Flowers and Ferns
Flowering plants and ferns
by Bernard Thompson
The area provides a wide variety of habitats but lacks a coastline, though Loch Awe itself is only 36 metres above sea-level. Having a relatively humid, mild and unpolluted climate it is particularly rich in ferns, lichens, liverworts and mosses.
Loch Awe is large, the longest loch in Britain (37 km), so the best places to look for aquatic plants are where wave action is at a minimum in sheltered bays such as those at An Lodan (west end) and at Kilchurn Castle (east end). Notable plants are the nationally rare Pillwort, a member of the fern family which creeps on mud in shallow water, Lesser Marshwort and Six-stamened Waterwort.
Much of the lochside is stony and in places there is scrub of Alder and Willow. In such damp places Globeflower and Northern Bedstraw can be plentiful.
To north and south of Loch Awe the hills are low, reaching little more than 500 m. There are many conifer plantations, mainly of Larch, Lodgepole Pine, Norway Spruce and particularly Sitka Spruce. However, much unforested ground remains where Heather, Purple Moor and Bent Grasses, Cottongrass and Deergrass dominate. Lochans are numerous and here can be found the beautiful flowers of Bogbean, Water Lobelia and White and Yellow Water-lilies. On boggy margins the insectivorous Butterwort and Sundew are common, while a rare treasure is the tiny Bog Orchid. Mires are frequent in the many hollows and may have Bog-sedge and Cranberry.
Remnants of the Oak woods, which must once have dominated the low ground, can still be found, as at Cladich, Coille Leitire, Dalavich and Fernoch.
Here Hay-scented Buckler-fern and Tonbridge Filmy-fern can occasionally be found. Much richer mixed broad-leaved woodland is to be found in the National Nature Reserve in Glen Nant. Here Bluebell, Common Dog-violet, Dog’s Mercury, Primrose and Ramsons grow in abundance along with locally rare flowers such as Bird’s-nest Orchid, Early-purple Orchid, Goldilocks Buttercup, Herb-Paris and Twayblade.
The east end of Loch Awe is dominated by Ben Cruachan (1124 m), much of which is composed of granite and is not noted for the variety of its mountain flora.
Of much greater interest to the botanist are the mica-schist mountains such as Beinn Udlaidh (between Glen Orchy and Glen Lochy), the Ben Lui (1130 m) National Nature Reserve and, further afield, the mountains on the east side of the railway in the Bridge of Orchy area.
Of the many treasures which could be found are Alpine Bartsia, Alpine Cinquefoil, Alpine Saxifrage, Alpine Woodsia, Cyphel, Mountain Avens, Northern Rock-cress, Rock Speedwell, Round-leaved Wintergreen and Scottish Asphodel.
For anyone seeking more comprehensive information on the area’s flora, the following would assist: An Annotated Checklist of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Main Argyll by Gordon Rothero and Bernard Thompson (1994), obtainable from BSBI Publications, Green Acre, Wood Lane, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 5TP.