WESTER ROSS, Live the Highlands
Plant life of Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

 

Plant Life

At the risk of stating the obvious, what you see depends, to a major extent, on when you visit. What is perhaps less obvious, is that although our northern latitude means spring and summer arrive a little later than in the lowlands, this is partly compensated by a coastal position influenced by the Gulf Stream (or North Atlantic Drift). Once it starts, the flowering season is quite extended, and some of the many species that have appeared by mid-May, soldier on into September, and even October. There are, of course, exceptions (e.g. orchids) with a more limited flowering period, but on the whole, between late April and September you should see a very good variety of attractive and interesting flowers. The peaks, troughs and general characteristics of each month are given, summarising the appearance of common species by month and colour. The timings indicated are very much dependent on weather (with much variation year on year) and on location - they are not absolutes, but a general guide.

Spotted Orchid

Where to see the flowers, again depends on season and on what you are looking for. There are some good flower trails around Gairloch, but almost anywhere will yield something of interest. In the Poolewe area, for example, the walk beside the River Ewe and on to Loch Kernsary is also very productive as is the track through Tollie woods. 

So, what can you see - and when?

If you are braving the early season, you will be rewarded with the freshness of the new year, when the wild flower season really begins. By mid-march the Celandines and Primroses have appeared and by the end of the month they are in full swing. The Flowerdale area, Tollie woods, and the path beside the River Ewe all offer good opportunities. The weather can be very kind or very cruel; at this time you pays your money and takes your chances.

    

          Marsh Marigold                    Wood Anenome                       Bluebells

When spring arrives, the woodland areas erupt into life adding Bluebells, Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemones. The weather can be absolutely superb, or simply average. Irrespective, the green resurgence is taking off and a range of species including Marsh Marigolds, Creeping Buttercups, and Lady’s Smock (Cuckoo Flower), join the woodland flowers.

 

   

          Red Campion                           Gorse                                Speedwell

By May a wide variety of species can be found, including some of the more spectacular flowers like the Foxglove, Heath Spotted Orchid, Red Campion and Yellow Flag. Looking a little harder reveals many equally attractive, if much smaller, flowers such as Eyebright, various Speedwells, Tormentil and Yellow Pimpernel. This can be the best month of the year for good weather in Wester Ross (but no guarantees), so the opportunities for flower spotting are many. Above all, in warm weather, the dense yellow banks of gorse dispense a wonderful aroma redolent of more tropical climes. June and July are probably the best overall months for floral diversity. The beautiful Orchid appears, along with the pink/purple of Heather and Cross-leaved Heath. Yellow flowers dominate, with many dandelion family representatives (composites) as well as the characteristic moorland "Bog Asphodel". This is a marvellous time for the keen flower spotter, or for the rambler with an eye for beauty. The Lesser Butterfly Orchid and Fragrant Orchid are possible rewards for the sharp eye. 

    

             Heather                               Bog Asphodel                        Helleborine

 From mid-July onwards, the thistles and the heather are the dominant purples with a pinker contribution from the Cross-leaved Heath. By the beginning of August the Ling or “real” Heather is coming into full glory. When the days are warm and the light bright, the hills are overtaken with the colour and scent. Little matter that off the hill many other flowers are now fading. Of course there are no absolutes in this changing story. The Tormentil and Birdsfoot Trefoil that came on to the scene in May can still be found here and there. Even the April Milkwort can be spotted with a careful eye. It is a question of degree – decline rather than upsurge - that characterises late July and early August. But August is a month of solid banks of colour – the pinks of the finishing willowherbs, the blues of the Scabious and swathes of yellow composites lining the roads – Catsears, Nipplewort, Sow-thistle, Smooth Hawksbeard, and doubtless many others.

As Autumn comes in, the Scabious hangs in, and the heathers start to tail off, but otherwise September is much as late August, with the odd few of many species hanging on here and there. The yellow of composites and buttercups still dot the fields and roadsides.

  

   

    Saffron Milk Caps                     Birds foot Trefoil                       Fly Argaric

By mid-September, just the odd sprays of purple remain, notably Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, and Black Knapweed. The big story in September - October time are the fungi, two of which are shown above... the bracken is brown like the Ling, huge varieties of fungi are common everywhere and the trees are rapidly losing their leaves. The truth is, that there is always something in flower somewhere, but you may not always be very impressed with the species!
By his own admission, the writer has never had a good enough colour sense to identify flowers correctly! So, if you are like me - ( but perhaps not so bald on top), and you would like some assistance to find out more about local flowers, go towards a local bookshop, in the door, and ask for a copy of ...........

 

Celtic Fringe Tourism Association, C/O Douglas Gibson, 13 Strath, Gairloch, Wester Ross IV21 2BX