Friday, 1 June 2012

Flora and Fauna Identification in Sutherland

In this post I will try to identify many of the seedlings and volunteers/'weeds' that I have seen growing well around my local area in the cool maritime climate of Sutherland, around the North/West coast of Scotland. Your help is greatly desired, so please leave a comment if you have a clue! This post will be updated until I consider it reasonably complete. (Last updated 1/7/12)

As for local flora, daisies, dandelions, nettles and heather (all with edible parts) are so ubiquitous around grassy areas here that there's no point wasting a photograph on them. Seriously, this last month I've seen a whole sheep field turn white with daisies, mowed lawns shine bright yellow with dandelions, everyone on this island has probably seen how nettles like to take over any odd nook or slope where moisture gathers, and heather... well let me just say that every few years the sheep farmers set entire hillsides ablaze up here to get rid of the stuff after it has taken over; some of the current google maps satellite images for the region still show glowing patches and smoke clouds at low levels of detail.

Most plants here suffer salt-burn from the coastal winds if not well protected, especially trees:
This is a native Rowan tree, known for producing a quite tart fruit similar to cranberries only much more sour, typically used to make jellies to accompany meat, otherwise a great bird food when left on the tree. It probably prefers to be further inland though.

I saw these beautiful flowers by the roadside, and I think they are a relative of thistles and artichokes, given the shape of their flower buds.
I have identified this as Common Hogweed, which is edible, and I have tried some myself. The youngest shoots are supposed to be the best, as with many plants, while older bits of stalk etc. are mostly just good for soups. However this plant also has a huge and highly irritant cousin native to the Caucasus, known here as Giant Hogweed, and you should watch out for that plant invading here.

I have seen several of these growing healthily near here completely untended, but the greatest concentration I have seen of them was at a council dump-site, so I suspect that they might lock up some toxins in the soil, and would bet it's not a good idea to eat them.
This nearby tree looks similar to a siberian pea tree, but I think its leaves look too big, widely spaced and waxy to be one, and that it was probably introduced from outside this region.
This picture taken nearly two months ago is of a hedge that was doing quite well facing towards the sea, clearly making a great hardy windbreak. I wouldn't mind knowing what it is.
The spiky little shoots dead-centre of this picture have started springing up on the large sods that I turned over where trees were planted.
A lot of these plants with their three-sided pinched leaves and yellow flowers seem to turn up just off the banks of streams around here.
A young bush on the bank of a stream, could be an edible berry or something like that.
I suspect that this Arctic Poppy may have been introduced as someone's ornamental plant, and has since begun to spread like wildfire over grass verges by roads and footpaths. I didn't notice any sign of this perennial until these big flower buds started appearing and opening in May. Sadly it doesn't appear to be very useful.
Not very many of these turn up amongst the grass. No clue.
The plants in the foreground with their tightly-bunched, slender, green ovate leaves, which start out with a slight purple tinge (as with the bottom-right shoot), I originally thought might be one of the green manure plants that I sowed a couple of months ago, when it first started springing up, since it seemed to be everywhere. Since noticing it often amongst the grass I have been told it is a type of Vetch, although I don't know which yet, and there are nearly 30 species of it listed on PFAF. At least I know it is a legume, so will probably be improving the soil of the swale mound, which it is growing out of a lot.
What I originally thought might be related to clover due to its bunched flowers, is actually an orchid.
This mystery turned out to be a volunteer potato, probably from a seed or bit of root that got into the compost I spread here.
This other mystery popped up inches from that previous one, where I found part of my compost scraped away a couple of weeks ago, possibly disturbed by a mouse or rabbit.
I think this could be carrot seedlings in the middle of the picture.
The largest plants here from seed, which are growing strongly everywhere I sow them, I am now sure are not carrots but in fact the 'green manure' fiddleneck. I wish I could get something edible to grow that well.
Bonus question: is it just me, or does it look like that shoot at the grafting point of this damson tree could be from the rootstock? If so, perhaps I could be able to propagate it in a pot and use it to grow more tough plum/prune trees. Also, that's the shoot of a garlic clove that I planted slowly creeping up to the bottom-left of the tree.

