Dactylorhiza purpurella

Wild flower of the week

& In flower now

There is always an interesting plant to see in Scotland.



Heather is one of the best known flowers in upland Scotland. The most widespread is Calluna vulgaris, sometimes called Ling Heather. Its leaves are close in on the stems.  Look also for two species of Erica: E. cinerea, the Bell Heather and E. tetralix, the Cross Leaved Heath. In both the leaves stick outwards. Erica cinerea prefers drier ground, with Erica tetralix usually found in damp patches. All three species have many cultivated forms. Riverside Park in Perth has a new and very extensive collection of heathers.

On the open moor, heather is managed by controlled burning. This results a patchwork of areas with plants in different stages of growth, providing food and cover for Red Grouse and other moorland birds.


Rosebay Willowherb

The tall, mauve flower spikes of rosebay willow herb signal that midsummer is here. They can often be seen in thick stands in woodland clearings, roadside verges, grassland and waste ground. A very successful coloniser, it has increased from being a scarce woodland plant to its present abundance. This started with the railways as it readily colonised the burnt stretches of banking which resulted from the sparks flying from steam locomotives. A single plant produces up to 20,000 wind borne seeds which can land and germinate miles from the parent. It readily travels up railway lines, the seeds blown along by the turbulence from trains. Rosebay took hold in London just after World War 2 when it invaded waste ground, often ground that was bombed in German air-raids. It became the county flower of London. Its ability to colonise land that has been burnt led to the name Fireweed.

As it has a different flower structure to the other willow herbs it is now Chamerion angustifolium and not Epilobium angustifolium.


Papaver somniferum

The opium poppy Papaver somniferum is a distinctive annual, with grey green heart-shaped leaves. The colourful flowers vary from often white to mauve, but garden selections may be in shades of red, pink or purple. Double forms are available.  The seed head enlarges after flowering and can make a decorative feature in a flower arrangement.  This is the part from which sap is extracted to make heroin (illegally) but also a series of important pain relieving drugs including morphine. Common pain killers such as Co-codamol contain a mix of opium and paracetamol.

Papaver somniferum

The plant seems to be of Mediterranean origin but has long been established here. It readily seeds around and often appears on disturbed ground including gardens where it was not intentionally sown. It is perfectly legal to grow this species in gardens in the UK.as large numbers are required to produce drugs.  It is grown under license on undisclosed farms for the pharmaceutical industry. The seeds are often used to decorate buns and cakes.



Meconopsis is always a key feature at Gardening Scotland.   It is one of those groups of plants with star quality. Though best known to gardeners as the big blue Himalayan poppies   there are other types. They come from upland areas in China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan so   do well in many parts of Scotland though are not so happy in the drier eastern parts of the country. Usually thought of as woodland plants in this country, in the wild they are often found in alpine meadows or even scree slopes but always with adequate moisture in the growing season.

The big  blue flowers of  Meconopis baileyi/betonicifolia and  hybrids  are what attract  most gardeners. Note that there has been considerable confusion over the names of these – for guidance look at the excellent website of the Meconopsis Group.   All meconopsis like cool, humus rich soils with semi shade in the south of the UK. Some are infertile and have to be propagated by division while of those that set seed, such as the very popular cultivar Lingholm, divisions are best so you get   a good form. Meconopsis can be short lived if conditions are not to their liking. Many enthusiasts consider Slieve Donard their favourite classic big blue poppy. Others blues  include  the early and very large Mophead, the slightly purple Barney’s Blue.   Other colour forms in this group include Hensol Violet while Marit is the best white.

The very tall M. napaulensis has attractive rosettes which eventually throw up a giant red or yellow flower spike then die after setting  seed.  The smaller red  M. punicea is also monocarpic but  the duller red M. x cookie Old Rose is perennial. M. quintuplinervia is a very attractive small species with lilac blue flowers sometimes called the harebell poppy.

Meconopsis Marit

Meconopsis Slieve Donard

Meconopsis Old Rose

Meconopsis napaulensis

Meconopsis Mophead

Meconopsis Lingholm







To obtain any of these plants go to a specialist nursery.

There is one meconopsis that is very easy to grow and can become a weed.  Meconopsis cambrica, the yellow Welsh poppy.  It is native to parts of the UK though very widespread in gardens where an orange form also occurs.   Some botanists now classify it in a different genus, Papaver. Be warned: only plant it where you don’t mind if it self-seeds.

Meconopsis cambrica


Wild Flower of the Week – Cow Parsley and Hemlock

There are several wild flowers with white or, occasionally, yellow flowers held in upright umbels.  Although the Umbelliferae have now been renamed Apiaceae by botanists, umbellifer is still a useful English word to describe these plants. The commonest is Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris (see picture above).  As the name indicates, it likes light shade in open woodland although it is also frequent along hedgerows and banks. It is a short lived but vigorous grower which has increased due to enrichment of many verges by fertiliser run off from fields.

