Rare seashore plant rediscovered in Loch Roe
On 20th August 2021 Claire Belshaw kayaked across Loch Roe, Achmelvich (NC0624) to the southern side (photo 1). She was hoping to find sea aster Aster tripolium on the shore of the loch, the only place in Assynt where it grows.
She was disappointed, since after flowering it becomes hard to see. However, she did notice on the shoreline another plant that it is equally rare in the North West, a glasswort Salicornia species (photo 2) and emailed me.
The only representative of the genus found locally, so-called common glasswort S. europaea, was first recorded on the north side of Loch Roe, by Stephen Moran, on a Field Club meeting on 26th June 2005. It occurs there sparingly in muddy channels in the saltmarsh, with sea aster nearby, and had been found nowhere else since.
Most glassworts are annuals, with succulent, jointed, stems (photo 3) bearing, in season, very inconspicuous flowers, of which the only obvious parts are one or two anthers. They are exclusively maritime, and fresh shoots are gathered in England, where it is much more abundant, for eating, under the name of marsh samphire.
Certain identification of glassworts requires examination of live material. I did not read Claire’s email until I returned from a visit to England in early September, when I asked her if she could get a fresh sample. She did so on 9th September, and from it I was able to confirm the species. Her photographs revealed that it was growing on a stony shore, amongst the wrack, where it was showing the change in colour, from greenish-yellow to red, typical of this species in late summer (photos 4-5).
Other sites in the area
Elsewhere in West Sutherland, common glasswort has been found only at Upper Badcall (NC1541), Port Chamuill on Loch Eriboll (NC4361) and somewhere on the Kyle of Tongue (NC5856?). The nearest mainland localities where glassworts occur widely are on the east coast, around the Cromarty, Beauly and Moray Firths.
Ian M. Evans