Grass-of-Parnassus, a saintly flower

GoP main portrait blogsizeThe nights are already drawing in here in Shetland and it’s getting darker by the day now, adding to the gloom of this most forgettable of summers in the north. There’s been remarkably little to lighten the mood here in the past few months; this has been a year that started peachily but went rapidly downhill from mid April onwards. Short of a miracle, that seems unlikely to change now.

Field Gentian portrait blogsizeAs noted the other day, the wildflowers in the islands have been tardy in getting under way, and everything seems to be running late. I was pleasantly surprised to find one or two Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris flowering last week in the same vicinity as the Bog Orchids; a trip to the west side of the Shetland mainland to a lovely small field on the edge of a narrow, sheltered voe was in order to see many more Parnassus and some bonus Field Gentians Gentianella campestris for good measure.

GoP trio portrait blogsizeGrass-of-Parnassus has surely the most beautiful of all plant names, with a lovely classical Greek lilt to it – the name comes from Mount Parnassus where the local cattle were reputed to have developed a taste for the plant, hence it supposedly was considered an honorary grass. It’s a flower of wet boggy meadows, and is appropriately mired in folklore – said to be the favourite flower of the 6th century Irish saint, St.Moluag, one of the Irish saints responsible for bringing Christianity to the heathen Picts of Scotland. His name was said to be invoked by the men of Lewis as a cure for madness…

GoP single portrait blogsize…and while I can’t say that seeing Grass-of-Parnassus has made me feel any enormous spiritual relief, it’s a bonny pearly white flower and one that I enjoy every late summer here in Shetland.

What will the coming weeks bring? Autumn migration should be getting under way very shortly, so there will probably be rather less botanising and rather more birding on my horizon. Whether anything earth-shattering is coming my way remains to be seen. Fingers, as ever, crossed.

I live in hope.

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