Why are so many August flowers blue or purple? I don’t know but I do enjoy walking about and finding them. One of the joys of this area is the spectacle of mass flowering of certain species, Bog Cotton and Thrift in June, Ladies Bedstraw in a couple of flushes throughout the summer, but my favourite is the hazy blue cloud of the flower heads of Devil’s Bit Scabious in late August. Most of these photos come from a single walk on bright cool day in late August.
It is shown below, growing with Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia palustris, and some dwarf willow in the damp area below the old Mass House. Devil’s Bit Scabious is the single larval food plant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, an EU protected species in ROI.
According to Keogh in his Irish Herbal of 1735, it has strong medicinal qualities, calming fevers, bruises and all sorts of aches and pains. Let’s hope it helps the aches caused by lying down on damp ground to photograph it, as shown here on another Scabious patch out on nearby Dawros Head.
The Dawros DB Scabious field is interesting. It seems to bear little resemblance to the plant community on Sheskinmore plain. Maybe the clue is in the lack of competition in the poor soils.
I do think the combination of the blue and yellow here is spectacular.
Meanwhile, back on nearby Sheskinmore, the Field Gentian, Gentianella campestris also grows alongside the DB Scabious. I used to think this was Autumn Gentian, Gentianella amarella, but the four petals and the uneven sepals, as shown below, point to the Field Gentian ID. The herbalist, Keogh, claims that drinking a tea of gentian induces vomiting and that it can heal wounds when applied externally.
Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea, can be found on the path on the sheltered dunes. It is a relation of the gentians and also had a reputation for controlling fever, according to Richard Mabey in his Flora Britanica, 1996.
Nearby, on the same popular path, encouraged by the burrowing of the rabbits when they provide bare soil, is a relation of the geranium family, Sea Storksbill, Erodium maritimum. The familiar seed heads of the geranium family can clearly be seen in the lower right hand corner of the picture.
Back in the corner under the Mass House in Sheskinmore was one solitary fruiting sloe bush, Prunus spinosa, Although the nearby slope was covered in sloe bushes this was the only fruit visible. The herbalist Keogh cites the fruit as healing sore gums and “fastening loose teeth”.
After admiring the beautiful sloes we turned around and caught another glimpse of colour which revealed itself to be a Moorland Hawker dragonfly, possibly newly emerged, sunning itself on bracken.
The Moorland Hawker is fairly common but it is always exciting to hear the sound of its wings as it arrives at a hawking site. This resembles, in my mind at least, the sound of tiny helicopter wings. An easily accessible site to see and hear them in flight is over at the Assarancally waterfall on the road to Maghera.
I couldn’t resist a couple of seed head photographs, this first one is of a strange looking group of Marsh Helleborine spikes. A member of the orchid family, the seeds are tiny inside the pods and are obviously meant to be “blowing in the wind”. The spikes look like tiny conifers.
That August day the machair was covered in seed heads of Yellow Rattle. I think it is a local saying that the late hay can be cut when the rattle, well, rattles.
There are lots of other plants in Sheskinmore whose names give more direct clues to their ancient medicinal uses but I shall save that blog post till I have pictures of them. I hope this wee photo walk, both remembering and looking forward to August on the Sheskinmore reserve, has shown the beauty of the area.