Discovered on a walk by the River Spey yesterday. A patch of precocious green, and not just a few shoots, but burgeoning flower heads.
Their habitat was an east-facing mossy bank, scattered with fallen leaves, and in dappled sun. Sheltered from the prevailing westerly and northerly winds, and above all but the very highest reach of the river in spate.
And flowering - delicate, deeply divided individual flowers emerging from fresh green bracts, some of them frost-burned.
I turned to the family copy of the Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers. First printed 1955, ours is the seventh edition, 1969. No first edition, sadly, as for our Reader's Digest 'The Gardening Year'.
When my mother and I used to use it to identify flowers we found on our walks, we would invariably discover that we had whittled the possibilities down to something extremely rare and confined to the south of England. The explanation of the star system used by the Collins guide has a schoolmasterly tone, "We have devised a star system to show how common or rare a plant is, to add to the pleasure of finding something uncommon, and to discourage rash identification of unlikely rarities". Continuing in that fine tradition of pleasure rapidly followed by discouragement, my first stab this time turned out to have three stars for rarity, and to be "confined to woods and copses in one small area in E Sussex. Flowers June-July". A second attempt gave me the satisfyingly Lord of the Rings sounding White Butterbur, two stars for rarity and "local in plantations and by roadsides, chiefly in the N". A quick cross-check with photos on the internet (the Collins guide is illustrated by line drawings), and I'm sure that it is indeed White Butterbur. The two star rarity is for scarce plants "which usually grow only in limited areas, but may be thinly scattered over a wide area". White Butterbur is apparently an early flowering plant, so its January appearance is not a cause for climate change concern.
With this stirring of new life even in the north of Scotland, I'd like to wish all my readers and commenters a Happy New Year. Who knows where blogging will lead us in 2012. Writing this post, I found myself wondering about taking a botany course at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh...I'd be interested to hear where blogging has led or might lead you.