Culkein Stoer: a botanical novelty explained
Back in 2015, I posted a story on the discovery, on 14th July 2015, of a plant ‘new’ to Assynt. It was bladder campion Silene vulgaris (photo 1), in a small paddock on the seaward side of ‘Seafield’ at the road junction near the beach, Culkein Stoer (NC037331).
On 29th September 2020, Gwen Richards and I were returning from a sunny, if windy, walk up to Rubh’an Dunain and along the cliffs to the west. Out of curiosity, I had a look over the fence of the paddock (photo 2). Bladder campion was thriving, in the long grass, although, that late in the year, in fruit (photo 3).
However, nearby were two spikes of a bristly blue-flowered plant (with pink buds) which was readily recognisable as viper’s bugloss Echium vulgare (photo 4). This biennial member of the borage family is widespread on ‘grassy and disturbed habitats on well-drained soils’ as far north as the Central Belt and Fife in Scotland. North of there it occurs as a casual, and sometimes as a component of so-called ‘wild flower mixes’.
There are just two previous records from Assynt, in sandy grassland near the sea at Clachtoll in 1991 and on the roadside near the Culag Bridge at Lochinver in 2006. So, possibly an interesting record of a locally rare casual.
Chasing up local information on the paddock led me to its current owner, Professor Xavier Lambin of Aberdeen University, who has pioneered studies of water vole populations in Assynt. He tells me that he has been augmenting the flora of the paddock with plug plants raised from seed gathered from the Aberdeen area, and is managing it for its biodiversity. Species he has introduced, other than viper’s bugloss, include cowslip Primula veris, as well as some already present in the general area.
So that explains the presence of the viper’s bugloss. However, the 2015 record of the bladder campion pre-dates his ownership, so that may be ‘native’; we may never know. We do not normally record plants that have been deliberately introduced, unless they show signs of escaping ‘into the wild’. However, we shall do so in this case, for the benefit of posterity.
Ian M. Evans