Trillium grandiflorum

Wild flower of the week

& In flower now

There is always an interesting plant to see in Scotland.

Thanks to Stan da Prato for all of his hard work in producing the information and images that go into these posts.


Wildflower of the week – Blackthorn

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

The Cherry Plum or Myrobalan Prunus cerasifera starts to flower even earlier but has some leaves on greener twigs. It is often used in hedges and a purple leaved form is common in gardens.

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.

A well-known brand of cider is named after Blackthorn but is made from apples. (Cherry Plum fruits are red.) Blackthorn is also traditionally used for making walking sticks.


In Flower Now – Daffodils

Daffodils, often in large plantings, are now brightening many parks and gardens. The more vigorous types, such as the trumpets or large-cupped, are the most often seen. Yellow is the predominant colour though some others, such as the large-cupped, cream coloured ‘Ice Follies’ (Division 2) also do well planted in quantity in public places.

Ice Follies

The smaller cupped Division 3 group are also popular –compare ‘Barrett Browning’ (Div 3) with ‘Professor Einstein’ (Div 2). Daffodil enthusiasts use 13 divisions; 12 for the different cultivated forms and one for wild species and natural hybrids as wild daffodils are rather promiscuous!

Two forms of wild daffodil grow in Britain, the two-toned mainly in England where it was the subject of Wordsworth’s famous poem and the all-yellow Tenby daffodil in Wales. They are available from bulb merchants, but they can be slow to establish in gardens.

Wild Daffodils

Both are forms of Narcissus pseudonarcissus which is also the parent of the large trumpet types such as ‘King Alfred’, ‘Dutch Master’ etc (Division 1).

Dutch Master

Not all of these 13 types flower at the same time.  Besides these large forms the hybrids from N.  cyclamineus (Division 6) are quite early. They often show the swept back look of the wild parent. The popular ‘Jetfire’ is in this group but the most popular dwarf daffodil of all, ‘Tete-a-Tete’  is in Division 12 (miscellaneous) as it looks so different compared to its cyclamineus  ancestor.


Further information about the different divisions of daffodils can be found in the Spring Bulb Show schedule which is on the Spring Show page of the website.  Or why not come along to the Spring Bulb Show, 30th and 31st March – 12-5pm at Saughton Park in Edinburgh where you can see all of the different types of daffodils (and other spring flowering bulbs) for yourself.  You may even be encouraged to enter the show next year.  Be warned though – growing daffodils is addictive!! You can never stop at just one.


Winter Colour

In winter, the absence of flowers can make the garden feel drab.  Using plants with colourful stems and interesting bark can brighten up the winter garden. The red dogwood, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and the golden coloured Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ are both easy shrubs to grow. Cut back in spring to ensure colourful stems for the following winter.

Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Contrast comes from the white arching stems of the ornamental bramble Rubus cockburnianus, although the thorns on this plant can be quite bothersome.

Rubus cockburnianus

For taller effect, the Tibetan cherry, Prunus serrula, has attractive bark that looks as though it has been polished, while the maple, Acer griseum, (the paperbark maple) has reddish peeling bark. Our native silver birch, Betula pendula, is as graceful as its scientific name implies but the white form of the Himalayan birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii is even whiter.

Most of these plants feature in The Caley’s new Winter Border at Saughton Park.  Once the park is fully opened, come along and get some inspiration for winter colour in your garden.


Wild Flower of the Week – Gorse

Gorse – Ulex europaeus – provides a splash of colour even on a dull day. This shrub’s habit of flowering on and off throughout the year led to the saying that when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion. It is a useful plant for wildlife as it supports a range of invertebrates along with the many small birds that nest and feed in it.

The leaves are reduced, and the green spines carry out much of the photosynthesis. Gorse copes well with poor soil and exposed sites. It can bounce back after fire but will die out when other trees and bushes grow up among the thickets and shade it out. The flowers have a strong scent of coconut and are edible if you can avoid the thorns when picking them!


Christmas House Plants

Thousands of Poinsettias are bought for Christmas. They can stay as colourful additions to a room until Easter with care. They have been developed from a wild species Euphorbia pulcherrima which grows in Mexico, so they like warmth and good light but not too much water. Ideally place your poinsettia near a sunny window.  Do not let the plant touch the glass. As with all house plants avoid drafts.  Water only when the compost feels dry but then soak the pot. Euphorbias have a bitter white sap so if a stem is broken take care not to get any sap in your eyes. If your poinsettia drops leaves or wilts despite good care, it may mean it suffered cold conditions before you bought it e.g. sitting outside a shop.  Poinsettias are grown using dwarfing chemicals and special light regimes which means they are not really worth trying to keep for another Christmas.

Florists’ cyclamen are another popular winter pot plant. They were developed from Cyclamen persicum and unlike some of the dwarf species they are not hardy. However, they do not like very warm rooms. Keeping them in good light in a cool, well it room or conservatory will make them last longer. They can be grown on to flower in another year. Feed while still in growth then allow the leaves to die back as they naturally become dormant as summer approaches. Only repot if the corm is filling the pot. If a frame is available, they can sit there though some very fine cyclamen are grown on window sills. In autumn, water and feed again.

