Shades of red and reddish-brown are beginning to creep into the palette of the Assynt landscape right now, as rowan berries mature and the deer-grass begins to turn colour on the hills. However, a vivid patch of scarlet caught my eye on 26th August 2017 as I drove past the blackthorn thicket below Strathcroy, at the top of the long straight east of Clashnessie (NC0831), and it wasn’t rowan berries.
Closer inspection, on foot, revealed the clustered flowers of flame nasturtium or flame creeper Tropaeolum speciosum. It is a climbing perennial, related to garden nasturtiums, which originated in Chile and has escaped from cultivation in various parts of the British Isles, thriving especially in the north and west. These plants presumably originated in the garden above, but have been established here for many decades, at their only known station in the wild in Assynt.
The blackthorn that provides them with support and shelter is not without its own interest, since this shrub is rare in Assynt. It is usually, although not exclusively, found in association with settlements. Presumably it yielded something of value to past inhabitants, although it doesn’t fruit very freely this far north. Stands are particularly conspicuous in the winter, since the older branches are festooned with lichens.
Ian M. Evans