19th July 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

A bank where the wild thyme blows

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SOME lucky folk had an amazing view of a pod of killer whales off west Unst last Friday. A phone call from Brydon Thomason to Alastair Wilson, the Scottish Natural Heritage warden, alerted folk to them heading north off Westing, which triggered a mega sprint across to the coast where they were able to look down on about four animals including a male.

To be able to see them close to is a memorable experience, but to be able to look down on them underwater even more amazing. Such oppor­tunities don’t come often. They were also seen to catch a seal in the bay at Lund, and photographed by several folk during their progress north, and so hopefully can be identified by the team that are still up here researching the distribution and abundance of killer whales around Scotland.

From photographs, it has been established that an orca seen off Cullivoe, north Yell, on the evening of the 12th July, is a big male known as 014 or “Bigga”. Next day, the same individual was identified at 0800hrs heading north through Yell Sound.

Some of our showiest plants are in flower just now. “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows …” wrote William Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. And indeed I do. There’s a fantastic bank near me where the pale mauve flowers of thyme are pushing through between the bell heather, itself with some plants paler than others.

Common heather is not so bold in its colouration, but works in mass production, and will soon be colouring the hills with subtle shades. The third in the trio of obvious heathers is cross-leaved heath, whose compact flowerheads drooping from a single stem are pinker in colour.

Changing colour, two striking plants are now in full bloom – angelica and meadowsweet. Although names for meadowsweet in different coun­tries all translate as “queen of the meadow”, it seems that its name actually comes from its use in flavouring the drink mead. Also in the days when hygiene was not quite so good as now, the plant with its rather nauseating scent was spread out on the floors of houses to counteract unpleasant odours. A Shetland name is “blackenin-girse”, from its use for dyeing wool.

From the showy to the opposite – demure and unnoticed is a little plant with a big name that is very common about gardens, steps and roadsides: procumbent pearlwort. This low, hairless, tufted perennial has its base as a non-flowering rosette. However, the name pearlwort is said to come from the tiny, pearl-like white, long-stalked flowers whose sepals are actually longer than the usually four petals. In folklore it is said to have special powers of protection. So next time you go to pull out this so-called weed, just give it a closer look first. Maybe its powers of protection will rub off on you!

Wendy Dickson