Most of the pots of bulbs which are bought as Christmas decorations are outdoor types such as Hyacinths which were specially treated to advance their normal flowering time. They will flower again if planted out into the garden but not at Christmas. Paperwhite narcissi are not hardy in our climate so are not worth saving.



Holly is strongly associated with Christmas, featuring on many a Christmas card. With its spines and blood red berries, the plant had religious significance to early Christians.  Prior to that, the Celts held the holly and the oak as the two most important trees and the Romans featured holly in their Saturnalia events.

Most holly trees are either male or female; important to know, as only the female plants carry berries. Some garden forms are better than others. ‘JC vanTol’  and ‘Pyramidalis’,both varieties of Ilex aquifolium,  are both self-fertile and good for berries but do have rather plain leaves.  Contrary to legend, a good berry crop does not mean the tree can anticipate a hard winter but, rather, reflects the amount of sun earlier in the season. Variegated hollies tend to have fewer berries. One variegated holly named ‘Golden Queen’ is, confusingly, male!

Holly, along with other native plants, such as ivy, were used as decoration in the home but are less so now that other plants, such as bright red poinsettias, are available.

Robins, which used to be called Red-breasts, are also often seen on Christmas cards, possibly as Victorian postmen wore red jackets.  In winter all Robins sing to defend individual territories, so ‘Cock Robin’ may actually be a hen. Some of the robins appearing in Scotland in winter will have crossed the North Sea earlier in the autumn.


In Flower Now – Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’


Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is probably the most widely planted of its group. It is already in flower which will last throughout the winter depending on the severity of the weather. The flowers start pink, fade to white and have a striking scent. It makes an upright, deciduous  bush up to 10 feet tall and will grow in most soils. It is best planted against a background such as an evergreen that will show off the flowers and near a path to appreciate the scent. It is vigorous enough to stand cutting for indoor decoration where the scent will fill a room.

The cross was first made at Edinburgh Botanics in the 1930s between the species V. farreri and V. grandiflorum by Charles Lamont. It was repeated at Bodant in North Wales where ‘Dawn’ was the first hybrid to be named.  ‘Charles Lamont’ has brighter pink flowers while ‘Deben’ has pink buds with flowers that are white.


Sorbus aucuparia – Rowan

We are now well into autumn and rowans (Sorbus aucuparia) are laden with their red berries.  The tree is native to Britain. It is also known as the mountain ash because of its leaves which are similar to ash (Fraxinus excelsior), but the two species are not related. Mature trees can grow to 15m and live for up to 200 years. The seeds are dispersed by birds. Rowan is commonly found in the wild, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, but it is also widely planted as a street or garden tree.

Flowers are borne in white clusters which develop into the scarlet berries. Each flower contains both male and female parts, so all rowans bear berries. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of a number of moths. Flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, while the berries are a source of food for birds, especially blackbirds, other thrushes and occasionally waxwings.

The rowan has been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad‘, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered to bring bad luck in Scotland. In Greek mythology Hebe, the goddess of youth, dispensed ambrosia to the gods from her magical chalice. When she lost this cup to demons, the gods sent an eagle to recover it. The drops of blood which the eagle shed in the fight with the demons fell to earth, where each of them turned into a rowan tree. In Norse mythology it was the tree from which the first woman was made (the first man being made from the ash).

Rowan’s old Gaelic name was Luis from which the place name Ardlui on Loch Lomond may derive. The more common Scots Gaelic name is caorunn (pronounced choroon, the ch as in loch), which crops up in numerous Highland place names such as Beinn Chaorunn. Rowan was also the clan badge of the Malcolms and McLachlans.

The rowan is sometimes used in furniture or craftwork. It was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism.  Rowan twigs were used for divining, particularly for metals. Rowan berries are edible; sour but rich in vitamin C and can be used to make a jelly. As well as wine, Scots made a strong spirit from the berries. Today rowan berry jelly is still made in Scotland and is traditionally eaten with game.

In gardens rowan can be susceptible to fireblight and may be affected by silver leaf disease. The berries of the native rowan attract birds which often strip them by early autumn; some gardeners prefer to plant Asian rowans with white, pink or yellow fruit as birds are less likely to eat them.


Autumn Colour

In the recent edition of the Caley Newsletter,  David Knott mentioned that the chance of a spectacular display of autumn colour in our trees and shrubs has increased because of the weather conditions that we have had this year. But have you ever wondered why or how the leaves change colour?  Stan da Prato explains all:

Autumn colours are the result of chemical reactions that occur as the leaves of deciduous trees die. In summer, leaves produce food from sunlight through green chlorophyll.  As summer ends, the cooler weather and shorter days trigger them to stop producing chlorophyll.  Other pigments become prominent.  Carotenoid turns the leaf golden and anthocyanin produces red.

Different species vary in the amount of these pigments. Interestingly, British native trees tend to turn gold rather than red.  Many of the most colourful autumn leaves are on imported trees such as American and Japanese maples. The colours are not the same each year. Windy weather shortens the show. Settled weather with cool nights prolongs it.    A dry summer increases anthocyanin production, leading to better reds and bronzes.

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