Dunglass Dean provides ideal growing conditions

Ophrys apifera  Thorntonloch  NT755735  15/06/2014''a bee orchid
Ophrys apifera Thorntonloch NT755735 15/06/2014''a bee orchid

Continuing down Dunglass Dean on the SWT field meeting we were impressed by the lowest and oldest bridge crossing the dean whose construction is likely to have been early in the 17th century century, possibly before 1617 and reconstructed and repaired several time since.

The mill below the bridge was built around 1648.

The Dunglass Burn has cut a deep gorge through the sandstone bedrock and large old trees of Sycamore, Ash and especially Oak are impressive, growing on the sides of the dean making it possible to look into the crowns of majestic trees from the path and bridges.

One ancient old Oak has a gnarled and distorted trunk and grows out of a cliff just above the path, it must have been just clinging on for hundreds of years. The shaded cliffs and banks provide ideal growing conditions for many ferns and extensive colonies of Common Polypody were found growing on steep banks and Heart’s Tongue on damp cliffs.

Lower down the dean, the tall trees are replaced first by large old Blackthorn and down near the shore by a Sea Buckthorn thicket. Near the path, on the trunks of the Blackthorn the iron hard brackets of Cushion Bracket fungi, Phellinus pomaceus were seen and a little further down the path a close relative was spotted on the Sea Buckthorn, Phellinus hippophaeicola.

The flowers of the Red Campion were also infected by a fungi, this time a smut fungus which lives on the anthers of the male flowers turning them gray-black with its spores rather than white with pollen.

Entire Red Campion plants are either male or female and this little smut fungi has the ability to change the sex of the plants, female plants into male plants thus enabling the smut to infect the anthers.

Down on the shore it was warm and calm and very pleasant and we had a slow amble along the beach. The tide was out. The only water birds to be seen were a flock of about 10 Red-breasted Mergansers, swimming and fishing in a large pool close to the open sea.

There is little shore line for seaside plants as at the highest tides the waves come right up to the base of the sea braes and cliffs and only the Sea Sandwort was in evidence and it was out of flower.

Our final part of the excursion was to look at a small colony of the Bee Orchid, consisting of about 20 flowering plants.

This orchid only fairly recently arrived in Scotland when it was first found in Ayrshire, it then spread to Galloway and then over to the Lothians. The seeds of orchids are very fine and dust like and can blow long distances in the wind and it is presumed that the seeds have moved across the country in the prevailing west winds.

The original Ayrshire plants may have arrived as seed from Northern Ireland where it is also found, but all this is conjecture and cannot be proven.