A splash of blue at Clachtoll: viper’s-bugloss

February 17th 2024

A splash of blue at Clachtoll: viper’sbugloss

Viper’s-bugloss Echium vulgare is a sturdy, stifflyhairy, member of the borage family, with pinkish-purple buds and bright blue flowers, scarce in the northern half of Scotland. Elsewhere in the British Isles, it is a decorative component of open grassland, or disturbed soils, often on chalk and limestone, and also around the coast.

It has always been rare in Assynt.  It was first noted in 1991, in Bob and Ann Cook’s garden at Clachtoll (NC0328), with a single plant in 2006 beside the newer Culag Bridge in Lochinver (NC0922).  We then came across it at the edge of garden ground in Culkein Stoer in September 2020 (NC 0333), where it had been introduced (see Culkein Stoer: a botanical novelty explained, posted on December 16th 2020).

A new sighting

It has now reappeared, in quantity, at Clachtoll, around a recently completed house (NC0427).  I first noticed it on 17th November 2022, when I was talking to Iain Roberts, who was building an entrance to the property.  It is a biennial and there were many old fruiting stems and even more new rosettes, which would flower in the following year.  

In February 2023, I had a chat with Ian Fraser, the owner of the house and a long-time visitor to Assynt.  He thought that the plant had been a component of a ‘wild flower mix’ spread on the sandy soils disturbed by construction of the house and gave me permission to check it out later in the year.  This I did on 16th June, when I photographed a splendid stand of the plant (photos 1-3), which was covered in bees.

The story came full circle on 22nd June, when Pippa Saunders invited me to look at the orchids in her land at Balchladich (NC0330), where she was having a house built.  We counted, incidentally, over a thousand flowering stems, mostly heath spotted-orchids, with smaller numbers of heath fragrant-orchids, northern marsh-orchids and lesser butterfly-orchids.  

Her builder, Andy Mackenzie, was on site, and he told us that he had been responsible for the restoration of the grounds at Clachtoll, using aCoastal Meadow Mix’ marketed by Scotia Seeds.  

The sandy ground at Clachtoll appears to suit viper’s-bugloss and it will be interesting to see if it continues to thrive and attract such large numbers of insect pollinators.  

Ian M. Evans

Photos by Ian Evans

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Recent Sightings

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