As for fauna... while we have had some very hot and dry weather (for here at least) with no rain for the last week, I tried going out late at night with a watering can to help my recently-sown seeds and seedlings, since the constant sunlight during the day was drying out the compost to the point that it was cracking up. On my way round I started spotting slugs attacking various seedlings. They came in all different sizes and colours, some brown, cream, white, green, yellow and some even speckled with black spots. I didn't find any with distinct orange bellies, which I have come across lots of before towards the south end of this island.
This seems to be a negative side-effect of putting solid objects down to mulch areas overgrown with grass, since the moist sheltered area underneath is a great place for slugs to breed.
This one was chowing down on one of the seedlings from the peas I planted along my swale wall. That annoyed me.
After the satisfaction of hurling a few of them far over a fence wore off as I kept noticing more and more of them, realising what a huge plague of these slimy little buggers come out at night, I guessed that they may have been a main reason why a lot of the things I sowed straight outside and then left for a few weeks seemed to be missing in action, and that I'd need to do something quick if I wanted many of the things that I had more recently sown to survive.
Its said that you can't have too many slugs, only too few ducks, and I had wanted to borrow my friend's ducks to range them around the planted area in late spring, but unfortunately they were all wiped out recently by some fox or badger that managed to claw its way into their decrepit old shelters and start surplus killing, so now there are no ducks or chickens left in the whole village and I haven't had enough time to build new hutches to protect more ducklings. Therefore I have had to look at quick solutions to my slug problem other than domesticated animals.

The first idea that sprung to my mind was to try and get hold of some plain terracotta clay and compact it down in the wide section of the swale I dug, so that it might hold water and form a pond, which in turn could attract some of the wild ducks that fly around this region. I put that off for now on account of the time and effort involved, since I would likely have to try and establish some aquatic plants that are attractive to ducks while my own seedlings are getting munched.
The next thing I came across online was a beer trap, a.k.a. 'slug pub' or 'slug inn'. This is where you leave out an open dish with some beer poured into it, the idea being that slugs love their beer for some reason, while they are quite incapable of processing the alcohol, and so get so intoxicated that they fall into the drink and drown blissfully. I could come up with a hundred euphemisms for that, but moving on, I had doubts about the trick until two family members assured me that it's a good one, so I tried it the next night.
Results of a dish and one can of crap lager after 24 hours.
I was quite happy with the results, and the usual wisdom that I read was to toss out the contents out and refresh the tray each day, but I decided to try and see whether it would still attract many slugs the next night while going a bit stale. I also tried putting some lager in steep-sided mugs to see if that would make slugs fall in more easily, but my success seemed to depend more on how sheltered a location a given trap was in. The wide dish pictured was in a narrow part of the swale, while a mug near the top of the hill caught nothing and one in thick grass near the south-west fence was almost as successful as the dish.
Slug pub after 48 hours.
From counting slugs by naked eye, I estimate the trap to be at least 50% effective in distracting slugs within a radius of maybe 5-15 feet, but I still found a few on important seedlings like my artichokes and this rhubarb:
Though I dropped this slug in the drink, the rhubarb seedlings that I stuck outside were all eaten down to stumps overnight, evoking much of my wrath. At least the ones I kept inside are doing very well though.
and finally:
Slug pub after 36 hours. Muahahahaha.
Those dead slugs are now on a compost heap since none of the birds around here seem to have noticed the feast sitting there. I guess the woodland system will have to become a lot more developed before it gets regular bird visits.


  1. I just read that you can keep snails and slugs away from your plants by placing a border of crushed egg shells in the dirt around the plants.

    1. That's right, I've been trying that method too, with quite limited success. Some plants that I had sprinkled crushed dried egg-shells around still had slugs attacking them, since they were stubborn enough to make their way over the shells for a snack, probably evening-out the points with thick slime.
      It probably works to some extent if the border of eggshells is extremely heavy, but I don't know its overall effectiveness because it wasn't enough for me to notice a difference in plant attacks, and I don't currently have enough time for that rigorous task of marking out a square metre to pick through it and count every slug.

      A lot of those other uses there are quite good too :) it's funny to see though how after composting kitchen waste for well over a year and producing some nice rich humus, the only thing that remains visibly intact are egg-shells. I have no idea how long it takes nature to break them down.

  2. Possible identifaction on some of the photos from top: Rowan - does OK on Skye, maybe this isn't from local seed stock; Centaurea; hogweed; Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle); possibley laburnum; possibly privet - this is a native plant- again good hedges on Skye; Not sure maybe a sedum?; Caltha palustris (marsh marigold); Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet); poppy; Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo smock); Vetch - we have this too on Skye pretty pink-mauve flowers; orchid; potatoe; not sure; potentilla reptans (creeping cinquefoil); fiddleneck = phacelia lovely curled furry mauve flowers;
    Love your blog warts and all!