More surprises at Achmelvich Bridge

August 6th 2019

Last autumn I wrote about a collection of plants, some new to or rare in Assynt, that had turned up in a pile of earth and rocks dumped on a lay-by near Achmelvich Bridge (NC082248; see A rare assortment of weeds and vagrants posted 12th October 2018).

This site has sprung further surprises this summer.  I had noticed, in passing, late in June, a single long-headed poppy Papaver dubium, and stopped a few days later to have a closer look.  There were some other species that I had noted last year, but also an assortment of yellow-flowered ‘trefoils’ that were not on my 2018 Achmelvich Bridge list. It was a curiously hectic period, so I drew these to the attention of David Haines, who kindly took a series of photographs.

A predictable plant of waste ground and roadsides present was the smallest of our local clovers, lesser trefoil Trifolium dubium.  This has yellow flowering heads about 7mm across, which mature into brownish heads of fruits swathed in the remains of their sepals.

However, alongside this there was a larger version, with lighter yellow heads about 10mm across, hop trefoil Trifolium campestre.  This was first noted in Assynt at Inchnadamph in 1886, with just one record since, localised only to NC13, in 1981.  It too conceals its fruits in the remains of its sepals.  It is widespread in southern and eastern Scotland, but recent records are very scarce in the north-west.

I then noticed a third yellow-flowered ‘trefoil’, another member of the family Fabaceae, but not a clover proper Trifolium sp.  It has wedge-shaped leaflets with toothed apices and cylindrical heads of spirally twisted fruits which blacken as they mature. This is black medick Medicago lupulina, a common enough plant of grassland and waste places further south in the British Isles, but one which has only rarely been recorded in West Sutherland, and never before from Assynt.

It seems likely that this assemblage of plants originated well outside Assynt, probably from somewhere on the east coast of the Highlands.  Their seeds may perhaps have been imported in earth lodged in the bucket of one of the machines that were parked on this site, after it was created for the recent renewal of the Achmelvich water main. Watch this space!

Ian Evans

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Recent Sightings

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