It is often easy to regard forest, farm and estate tracks as a route to somewhere else if one is seeking special plants. However, it is worth looking down as you go along, for some plants on tracks, although tiny, are worth looking out for. The following are some of the species that may be found.
1. Radiola linoides (Linum radiola) (Allseed)
This tiny and inconspicuous plant is easily overlooked, but can be found on tracks, paths and gravel in parts of Scotland. It is, perhaps surprisingly, a member of the Flax family (Linaceae). Allseed is a low and branching annual. It has opposite oval leaves and four white petals equalling the sepals.
This species has declined, especially in England, and is included in the Red Data Book as NT (Near Threatened), although it may still be under recorded.
It was some time before I noticed it, but it has now been recorded since 2000 in more than twenty 10km squares in Easter Ross where I do a lot of my recording. It is also found elsewhere in Northeast Scotland, although it has been seen less frequently in some other parts of Scotland.
2. Scleranthus annuus (Annual Knawel)
This is another small and easily missed plant that can sometimes be found on tracks and other bare places. It is a member of the Campion family (Caryophyllaceae) and is an annual or biennial. Annual Knawel has clusters of tiny flowers with 5 pointed sepals and no petals. The opposite leaves are narrow and pointed.
It appears to have declined and is now classified as EN (Endangered) in the Red Data Book. It is infrequent in many parts of Scotland. I have only seen it twice in recent years, once in an industrial estate in Dundee and once on an estate track near Hill of Nigg in Northern Scotland. It has not been seen again in many of its old locations, although, once again, it is easily overlooked.
3. Gnaphalium sylvaticum (Omalotheca sylvatica) (Heath Cudweed)
This species is in the daisy family (Asteraceae or Compositae) and is larger than the two described above. Heath Cudweed has unbranched upright stems and elongated flowering heads up to 60m tall with yellowish or brown flowers. The leaves are lanceolate and pointed and have hairy undersides. They are longer lower down the stem.
It has been in serious decline in parts of the UK, leading to it being designated as EN (endangered) in the Red Data Book, although it is still quite often recorded in Scotland.
Heath Cudweed is often described as growing on heaths, but I have normally seen it on forest tracks, where it can be scattered along in small numbers. It leaves persistent deadheads. Although a perennial it does not always persist in particular sites.
4. Crassula tillaea (Mossy Stonecrop). This tiny annual plant in the Stonecrop family (Crassulaceae) was also described in a previous BSS Blog.
It is mainly prostrate with a reddish appearance and small overlapping leaves. The tiny stalkless white flowers have three petals which are usually shorter than the sepals. Like some of the plants described above it is easily overlooked and is probably under-recorded.
Crassula tillaea was formerly only known from Southern England in the UK, although it is present elsewhere in Europe. However, in the last twenty years it has become frequent in parts of Scotland, especially the north. This is probably a genuine increase rather than it being an overlooked species. It is likely to be spread by vehicles or walkers and it has been found on tracks, carparks and other gravelly places.
it has been classified as nationally scarce, although this may need to be reviewed in the light of all its new locations.
5. Ornithopus perpusillus (Birdsfoot)
This tiny plant of the pea family (Fabaceae) is sometimes found on forest tracks and other dry gravelly places. Like some of the above this little annual is easy to miss.
It is low growing and pubescent. This species has small heads of tiny white flowers and pinnate leaves. Its curved fruit pods have constrictions and in small groups resemble a bird’s foot.
Although relatively widespread in England, it is not common in Scotland, although it may be under-recorded. I have found it in three places in Easter Ross in recent years and there is one other recent record from there. It only has scattered Scottish records elsewhere.
6. Teesdalia nudicaulis (Shepherd’s Cress)
This little annual or biennial plant of the cabbage family (Brassicaeae or Cruciferae) can sometimes be seen on tracks or bare open ground. It has white flowers with unequal petals, few stem leaves and a basal rosette of pinnate leaves with broader end lobes. The fruit is compressed, round and with a minute style.
This species is described as uncommon nationally and it has been classified as NT (Near Threatened) in the Red Data Book. Teesdalia has a scattered distribution in Britain and is also found across Western and Central Europe. Its tiny size may mean it is sometimes overlooked.
For some years it was to be found on the coastal path in Dundee, but I failed to locate it there recently. In northern Scotland I have recorded it on forest tracks, a little used airfield runway, riverside shingle and a coastal path.
7. Hypericum humifusum (Trailing St John’s-wort)
This little plant in the Hypericacaea (St John’s-wort) family is not as scarce as some of the species mentioned above, but can be elusive in parts of Scotland.
It is a perennial and as its name suggests has a trailing and procumbent growth form. This species has typical yellow St John’s-wort petals, which are slightly longer than the sepals. Its stems have two ridges, which may be obscure and the leaves are oblong or lanceolate and gland-dotted on the edge.
I have recorded it on tracks in Northern Scotland but it is not a species I see often and it remains a bit special for me.
These are just some of the more special plants you may find or tracks and rural paths, so there is a lot to see if you just keep looking down.
Cheffings C. M. and Farrell L. Eds (2005): The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. JNCC Peterborough
Preston C. D. Pearman D.A. and Dines T. D. (2002): New Atlas of the British Flora. Oxford University Press.
Stace C. (2019). New Flora of the British Isles Fourth Edition. C. and M. Floristics, Suffolk
Stewart A., Pearman D. A. and Preston c. D. eds (1994): Scarce Plants in Britain. JNCC Peterborough