Sunny disposition despite icy blast


After a brief taste of spring, the weather took a backward step at the weekend with a dusting of snow once again mantling the higher hills.

Despite the icy blasts however, the sun shone and it was nice to get out into the countryside to see how much of spring had so far become evident.

On Saturday, a walk up the Jubilee Path along the banks of the Leader from Leaderfoot, revealed some of the first spring flowers.

Around a boggy area at the foot of a steep bank, shaded by some mature conifers, was a huge colony of low growing golden yellow flowers with flat glossy leaves.

The flower heads were flat, too, but occasionally there would be a much taller version protruding from the carpet. I immediately recognised the plants as golden saxifrage but the taller ones had me looking closer.

They were Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage – a different species from the majority, which were the more common Opposite-leaved version.

I don’t recall having seen both species flowering together like that before in such profusion.

Golden saxifrages’ delicate green leaves and yellow crowns are a joy to behold in the spring when there is not much other colour around.

Alternate-leaved golden saxifrage rushes to flower as soon as the snow melts, before tree leaves can block out the sun.

It often spreads and forms stands in quagmires and wetlands. The species favours rich habitats and clay.

The flowers are small, lack a corolla, and are a modest lime green, but the yellowish upper leaves that surround them make the crown beautifully ornamental.

The capsule opens upwards like a bowl, and when a raindrop hits the capsule, the seeds splash out of the bowl with the water.

The fruits ripen quickly at the beginning of summer and its beauty begins to fade as the flower stems begin to wither.

This process is often advanced by the time that it is left in the shade by large-leaved neighbours. Even the remnants of the basal leaves are hard to find by midsummer.

On Sunday, on my annual trip to Craik Forest to see the spectacular mating gatherings of the area’s frog population, another lovely spring flower was encountered in great profusion along the stony streamside of the Aithouse Burn.

Blooming before the leaves appear, the cheery yellow, flower heads of coltsfoot were like miniature suns lighting up the otherwise drabness of the barren gravel.

I was too early for the frogs but a walk in that lovely area is never a waste of time.