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What to Look for this week - Gentian Heaven

Published: 05 August 2020

The gentians are among the most attractive flowers found in Britain. Yet sadly, they are becoming increasingly rare. The application of fertilisers and herbicides have seen them disappear from most of our farmland and where they do persist they need a bit of grazing. If the vegetation becomes too long then they are soon outcompeted by grasses and more robust flowers.



We have two species here in Shetland, the Autumn Gentian and the Field Gentian. Both are in flower now, although they only really open up when the sun is shining. They look similar but the Autumn Gentian tends to have pinker flowers, while the Field Gentian has blue or purple flowers. Autumn Gentian likes damp sandy soils and is restricted to a few sites – Burrafirth and Skeo Taing on Unst, West Sandwick on Yell and Quendale in the South Mainland. In recent years, however, it has been seen in increasing numbers along roadside verges such as along the A970 by the Loch of Voe plantation and just south of the Observatory at Lerwick. Quite why it is at these locations is a bit of a mystery but maybe it was imported in with materials for roadworks.



The Field Gentian has undergone a serious decline on mainland Britain but can still be found in Shetland with a bit of effort. It likes short, unimproved grassland especially near the coast – look at areas that are rich in Eyebright, and also favours roadside verges where it occurs naturally in the short turf. Given that it is now listed as a threatened species in the UK we are trying to establish a clearer picture of its current distribution in Shetland so any records would be welcome. Please send to paul.harvey@shetlandamenty.org