A particularly unusual plant called yellow bird’s nest has been found growing at RSPB Scotland’s Skinflats reserve, which sits on the edge of the River Forth. This is only the fourth time that it has been seen in Scotland since 2000 and all of the previous records were at sites near Glasgow.
Yellow bird’s nest is interesting because of the complex relationship it holds with its surroundings. The flower is pale yellow in colour because it lacks the green pigment chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis - the process by which plants convert the sun’s rays into energy. Because yellow bird’s nest doesn’t have this pigment it needs to look elsewhere for energy. It does this by stealing nutrients from a certain type of fungi which is, in turn, gathering its own food through a mutual relationship with nearby trees – as fungi do.
We think this complicated relationship may well be one of the reasons yellow bird’s nest is so rare in Scotland – there are a lot of elements that need to be in place for it to thrive. However, it may be that a lack of the right type of habitat is likely to be another factor.
This particular plant was discovered in an area of scrubby woodland at Skinflats. The reserve is relatively small with its expanse of salt marsh and mud flats providing a rich winter feeding ground for wading birds like oystercatchers and curlews, especially in autumn and winter