Recognising that I am an inveterate backseat driver, on our recent drive up to Scotland I tried a new ploy to divert my attention from the road ahead: I scrutinised the roadsides for interesting plants. This proved very absorbing and, surprisingly enough, motorway embankments (M6, M74, M8) were especially rich.
The original plantings of shrubs and grasses are well grown now and other plants have moved in, found places that suited them in matters of soil, drainage, aspect etc. and thrived. The result was fascinating blocks of colour and texture sometimes continuing for several hundred yards then disappearing altogether to be taken up again, like a recurring theme, miles further on. Dog daisies were sprinkled among the flowering grasses for miles but red campion, one of my top favourites, recurred in tightly defined blocks as though thickly chalked by a brilliant pink oil pastel. Buttercups, which filled adjacent meadows, moved to the roadside in longer runs and clothed it in yellow top to bottom though more thickly at the base of the banks where, presumably, moisture collected. Through Cumbria and, more frequently as we drove through Scotland, there were whole areas splodged with clumps of ferns. Clearly the drainage here really suited them, but then, they ceased as suddenly as they’d begun. Obviously habitat is all!
Finding myself a passenger again as we skirted Loch Lomond I resumed my researches. At one point a distant hillside was covered in bluebells, a sky-blue watercolour wash over what once must have been woodland but was now rough pasture. A traffic build-up slowed us down and I was able to get a really close view of the verge where broadleaf woods came close to the carriageway and little wet flushes fed into a ditch. Here were more bluebells and stitchwort, a combination familiar from Middleton Woods and, in one damp spot, another favourite, a patch of wood sorrel with its fresh shamrock-like leaves and modest drooping flowers, white tinged with faintest pink. Even more exciting – we were stationary in a traffic jam by now – was what I spotted on the damp earth of a streamside bank: lime green leaves arranged in flat star-shapes. There, beside this busy highway, was one of our two truly carnivorous plants – the butterwort. Growing in poor, often acid, boggy soil, it supplements its meagre diet by trapping insects on its sticky leaves, breaking down the corpses and slowly ingesting the results.