Assynt Flowers: Dwarf Cornel Cornus suecicus
This small perennial herb is one of the showier members of the montane dwarf shrub heath community in Assynt. It creeps through moorland vegetation on the higher slopes of our hills (350m and above), throwing up erect shoots bearing paired leaves up to 2cm long, with incised veins. The ‘flowers’ are in fact tight heads of tiny dark-purple florets surrounded by four conspicuous white involucral bracts (photos 1-2). They appear in May-June, and are succeeded in August-September by bright red berries, up to 10mm in diameter (photos 3-4).
Dwarf cornel is found on all the major hills in Assynt, including Quinag, Canisp and Suilven, and along its eastern boundary, from Glas Bheinn to the southern end of Breabag (map 5). The isolated record in the southernmost part of the parish was made by me at an altitude of 460m on the northern flank of Meall Coire an Lochan in the Cromalt Hills (NC2106) on 30th June 1994.
This is essentially a Highland plant, with isolated outliers in the Southern Uplands, Northumberland, North-East Yorkshire and Lancashire. Its only close relative in the British Isles is the red-stemmed shrub dogwood Cornus sanguinea, which is restricted, as a native, to England.
The flowers were photographed by Bill Badger below Beinn Uidhe (NC2724) on 13th May 2011. The toothed and pleated leaves nearby are those of cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, which occurs in the same community, but also at lower altitudes. The fruits were photographed by Pam Mackenzie below Bealach a’Chornaidh on Quinag (NC2028) on a joint John Muir Trust/AFC field meeting on 7th September 2008.
Ian M. Evans