Scottish primrose only grows at home

The attractive Scottish primrose is one of the few forms of wildlife with a natural distribution confined to Scotland, nowhere else in the whole world will you find it growing wild.

It is confined on the mainland of Scotland to a narrow coastal strip bordering the Pentland Firth in Caithness and Sutherland, between Durness and Dunbeath and over the other side of the Pentland Firth on the Orkney Islands.

It is found in moist but well drained, slightly calcareous grassland close to the sea, often close to the tops of the dramatic coastal cliffs.

It requires a fine, close cropped grassy turf, a special balance between over and under grazing. If the grass is allowed to grow too tall and rank it will soon be suppressed and die out and if the grazing is too intense it can be eaten out of existence.

Populations can rise and fall but in general it is holding its own at most sites.

The flowers are a rich reddish-purple with a greenish white eye and are held in clusters at the top of stems up to 7cm tall.

There tends to be two flowering times, May then again in July, but plants can occasionally be found in flower outside these months.

It is often stated that the sweet scented flowers do not attract insects and are self pollinated in the wild. In cultivation it has been found that artificially cross pollinated plants are much stronger growing and free-er flowering than plants that are self pollinated.

The near stalkless leaves are in a compact rosette and are blue-grey due to a dusting of whitish meal or farina.

It is often stated that it is a short lived plant but individual plants have been studied in the wild over extended periods and many plants live in excess of 20 years which is a good age for a tiny Primula.

How did it evolve and turn up in the north of Scotland ?

It is generally thought that its maternal origins lie with the widespread bird’s-eye primrose, Primula farinosa and at some time during a distant interglacial episode it became isolated and has since evolved into a distinct species.

It has two cousins in Scandinavia, Primula stricta and P. scandinavica which can be found high up in the arctic.

What happens with global warming I do not know - they cannot migrate to colder climates.

If you are contemplating your summer holidays why not head to the north of Scotland, sit on a cliff beside the Pentland Firth and enjoy the company of Primula scotica.

*The next meeting of the Berwickshire branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust is in Duns Parish Church Hall on Thursday, February 4, starting at 7.30pm. During the evening Charles Everitt will give a talk on ‘Foreshore: East Lothian’s coastline’.

Admission is £1.50 including tea and biscuits