which hat people wear when botanising. Many Scottish plant-lovers seem to be members of both societies, and in my humble opinion the main thing is that Scottish botanists are doing a great job: they're going out recording, running botanical training courses and conferences and photographic competitions, getting young people involved, taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt and Wildflower of the Month - long may they continue!

So I asked Warren (recent BSBI member) and Ewan (BSS trustee who has just graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSc in Plant Science) to tell us about the BSS meeting they led recently in Edinburgh.

Over to Warren and Ewan:

Ewan (on right) and botanists,
Arthur's Seat 19/6/2016
Image courtesy of E. Cole 
"On Sunday the 19th of June, the Botanical Society of Scotland held its latest field meeting, ‘The Wildflowers of Arthur’s Seat’, in Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is a volcanic outcrop dominating Holyrood Park in the heart of Scotland’s capital, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a wonderful place for wild flowers. 

"The site covers an area of 225 hectares and is primarily composed of lowland grassland habitats, both calcareous and acidic. The close proximity of the site to the coast and its rocky igneous substrate provide a perfect niche for a wide range of plant species, some of which are rare locally and indeed nationally.

Adder's-tongue Fern
Image: W. Maguire
"Led by Ewan Cole and Warren Maguire, fifteen of us (including the bryophyte vice-county recorder for Midlothian, David Chamberlain, and the former president of the Edinburgh Geological Society, Christine Thompson) met in the sun-bathed carpark in front of the Scottish Parliament at 10.00 a.m. 

"The first place we visited was Hunter’s Bog, an area of damp grassland and marsh lying between Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. This area, which is usually ignored by the many tourists who visit Holyrood Park, holds lots of interesting plants, including a substantial population of Adder’s-tongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum). Although these curious little plants can be elusive, there were so many that we had no difficulty finding them; indeed, they were growing so thickly amongst the grass that we had to be careful not to stand on any! 

"Also growing in the area were Northern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella), Yellow-rattle (Rhinanthus minor), and Hairy Sedge (Carex hirta). 

Purple Milk-Vetch
Image: W. Maguire
"Around the pool at the centre of Hunter’s Bog, we saw many other marshland species, including Celery-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus), Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), Brown Sedge (Carex disticha), Common Spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), Floating Sweet-grass (Glyceria fluitans), and Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre).

"From Hunter’s Bog, we climbed the long slopes up to Salisbury Crags where, in addition to spectacular views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, we were greeted by a blaze of glorious summer colours: the lemon-yellow of Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), the frothy white of Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile), and pink carpets of Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus). 

Fern-grass
Image: W. Maguire
"Despite the vertiginous nature of the Crags, we spent a good while here examining these and other specialities of the area including Purple Milk-vetch (Astragalus danicus), Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra), Kidney Vetch (Anthyllus vulneraria), and Meadow Oat-grass (Avenula pratensis). 

"With growing cloud and wind, we descended to the Radical Road at the foot of Salisbury Crags. Among the many common wild flowers here were three superficially similar yellow members of the pea family, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina), Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium) and Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre), and two of the smaller geraniums, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle) and Hedgerow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum), all of which provided a good opportunity to demonstrate the intricacies of identifying superficially similar wild flowers. 

"In addition to masses of Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium) and Early Forget-me-not (Myosotis ramosissima), the Radical Road also holds some of Holyrood Park’s rarest plants, in particular Spring Cinquefoil (Potentilla tabernaemontani), Fern-grass (Catapodium rigidum), and Sticky Catchfly (Silene viscaria). 

Spring Cinquefoil
Image: W. Maguire
"We had lunch under a clump of the Sticky Catchfly, high above us on the Crags and viewable only through our binoculars. These were reintroduced by Historic Scotland in a bid to bolster the tiny natural population of one of Britain’s rarest plants in Holyrood Park.

"Our next stop was a brief but fascinating geological diversion, to Hutton’s Section, which Christine Thompson expertly explained the significance of. This geological feature, which shows igneous rock overlaying and intertwining with sedimentary rock, was used by the 18th century Edinburgh geologist, James Hutton, to demonstrate the complex geological history of the planet. 

"Of course it is the complex geology of Holyrood Park which makes it such a rich environment for wild flowers, and we were all left feeling like we wanted to know more about this fundamental aspect of botany.

Sticky Catchfly
Image: W. Maguire
"By now we were starting to run out of time and weather. It was clear that we weren’t going to get round all of our planned route, but a quick walk up Queen’s Drive brought us several other specialities of Holyrood Park, including Bur Chervil (Anthriscus caucalis), Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium), Bloody Crane’s-bill (Geranium sanguineum), and Forked Spleenwort (Asplenium septentrionale). 

"A climb up the steep slopes to see the original populations of Sticky Catchfly was, unfortunately, not possible with the group, but again it was viewed through binoculars. Other treats of Holyrood Park (e.g. Spring Sandwort, Minuartia verna, Wood Vetch, Vicia sylvatica, Maiden Pink, Dianthus deltoides, Rock Whitebeam, Sorbus rupicola, and the rare hybrid of Forked Spleenwort and Wall-rue, Asplenium x murbeckii) would have to wait till another day, as we were out of time, but everyone who had come along was very pleased with what we’d seen. 

"We parted ways just as the rain came on, having seen about 115 species of vascular plant, many in flower, with a wonderful insight into the botanical and geological richness of Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. Thanks to everyone who came along with us and to the BSS for organising and advertising the meeting!"

And thanks to Ewan and Warren for telling us all about it! You can keep track of BSS meetings here and find out more on their Facebook page here.