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Alien Invaders

This blog entry will be updated during the year as plants come into season.

What's a Native and What's an Alien?

As I’ve been wandering around the woodland I’ve realised that there’s quite a few “alien invaders”. No, I’m not talking about funny green men but about some of the species that are in the woodland.

To be Native a plant should have either arrived naturally since the last glaciation or was present at the end of the glaciation1. An Alien is where the plant was introduced by humans2. We also have to consider where a tree is Native eg the Beech tree is regarded as being native to England and Wales but an alien to this part of Scotland. However, because they have been around so long they are sometimes classed as naturalised. As there are gardens on two sides of the woodland there have been several flowers species that are not native either. These may have been self-sown, dropped by birds or animals or introduced in garden waste that has been dumped in the woodland.

Sometimes, no it doesn’t, as both the alien and native plants co-exist quite happily. Other times, yes it does matter as the non-native species (flowers, trees even animals) have a competitive advantage which allows them to outperform native species. That means, that they can become dominant in an area and we end up with less of the native plants.

Globally there is a problem with biodiversity. It is in decline. We can help improve diversity by planting more native plants. Lets look at an example. In the woodland there are some native Oak trees. Those trees will support about 423 insect and mite species and 324 lichen species3. A large number of trees in the woodland are beech, which is an introduced (alien) species. In contrast they will only support approximately 98 insect and mite species and 206 lichen species3. Quite a difference, particularly amongst insects and mites.

It’s due to the amount of time that they have been around. The trees and the other species they support have evolved together since the last glaciation, many thousands of years ago. The aliens are relatively new and they don’t have the same evolutionary history alongside the other species eg lichens, mites, insects etc.

This blog was originally published on:   

17 April 2023

and subsequently modified on:  

11 February 2024

Table of Contents

Monkey Puzzle cone (Araucaria araucana)

A cone lying on a bed of grasses and other foliage. The cone is a mid-brown colour and is made up of layers of platelets. Each platelet ends in a thin point which is curled back down the platelet.
I couldn’t believe it! I was walking through the woodland and I found another cone. I think this one is from the nearby Monkey Puzzle tree.

Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea)

An unusual looking plant. It has thick frond like foliage and in the centre are 3 small heads. The foliage is green while the heads are yellow. The heads are also made up of a fractal design.
The Pineappleweed was first recorded in the wild in Britain in 1869 and is thought to have been an escapee from Kew Gardens. By the start of the 21st century it has spread to virtually all areas of Britain except for the highest areas in the Scottish Highlands. It has also been the fastest spreading plant in the 20th century. This plant was on the path right beside the rhododendron ponticum.

Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.)

A branch of a cotoneaster plant which is making the shape of an upturned Y. There are the typical cotoneaster leaves and small green berries as they haven’t ripened yet.
I don’t know how many times I walked past this cotoneaster without realising it was there. Then one day it was growing over the path and I couldn’t miss it! I have tried to identify the species but there are many different cotoneasters and I’m not expert enough to make a correct identification.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla sp.)

A bed of leaves with a toothed edge. In the centre are flowerheads which are almost yellow in colour.
I was initially quite puzzled by this flower but think it is a Lady’s Mantle. However, there are many different different species within this genus and I wasn’t sure exactly which species it is.

Rosa Rugosa

In the middle of the photograph is a vibrant pink rosa rugosa flower. Its petals are almost covering the stamens in the centre.
There is a patch of these roses at the corner of the woodland as it joins Dunglass Road. These are beautiful flowers but they don’t last long so I was pleased to see this flower and then get it photographed before the petals fell.

Noble Fir Cone (Abies procera)

This is a photograph of a Noble Fir cone. The structure of these consists of small seeds which are surrounded by rougher bracts. It is lying on the debris of a woodland floor.
I’ve rarely seen Noble Fir cones lying on the ground, so was really pleased to come across this one lying not far from the Noble Fir tree. I really like the structure of these with the seeds and the rougher bracts. It was only when I was looking at this in more detail that I realised that it is the female tree which produces cones.

Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana)

On the right is the leaves and stem of the perennial cornflower plant. The flower heads are on a couple of stalks coming from the plant and are in the middle of the photo. The flowerheads are roughly globe shaped with a centre which is a crimsony-purple and there are individual blue flowers which are positioned round this centre. They look quite messy.
This is on a grassy bank which is covered with both native and introduced species. This particular plant was hiding behind some other plants. I really like the colours with the blue and almost crimson in the centre. I also quite like the “messiness” of the blue flowers.

Beech Must ( Fagus sylvatica)

The end of a branch which has some beech leaves. The leaves have holes in them where they have been eaten by some insects. There is also 3 individual pieces of beech must. They are globe shaped and have an unusual texture.
I thought I was quite fortunate coming across this beech must which was easily accessible rather than having to photograph it above my head against the sky. This was taken early in June and they had just appeared.

Geranium (Geranium sp.)

A background of different types of leaves with a clutch of pink flowers sprouting from amidst them. The flowers are very pale pink and have 5 petals. Some of the flowers are coming to the end of their lives.
I do like geranium flowers but have found that they spread. However, looking at the neighbours to this plant I doubt it will be able to spread very far. There are many different varieties and I wasn’t able to track down the exact species for this image.

