As most of you will know. the RSPB Lochwinnoch nature reserve is not only a haven for birds but for other wildlife too, including plants. To discover a bit more about the plants of Lochwinnoch we invited Keith Watson, curator of botany at the Kelvingrove museum, to host an event on the reserve. Our Wednesday with Widlife: Wildflower event took place on the evening of the 6th of June. It was a mild dry evening (we even had a bit of sunshine towards the end) and there was quite a good turn out.
The reserve is a good place to see a variety of plants, as there are several different habitats. Different plants will grow in different conditions so the woodlands, the area by the pond. The marshland, the dry grassland and the wetter grassland all host different plants. Keith Watson helped us discover a bit more about those, first by taking us onto the Aird Meadow.
Most lowland grasslands need human management to remain wildflower rich meadows. Allowed to grow without control, a few competitive plants will take over, and the meadow will be less diverse. If, however, the meadow is sustainably grazed, a variety of rarer plants, better adapted to survive grazing, will thrive. Left to themselves even longer, trees will start growing and the meadow will slowly turn into a forest. And even though we enjoy forests, it would be a shame to see those wildflower meadows disappear. In Lochwinnoch, we have been trying to get cattle to graze the Aird meadow, with no success. Instead, we cut the grass at a very short height every autumn. This is not only beneficial for plants but also for lapwings.
Keith pointed out a large variety of plants: clover, ladies mantel, bush vetch, yellow rattle, ragged robin, forget-me-not, wood cranesbill, sorrow, water aven,, tufted vetch, valerian, creeping buttercup, tall buttercup...
In the woodland, the star of the show was the bird’s nest orchid. A fairly rare orchid, the reserve is the only place Keith ever saw one in Renfrewshire. Small and yellowy brown, it is easy to miss and looks a bit like it is decaying, but it’s not! The reason it is brown is that it doesn't do photosynthesis. Most plants get energy from the sun (photosynthesis) using the green pigment chlorophyll to absorb light, and this why they're green. The bird's nest orchid gets its energy from decaying matter in the ground with the help of a fungus.