I was returning to Falkirk on a bus whose journey had started in Fankerton.
I had been to visit a friend in Strathcarron Hospice and chose to take the bus rather than add to the number of cars which compete for parking space in the afternoons. My eye caught a fleeting glimpse of a small cluster of pink wildflowers growing on a grassy verge in Head of Muir. The attractive colour made a particular impression on me; and on my return home I diligently worried my way through the many, many illustrations in ‘Collins Pocket Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe,’ seeking to identify the plant. My fleeting glimpse was not the best of guides in my quest: but I convinced myself that what I had seen was a cluster of maiden pinks, Dianthus deltoides to the true botanist.
I learned, from the website www.scottishwildflowers.org that, and I quote, “This delicate perennial flower grows only in the East of Scotland on lime-rich and grassy banks, but it is losing its habitat through over-grazing. A member of the Pink family, it is now widely used as a garden plant with many cultivated sub-species available. The wild version, however, is becoming harder to spot, but is a special sight on a sunny day. On dull, cloudy days the flowers close up making it, with its slender stems, less noticeable in grassland.”
The website of Plantlife … www.plantlife.org.uk ... added to my knowledge. “A charming evergreen perennial forming a mat of green foliage with narrow dark-green leaves,” it informed me, adding that it is found on dry banks and hill pasture and that it “can occur in short, closed grassland, but prefers an open sward broken by bare rock or soil. Sometimes appears on metal-rich mining spoil or sandy soils and dunes.” Well, the plants I had glimpsed were on a low bank in an area which was once home to a number of coal mines, so I felt more certain that I was indeed on the right track. I also learned from Plantlife that Dianthus deltoids is the county flower of Roxburghshire, which rather surprised me, I must admit, until I learned that bog-rosemary is the county flower of Kirkcudbright, that sticky catchfly is the county flower of Midlothian and … since you ask, gentle reader … that Stirlingshire’s flower is Scottish dock. (Can that be called a ‘flower’?) Yes indeed, every Scottish shire has a county flower which is native to the area.
Another Collins publication, the Collins Dictionary, added to the sum of my knowledge. There I learn that the colour pink may be named after the flower. The origin of the flower name ‘pink’ may come from the frilled edge of the flowers: the verb “pink” dates from the 14th century and means “to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern” (maybe from German “pinken” = to peck). And then doubt sets in. I read in a back number of the BSBI News …the BSBI is Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, an academic body … that information on any sites for this endangered species would be gratefully received. I thought that part of the wording of the request was wholly unexpected, “Ideally, if there is any chance that the site is native, I would like to have standard NVC quadrats - all species present in a 2m x 2m square, with their abundance (most easily visualised as the percent of the ground that would be covered by each species if you ran over the sample with a steamroller!).” Wonderful!
But I doubt very much if I have spotted even a little cluster of hitherto unnoticed maiden pinks growing by the roadside in Head of Muir. No, I have to admit to myself, I have misidentified my small cluster of wildflowers; they’re nice, but they’re not maiden pinks!