Home   News   Article

CAIRNGORMS NATURE: Flowers starting to pop up are a good reason to be happy

By Gavin Musgrove

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Curlew can easily be idenitifed by their distinctive beaks.
Curlew can easily be idenitifed by their distinctive beaks.

As I sit cosily in the window watching clouds race past the caps of snow on the dark distant mountain tops, I am cheered by the sight of snowdrops and then daffodils popping up from bare earth below the window.

They are also prolific amongst the dead thatch of rough grassland all along the strath, although neither snowdrops nor the cultivated daffodils we often see on our roadsides are native to Scotland.

As a botanist I do usually like to tut when I see these exotic plants out in the countryside where they can outcompete our wild species - but after a long dark winter I am delighted.

Earlier today I was wondering what local wildflowers would be out now, the answer of course was to go out and look.

My work as a peatland officer regularly takes me out onto moorlands, and the first thing I noticed as I strode up the hill was catkins on eared willow bushes.

These appear well before the leaves and the young male flowers are covered in soft grey fur hence the common English name, pussy willow.

Catkins are an important early source of pollen and nectar for bees.

They take me straight back to memories of fishing with my father, who showed me how to cut bundles from the bankside to proudly carry home for my mother, who loved having vases of them.

By the time the hill flattens off I’m back in 2024, viewing the huge flat windswept expanse of the peat moor.

At first glance it appears lifeless, a dormant carpet of dark purple-brown heather biding its time, look closer though and another plant here is more frequent in the sward.

This is hare’s-tail cottongrass, one of the few specialist plants that thrives on the waterlogged acidic soils of our peatbogs.

By early summer it will carpet this boggy moorland with a sea of white seedheads, millions of fluffy cottonwool-like balls swaying in the breeze - for now though I am cheered to see the flowers popping up everywhere.

Technically speaking this is a member of the sedge family, neither cotton nor a grass and not yet looking like a hare’s tail.

The grey flowerhead looks rather like a single upright catkin, hardly showy but it delights as the first sign of spring, frequently bursting impatiently through the snow.

They are an important food source for black grouse and capercaillie and hill farmers know all about this flower too, which is called moss-crop in many places.

For most of the year poor upland soils offer slim pickings to grazing livestock but in spring soft new cottongrass flower buds and their stems are irresistible to sheep and deer.

I am told sheep have traditionally been put out onto moors to coincide with their emergence. Today though it seems to be just me, until a small flock of curlews start calling.

This bird needs soft marshy ground to feed with that curious long beak and all spring this bog will echo with their bubbling calls, letting us know it belongs to them for now.

Simon Thomas is Cairngorms Peatland ACTION Project Officer.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More