11. Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)
For a southern botanist, the lure of Scotland, and its wealth of plants, is very strong indeed. My only trips north of the border had been when the 'leafy stuff' did not figure in my thoughts - it had been all 'birds, birds, birds' back then, and I must have walked straight past a wealth of botanical delights on my quests for Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle and Crested Tit. I looked back on this myopic treatment of the natural history around me and shuddered...
In the summer of 2006 I aimed to right these botanical wrongs and, together with Derek Coleman, set out on a grand tour of the highlands. As much as our wish list was heavily populated by the many alpine specialities on offer, there was one plant that I wished to see above all others - Twinflower.
On 27th June we arrived at Culbin Forest, a large pine plantation on the edge of the Moray Firth. This was home to One-flowered Wintergreen and Creeping Lady's-Tresses amongst others - both of which we saw with relative ease - but my main target was nowhere to be found. After several hours of flogging the trails we had all but resigned ourselves to 'dipping' on Linnaea borelis, when we happened to come across a forestry worker. He knew plenty about the flowers of the forest and, yes, he knew of an area where Twinflower had recently been seen. The area he described (close to a carved tree trunk) was somewhere that we had walked past earlier in the day, so we turned around and hot-footed it back. The path in this area was raised above the immediate forest floor, and we had not wandered away from the level surface earlier in the day - our forester friend had suggested that we needed to leave the path and descend the bank. This we did. A few minutes of wandering had still not provided any success. I could see some red tape tied across two tree trunks further ahead - this seemed odd in so remote a place - and then I was upon it... and knee deep in a large patch of Twinflower!
It was a delicate, dainty plant, with small bell-shaped flowers, paired nodding above neat oval leaves. The flowers were hoisted on thin stems above a creeping, open mat of vegetation that was several metres square. We were lit by a diffuse light that filtered down upon us from the vibrant green leaf canopy above. Magical.