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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part III.—Natural History of Gairloch

Chapter VII.—Flowering Plants of Gairloch


IT is matter of regret that no adequate herbarium has been prepared for Gairloch. With the aid of I^ady Mackenzie of Gairloch, Mrs Fowler of Inverbroom, Mr O. H. Mackenzie, Mr A. Davidson, and other helpers, a list has been compiled, and is appended to these notes. It is imperfect, but we hope that it may lead to a more accurate and complete account of the flora of the parish.

Visitors to Gairloch are invited to add to our list, and any botanical information they may be willing to impart will be received with thanks. But they are appealed to to abstain (when searching for plants) from anything like a trespass or an infringement of the privileges of others. Thoughtlessness on the part of a few, may bring discredit on botanists generally.

Searchers for wildflowers are further entreated, not to eradicate any plant that may be found,—nay, not even to greatly reduce its dimensions ; remembering that others ought to be allowed the chance of observing it, and that it is unfair to rob a country of its charms. Two instances are given in our " Introduction " of the destruction of ferns by tourists. Surely a word to the wise is sufficient.

The larger and more showy of our woodland plants, as well as of many kinds that should flourish on the edges of moors and about cultivated land, have become rare, and in some cases have altogether disappeared, since the introduction of sheep-farming into Gairloch. Not only do the smearing materials applied to sheep poison the ground, and being washed down into streams check the multiplication of trout, but the close nibble of sheep deteriorates pasture, and destroys many succulent plants. In spring, before the grass on the hills has made any growth, the sheep everywhere attack the primroses, so that no early blooms can be found except among wet places and rocks. The ewes and lambs are often kept near home until summer has set in, and one can almost fancy that they have a special taste for the choicest flowering plants. Dr Mackenzie attributes the present scarceness of wildflowers to the appetites of sheep, and all who have considered the question entirely concur in this opinion. Dr Mackenzie, writing of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, says, " The braes and wooded hillocks were a perfect jungle of ever)' kind of loveable shrubs and wildflowers, especially orchids, some of the epipactis tribe being everywhere a lovely drug."

Most of the best flowers are now only met with on steep banks, among rocks, by road sides, on soft boggy ground, by the sea-shore, or in other localities not much frequented by sheep. The epipactis ensifolia, formerly abundant, is now almost unknown in Gairloch. In June 1883 I discovered a specimen on a stony bank by water. In 1885 there were two plants at the same place. I have not seen it elsewhere, nor had Mr O. H. Mackenzie seen it until this plant was found.

Most of the gayest wildflowers are over by the time the run of tourists begins. Many of the loveliest bloom in June or early in July. A bouquet of wildflowers, well arranged in masses, does not stand long in water, but is difficult to beat for graceful forms and exquisite tones of colour. The yellow iris, the rosy sea-thrift, the purple orchis, the orange St John's wort, the ragged robin, the blue hyacinth, and the lilac valerian, are eminently fitted to display the taste of the fair florist.

Though many beautiful flowers have disappeared before September, yet in autumn the country becomes brilliant with a fresh supply. The moors are purple with heather and ling, and also teem with the orange-coloured bog asphodel, whilst the patches of corn are ablaze with the brilliant yellow corn marigold so popular for bouquets. From March to October each month has its peculiar gems, and this Highland parish yields not only the rare alpine plants of the mountains, but many equally prized treasures of the rocks and strands that edge, the sea lochs. There are also several interesting plants that abound in fresh-water lochs, such as the white water-lily, the water-lobelia, and the bog-bean.

Of the rarer plants found in Gairloch the following are perhaps worthy of special note, viz., the narrow-leaved helleborine, the long-leaved sun-dew, the pale butterwort, the purple saxifrage, the stone bramble, the cloudberry, the cranberry, the water avens, the chick-weed wintergreen, the arrow-grass, the trollius, the water lobelia, and several uncommon ferns.

The following list includes the indigenous trees and all the ferns I know; several plants are doubtful natives, such as the corn-poppy and corn-cockle. The order of arrangement is that adopted in Sowerby's "British Wildflowers" :—

Flowering Plants of Gairloch

















 


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