NT8919 : Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica), near Auchope Cairn

taken 6 years ago, 5 km from Sourhope, Scottish Borders, Great Britain

Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica), near Auchope Cairn
Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica), near Auchope Cairn
Dwarf Cornel is one of the local rarities of the Cheviot Hills. It is a member of a relict ‘arctic alpine’ flora that has survived in a few patches within the hills. It has an unusual distribution in the British Isles, having only a few sites in Northern England and the Scottish Borders, and is much more frequently encountered in the Scottish Highlands LinkExternal link

It was first discovered on Cheviot sometime before 1568 by Dr Thomas Penny LinkExternal link then 100 years later by John Ray LinkExternal link in June 1671. It was re-discovered by Dr. George Johnston in 1828 (Flora of Berwick-upon-Tweed) after which it was said 'the hill became classical ground to the botanist'.

I have looked for it on several occasions by the head of the College Burn, above the Hen Hole, where it was recorded as growing among bilberry above 600m on the north-facing slopes. It was first recorded from this location by G A Swan in September 1949. 'At 1,850 feet .... I observed a colony of this plant about 2 yards across. No plant was fruiting. So far as I know the species has not been previously recorded from this side of Cheviot' (The Vasculum Vol 34 No 4 December 1949).

It is a low-growing creeping perennial of wet, acidic peat soils at moderate to high altitudes, including areas of late snow-lie. When flowering, an umbel of small dark-coloured flowers are clustered above four large white, petal-like bracts NH0175 : Dwarf Cornel It later bears red berries.

I could only find a few plants in this location, none of them bearing flowers or berries, and it is often described as 'shy flowering'. It has been recorded as flowering and fruiting more regularly at another Northumberland locality, near the summit of Simonside.

The location is described as 'Cheviot at 1800 feet but never flowering' and 'close to the spring, where persons ascending generally rest themselves'. The new botanist's guide to the localities of the rarer plants of Britain by Hewett Cottrell Watson (1835).

The usual ascent of Cheviot is from Langleeford, and the spring to which referred is probably on the east side of the mountain. The plant has also been described above Bizzle Crags on the north side. There is a photo of a fruiting plant from a location north-east of Cheviot here NT9121 : Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica) north-east of Cheviot

The ascent of Cheviot via Hen Hole is one of my favourite routes, a dramatic gateway to the mountain and never fails to impress. Don't however rely on white flowers to find Dwarf Cornel but instead get tuned to its stalk-less, opposite, oval-shaped, pale-green leaves with 3 to 5 curving veins. By that spring where you rest, or on the steep slopes you climb, it might well be in front of your nose!
Hen Hole :: NT8820
The Hen Hole is a deep chasm on the north-west side of Cheviot. Geologically, the Hen Hole and a neighbouring feature, the Bizzle, are cirques or corries carved out of the north face of the hills by glacial scouring.

William Andrew Chatto in Rambles in Northumberland and on the Scottish border (1835) wrote:
"On the north-west side of Cheviot there is a deep chasm called the Hen Hole, in which there is frequently to be seen a snow egg at midsummer. There is a tradition, that a party of hunters, when chasing a roe upon cheviot, were wiled by the fairies into the Hen Hole, and could never again find their way out."

'Snow eggs' still often remain in the deep shadows of hollows on the Cheviot Hills even when the rest of winter snow has long melted. It would be a very rare climate these days if they lasted through the year.

George Tate in an article on Northumbrian Legends (Border magazine volume 6, November 1863) describes its former name:
"... Hellhole, which a learned friend supposes may be its true name, derived from el or ell, water, and meaning the waterhole whence the colledge has its source. We think, however, Henhole is the archaic name from hen, celtic, signifying old, and hence we have the old hollow."

The Faery Folklorist LinkExternal link elaborates on the folk tales, even referring to a faery tunnel emerging at a cave high in the valley NT8820 : Crags on south side of the Hen Hole which is said to stretch underground all the way from Cateran's Hole, located 17km to the east NU1023 : Cateran's Hole

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NT8919, 58 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Friday, 24 August, 2012   (more nearby)
Sunday, 26 August, 2012
Geographical Context
Uplands  Wild Animals, Plants and Mushrooms  Moorland 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 893 196 [100m precision]
WGS84: 55:28.2488N 2:10.1772W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 893 196
View Direction
South-southeast (about 157 degrees)
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