Spotters’ guide – to wild flowers
You’re bound to see an amazing variety of flowers and plants when you’re out walking. Take a book with you to help you identify them as you go along.
The Scottish thistle is the national flower of Scotland and perhaps one of its most timeless symbols. An annual plant that can reach up to 8ft, the leaves are large and covered in sharp yellow spines. The thistle flowers in mid-summer, and forms pink or purple heads with spiny brachts at the base of each. In its native environment, it often takes over pastures and meadows, and is also frequently found along rivers.
Tradition says that the thistle helped in the protection of the country during early Viking invasions. When the Vikings were advancing on a sneak raid, they would stumble through the spiky thistles and cry out, alerting the Scots to the invasion and allowing them to advance to meet their enemy on the battlefield.
Heather is a prolific flower in Scotland and the Highlands are covered in a bright carpet of purple. According to Scottish tradition, the oak, the rose and the honeysuckle all declined when God was searching for a plant to cover the slopes of the Scottish mountains. The heather accepted, and was endowed with the strength of an oak, the sweetness of the rose and the fragrance of the honeysuckle.
It provides a nesting habitat for many birds and a food source for other animals, including deer and rabbits. Flowering wild roses are found across Scotland. and all three varieties are noted for their sweet scents and for attracting butterflies and other insects. The rosehips that follow attract birds. The most powerful of those three is the sweet briar. All three varieties can be found growing wild in Scotland, from cliffs to coastal dunes.
Bog myrtle likes wet areas and so is widespread in the Highlands — it loses its leaves for winter, then little catkins appear in spring to give a reddish tinge to its native boggy habitat. It’s also known as sweet gale.
Rhododendrons often grow in the wild and in stunning colours, while golden gorse is prolific everywhere from early summer, along coastal paths and inland as well.