Islay Nature Notes 4 August

Jeremy Hastings, Islay's Wilderness Guide: So just when one thinks summer has arrived then it catches us out, and down comes the rain and up blows the wind. Chough and Gannet seem to enjoy the wild-ness but most other things stay put including gulls who are busy on fresh cut fields of grass to be turned into silage. Bug heaven!

Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is a typical plant of peaty bog lands. It is so called because its roots stop abruptly as if they have been bitten off, apparently out of spite by the devil! I think is was also so that when children were sent out to dig for pignuts there was no muddle between these roots! Other explanations say The story goes that this plant got its name due to the fact that it has an abruptly truncated, short root and the explanation for this was that the devil bit it off in a fit of annoyance at the medicinal properties of the plant. The oval, downy leaves are often blotched purplish and the tall stalked flower heads are dark blue-purple appearing in July and August. The flowers are visited for their nectar by a range of bees and butterflies but most importantly on Islay it is the food plant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This butterfly has undergone a rapid decline in distribution and population in numbers elsewhere in Britain but here it seems to be holding it's own although it has been identified as a species that requires urgent conservation measures. Continue reading.....

Although Devil's-bit Scabious has shown some decline, it remains common and widespread throughout Western Scotland, the Hebrides and Northern Ireland. In the Highlands the plant has been used to counter itchiness and the root has been used in Mull as a cure for Toothache but there is no record of it being used, as far as I know, elsewhere. On Colonsay children used to threaten each other with it's ugly root and say:

Gille, Gille guirmain
mu'n teid thu mu'n cuiart
Bualidh mi mo dhrn ort
Devil's Bit
if you wont turn around
I'll beat you with my fist.

These games with plants were often spontaneous and quite transient so we are lucky to come across the stories. And even more so nowadays with the advent of indoor lifestyles and lack of imaginative outdoor play.

I think it's time to get out and have some fun in the wilderness!

Other interesting resources from Jeremy:
- Jeremy's News Blog
- Previous Islay nature reports By Jeremy Hastings
- Jeremy's Twitter Page

Tag: nature flowers plants wildlife birding wilderness

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