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Our guests reveal a rare plant on Mull

October 14, 2023

One of the pleasures of hosting our guests is passing on our local knowledge to them.  But the reverse is often true and we learn new things about Mull and Iona from guests’ own expertise and interests. In August this year, two of our guests headed off to Burg early one morning in search of an interesting tiny plant that we had never heard of, which has a fascination history and would be of interest to any foragers amongst you.

On their return to Achaban, our guests were delighted to report that after hours of searching with no result, they had managed to locate their target, Iceland purslane, as they turned for home.  This plant is so small that if you are standing up it can very difficult to detect it. Having got their eye in, our guests could see the plant was well established in one rocky and gravelly area on the top of Burg

Iceland purslane, also known as Koenigia islandica, is a very small, delicate plant that is native to Iceland and other parts of the Arctic. In Iceland, it is found throughout the country, however the only known sites in the UK are on the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye and the Ardmeanach Peninsula on Mull.  It is a surprisingly useful plant - in Iceland it has a long history of medicinal use. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in Icelandic medicine to soothe respiratory ailments and skin irritations.  Iceland purslane tastes similar to sorrel or lemon and is often used in Icelandic cuisine such as soups and salads as well as traditional Icelandic drinks. Iceland Purslane has been the subject of scientific research in recent years which have found that the plant has a range of health benefits including anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties and could be a source of natural compounds in the development of new drugs. It is also a valuable source of food for birds, insects, and mammals.

A visit to Burg can provide encounters with an array of wildlife from eagles and otters to wild goats, deer and the rare Scotch Burnet Moth.  However don’t forget to get down on your knees on the top near the tip to see if you can spot another rarity - Iceland purslane!

Koenigia [slandica is less than 2 cm tall and is the only annual found throughout the Arctic.  As the plant colony on Mull is at its southernmost edge of its range in Europe, it may provide an early indication of the effects of climate change on the vegetation of the British Isles.  It is a member of the family Polygonaceae, which includes other well-known plants such as rhubarb and buckwheat. Read more in The Distribution and Ecology of the Arctic Plant Iceland Purslane

Many thanks to our guest Gilbert Markus for the photo.and telling us about this rare plant