 Conium maculatum

Children often used the hollow stems and seeds of Cow Parsley as pea shooters. This would not be a good idea with the umbellifer shown in the photograph above which is Hemlock, Conium maculatum.  One of the most poisonous plants in Europe, it was used in the past as a method of execution – most famously with Socrates. It likes disturbed ground and damp soil, so is often found on field margins or by the coast. It tends to have a rank smell and the stems have purple blotches, but these may not be visible unless you look closely. The family also contains many important garden vegetables and herbs such as carrot, parsnip, fennel and parsley.


In Flower Now – Clematis montana

Clematis montana has white flowers, though it is most often seen as one of its pink forms.  It is a vigorous and easy to grow climber although, as with any clematis, it needs some support to get up a wall. As it is so vigorous it can easily cover an ugly shed (very useful) or climb a tree. It is much less likely to be affected by disease than the large-flowered clematis.  Pruning is only needed to keep it within bounds and should be done as soon as the flowers fade to allow it to make new growth for next spring’s blooms.

Good forms of C. montana var. rubens include ‘Elizabeth’, which has a good pink colour and a slight scent, while ‘Tetrarose’ is a deeper mauve-pink shade with bronze foliage. C montana var. grandiflora has very large white flowers and like most cultivars is scented.  There are double forms and some with twisted petals – an acquired taste!


Prunus spinosa – Blackthorn

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, is distinctive in early spring with white flowers against black branches that do not yet have leaves. The plant typically suckers to form thorny thickets.

Later in the year Blackthorn carries purple fruit which give its alternative name of Sloe. Sloe gin is traditionally made from fruit picked in autumn after the first frost. Each berry is pricked – traditionally with a thorn from the bush- and a jar is filled half way with the berries. Gin is added along with sugar and further flavour comes from cloves or cinnamon.  There is a well-known brand of cider is named after Blackthorn, but it is made from apples. Blackthorn is also traditionally used for making walking sticks.

The Cherry Plum or Myrobalan, Prunus cerasifera, starts to flower even earlier than Prunus spinosa but has some leaves on greener twigs. It is often used in hedges and there is a purple leaved form which is common in gardens. The fruits of the Cherry Plum are red.


Wildflower of the Week – Wild Daffodils

The yellow trumpets of daffodils brighten spring in gardens, on roadsides and in parks during March and April. But these are usually larger garden varieties. Our native daffodil is smaller than most garden varieties. It was known as the ‘Lent lily’ or ‘Easter lily’ since it often blooms then, though botanically it Is not a true lily. Once abundant in parts of England and picked for markets, these wild flowers are now much rarer, having declined during the 19th century.

In Scotland they can be seen in Falls of Clyde Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. Most are Narcissus pseudonarcissus with narrow, grey-green leaves and pale yellow petals surrounding a darker yellow trumpet giving a two-tone look. Though William Wordsworth wrote about ‘A host of golden daffodils’ the Welsh Tenby daffodil N. p. obvallaris is more truly gold than the Lake District flowers.

Wild daffodils are relatively short and form clumps, carpeting the ground. The plants are poisonous and therefore resistant to deer and rabbits.

The Latin name comes from the story of Narcissus who had many admirers, including the nymph Echo. Angered at his refusal she made him fall in love with his own reflection so he wasted away until he died. The Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer wrote in ‘The Golden Bough’ (1890) that the myth originated from the belief that man’s soul is situated in his reflection. Hades the Greek god of the underworld captured Persephone as she was picking daffodils in the Elysian Fields. Daffodils were associated with death and used in wreaths and planted on graves.In the Christian faith it is linked to the Virgin Mary and is even occasionally referred to as Mary’s Star.


In Flower Now – Crocus

Unlike snowdrops, crocus come in a variety of colours. The large and later flowering Dutch forms are the best-known, often planted in drifts along verges or in public parks. Most are mixed colours but using a single colour can be very effective.  The smaller and slightly earlier flowering hybrids of C. chrysanthus such as ‘Blue Pearl’, ‘Cream Beauty’ and the white ‘Ard Schenk’ are all well worth growing.    The small purple C. tommasinianus will self-seed readily. C. sieberi ‘Tricolor’ is unusual but quite easy to grow.

Crocus have an advantage over daffodils in grass as their foliage is less obvious as it dies down after flowering.   It is essential to allow the foliage to die back naturally so the corms will be strong enough to flower next year.


Corylus avellana – Hazel

The catkins or lamb’s tails of the male Hazel, Corylus avellana, are prominent as the bushes are not yet in leaf. The smaller female catkins become nuts after being pollinated by the wind. Hazel was traditionally cut over or coppiced to produce rods. The flexible wood could be formed into spars, stakes, hurdles and furniture as well as firewood.

Hazel nuts attract many forms of wildlife, most notably squirrels.  Cultivated forms of hazel were selected for their nuts or cobs though some are hybrids with the closely related filbert.  Hazel was supposed to protect against evil spirits and water-diviners use it for their wands.  In medieval times it was a symbol of fertility.

‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’ is a hazel with twisted stems. The twist is said to be due to a virus. First found in a hedge in Victorian times*, the first garden plant came from a cutting planted in what E A Bowles called the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ at his well-known garden at Myddelton House, Middlesex.

*I am reliably informed that the twisted hazel was first discovered in a hedgerow at Frocester, near Stroud in Gloucester in 1863.

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