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  • Writer's pictureHarris Brooker

Botany in Speyside (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Hi Everyone. For this post I’m going to talk about botany. The Cairngorms is well known for its birds and mammals. But equally as rare and varied are its plants, some of which are difficult to find elsewhere.

Twinflower (Linnea Borealis) - Related to the honeysuckle family, this is a Caledonian Pine Forest specialty. Only found in Scotland in the UK, they do occur in Northern Europe and temperate parts of Asia and North America. They are named for their twin pink flowers and spreads its shoots along the forest floor with small, toothed leaves that are in opposite pairs. The plant's Latin name is derived from the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus who devised the modern taxonomy systems, involving the use of Latin names. As you can imagine, he named the first genus after himself. Why would you not?

In this picture there's a pink flowered plant called a Twinflower almost in the centre. There is another Twinflower to the right facing more or less head on. Behind both plants is a blurred forested background.
Twinflower (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)
In this picture is a cluster of Twinflower surrounded by their green toothed leaves and their reddish shoot stems
Twinflower (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)
In this picture there are two pairs of Twinflower near the centre of the image with a blurred background of moss
Twinflower (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)
This is a zoomed out image of Twinflower showing its pink flowers and green toothed leaves with its reddish shoots sprawling across the soil
Twinflower (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

Twinflower is a rare plant these days because it can't spread easily by itself. Genetically speaking, what looks like a collection of different individuals is actually all one plant.

One Flowered Wintergreen (Moneses Uniflora) - Also known as St Olaf's Candlestick in Norway. The first part of its Latin name 'Moneses' means 'solitary delight'. This wintergreen species likes pine forest and was on the edge of extinction in Britain when Victorian plant collectors took too many. Today it is protected and within Britain is only found in Moray, Easterness and Sutherland. Outside of Britain it likes the moist coniferous forests from Spain to Japan and across North America. Flowers from June to August.

This is a zoomed out image of a plant called a One Flowered Wintergreen with a large white flower, green stem with green leaves at the base surrounded by bilberry, moss and pine needles
One Flowered Wintergreen (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

Some flowers appear bent over at 180 degree angle, though this one is well behaved and stands up relatively straight allowing you to see the flower clearly.

This is a zoomed in image of a One Flowered Wintergreen flower with its bulbous green ovary, straight style and five pronged stigma. The yellow areas around the ovary are the stamens, the male structures that produce the pollen, with five white petals behind them.
One Flowered Wintergreen Flower (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

The thick bulbous structure in the middle is called the ovary and from it protrudes the style which is straight in this species, not curved as it is in Common Wintergreen. The stigma has five green structures that look like teeth. The yellow structures surrounding it are the stamens, which have the pollen, of which ten are present. Behind them are five white petals.

It is pollinated by insects but can produce seeds, wintergreens are said to have the lightest seeds in the plant kingdom, two millionths of a gram. This allows them to float on the lightest of breezes to find a new place to germinate.

This is a zoomed in image of the leaves of the One Flowered Wintergreen which are rounded and toothed, clustered round the base of the stem. Next to them are mosses and lichens.
One Flowered Wintergreen Leaves (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

The leaves that give this plant its name are basal, meaning they occur at the bottom of the plant and not on the stem. They do have stem leaves but these are small and occur either oppositely or in groups of three. They are also orbicular, meaning they are spherical or rounded in shape. Hence the name. Speaking of names, the reason they call these plants wintergreens is because the leaves stay green all year round after the main plant disappears.

Lesser Twayblade (Neottia cordata) - A relative of the orchid family, this is a species that likes native and plantation pine forests. Within Britain it's found in the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District in England and Snowdonia in Wales. Outside of Britain they are found across Europe, Asia and large parts of North America.

The name Neottia means 'nest', a reference to its complicated, twisting root network. Cordata means 'heart shaped' and is a reference to the shape of the leaves. Flowers from June to September.

This is a zoomed out image of three Lesser Twayblades. A kind of reddish forest orchid. They have broad leaves at the base of their stems. Two plants are fully in the frame. The other at the top has its flowers outside the image. They are surrounded by mosses.
Lesser Twayblade (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

They're often considered to be uncommon anywhere but this perception could be be worsened by the fact that the Lesser Twayblade is easily overlooked, being not as physically striking as some other orchid species.

This is a zoomed in image of the reddish flowers of a Lesser Twayblade with swollen structures called calyxes which are ribbed.
Lesser Twayblade (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

Here you can see the swollen calyxes of the flowers, the bulbous structures that have the ribbed appearance. These house the ovaries in which the seeds develop. The inflorescence (the arrangement of the flowers on a plant) typically has between six to twelve flowers. In this individual there's eleven, so almost at maximum.

This is a zoomed in image of a Lesser Twayblade's flowers. They are reddish green with five tepals (petal-like structures) and a labellum (lip) that has a red fork like a snake's tongue.
Lesser Twayblade Flowers (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

The flowers have greenish red tepals, a word given to petal-like structures where the petals and sepals can't be differentiated. The forked structure at the bottom is called the labellum or 'lip' and has spreading lobes that look like the forked tongue of a snake.

This is a zoomed in image of the leaves of a Lesser Twayblade which are broad and opposite, and are at the base of the flower stem. There is moss surrounding them.
Lesser Twayblade Leaves (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

The twin leaves at the bottom of the stem give twayblades their name, though on some taller specimens the leaves can appear half way up the stem.

Least Water-Lily (Nuphar Pumila) - The rarest of our three water-lily species. The Latin name derives from the Greek word for water-lily, 'Nuphar', and 'pumila' means 'dwarf'. Within the UK it lives in lochs in the Highlands and also in Shropshire. Outside of the UK it can be found in Northern Europe and as far east as Western Asia. It is also known from the USA in the Upper Michigan peninsula.

It is closely related and like a smaller version of the more widespread Yellow Water-Lily (Nuphar Lutea) which lives in the rivers and ponds in Southern Scotland, England and Wales. Flowers from July to August.

This is a zoomed out image of a rare plant called Least Water-Lily. They're sitting on the water with their broad leaves and short yellow flowers.
Least Water-Lily (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

This is a zoomed in image of the yellow flower of a Least Water-Lily. It has green on the outside of the petals. There are broad leaves surrounding the flower as it floats on the water.
Least Water-Lily (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

The flowers are actinomorphic, meaning they have a symmetrical structure. They can have between four to six petals and are 1.5 - 3.5cm across. Leaves are up to 13cm across and have up to eighteen lateral veins. Yellow Water-Lily has flowers 4-6cm across and can have up to twenty eight veins arranged in a herringbone structure. They are pollinated by flies and when they've finished flowering their ovaries can be seen. In Least Water-Lily the ovary is deeply lobed. In Yellow Water-Lily it isn't.

This is a zoomed out image of a flotilla of Least Water-Lily on the water with the wind stirring it into waves, showing how robustly it can hold on.
Least Water-Lily (Photo Credit: Harris Brooker)

It typically likes sunlit areas. These ones were found in an open loch. Their rhizomes give them a grip on the bottom when exposed to windy conditions.

This is just some of the incredible plant life we have in Speyside and you might like to learn more by joining one of our guides for a botanical-themed Guide Day Out. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to watch out for my second botanical post coming out on the 31st of July this year.

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