Wood Anemone - Alba Plena

In the background we can see the leaves of this plant. In the foreground we find a white flower. The outside petals look quite flat whereas the inside appears to be made up of layer upon layer of small white petals.
There were 2 little flowers amongst all the undergrowth on a bank of plants. They looked quite spectacular and very different from a normal wood anemone. When I investigated it further I found that it was wood anemone Alba Plena (Anemone nemorosa alba plena).

Star of Bethlehem

This is a closeup photograph of a Star of Bethlehem flower head. There are 6 white petals around the same number of stamens and a very prominent greenish stigma in the centre.
These Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers have appeared a few weeks after their bluebell neighbours.

Prickly Heath

This is a closeup of the berries of a Prickly Heath plant. We have red stems which hold small, thin green leaves. There are also many red, almost crimson, berries. The plant just looks full of berries.
This prickly heath (Gaultheria mucronata) plant looked absolutely stunning with its bright red almost crimson berries against the thin dark green leaves on red stems.

Bee on Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum)

A bright rhododendron flower with a bee in one of its flowers.
This rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) always looks stunning in June. So, I just had to photograph it. I then heard the familiar buzz of a bee as it was collecting pollen. I am particularly happy with this shot of the bee as when you look closely you can see its proboscis in the plant.

Rhododendron Flower (Rhododendron ponticum)

A gorgeous lilac flowerhead which is made up of individual lilac flowers. The sun is shining on the flowerhead.
These are a highly invasive introduced plant which seed freely, form dense thickets, and stops the regeneration of native species leading to a loss of biodiversity. I know all of this. However, I also love the flowers on this rhododendron, and am pleased to see it burst into flower each year.

Rhododendron Ponticum – full spread

A large rhododendron ponticum which is in flower.
These rhododendron plants used to be spread along the drive to Brahan Castle. However, most of them were removed several years ago once we realised what a detrimental effect they were having on the environment. This plant takes up a corner site and is being kept in check by two paths. It also has a great cultural importance to the village. However, it has spread substantially in the last 30+ years that we’ve lived here.


This is a closeup photograph of a leapard’s-bane flowerhead. The background is very dark and you can just make out some of the leaves of the plant. However, the flower-head has many long, thin yellow petals. In the centre of all the petals is circular and looks as if its filled with many tightly packed yellow globules.
At one of the entrances to the woodland is a patch of these bright yellow Leopard’s-Bane (Doronicum pardalianches) flowers. What a welcome to the woodland.


Against a brownish stalk like background is this bright coloured flower. It has a reddish stem with thin spiky leaves. Beneath the yellowish flower there are a couple of leaves. The flowers are tiny.
This is another plant that is in the bank of plants. There are a great many types of euphorbia and I’m not confident of which one this is, although it does have many of the characteristics of Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias). I’m also not sure if this is a native variety or if this has been introduced to the area.


There are several clumps of bluebells in the woodland. I do have a questionmark as to whether they are all native to this woodland. While I have checked on pollen colour and flower position and they look like natives I suspect that they are a later introduction and may have come from a cultivated plant. I have also included these in The Natives page.

The sun is shining of this clump of bluebells. There are pink bluebells on the left and on the right there’s blue bluebells. To the left of the pink bluebells is a spider hanging in a web. There are other insects caught up in the web.
While there is one big patch of bluebells (Hyacinthoides sp.) in the woodland, there are several areas that have smaller clumps of flowers. This is one of those clumps. They are a beautiful mix of both pink and blue bluebells. It’s really nice to see that there are insects close to these flowers – in this case a spider.

Tuberous Comfrey

This is another plant which I have a question about. This was originally recorded as being native to Scotland but in more recent years it has been reclassified. I have therefore included it in both this page and The Natives page.

This plant has large green leaves and much smaller tubular flowers. The flowers are a creamy colour. There is a bumble bee feeding from one of the plants.
There’s a large patch of tuberous comfrey in the woodland. This is a very interesting plant as it was originally recorded as being native to Scotland where it is thought to have originated as a medicinal plant. It was discovered in the wild in 1765 along the Water of Leith. However, recently it has been reclassified as an introduced neophyte. While I was photographing these flowers along came a bee and photobombed my shot – and I’m delighted it did so. It’s great to see the wide variety of insects that are present in the woodland.

Yellow Archangel

A spike of flowers. The leaves are green with grey patches. The flowers are yellow and look as if they have a hood and a lower petal dropping down which has much darker markings on it.
This is the Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum) plant. I suspect it is the variegated variety. It is a very new introduction to this country and it is estimated that it came into the country in the late 1960s.

Flowering Currant

In the background are the yellow heads of daffodils which are just starting to flower. The subject of the photo is part of a red currant bush. We see its leaves and there are hanging bunches of dark pink flowers.
There are at least 2 different Red Currant (Ribes sylvestre) bushes along Dunglass Road. The other bush has much lighter pink flowers. I suspect the bushes are escapees from local gardens which have either self sown or have been spread by birds.

Pink Purslane

In the background there are unfocussed leaves providing a background to a small pink flower which has very prominent darker stripes running down the full length of each petal. There are 5 petals and they look as if they have a notch taken out at the top of each petal.
This Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica) is a naturalised plant which was cultivated in 1768 and was first found in the wild in 1837. It appears to have spread rapidly across the country since the 1930s. It also is known to quickly colonise woodland and its lush vegetation smothers nearby native plants.
In amongst some grass there are a few Pink Purslane plants. There are several bright pink flowers which have darker veins of colour running the full length of each petal.
This is another patch of Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica). It is growing side by side with some Stitchwort. This Pink Purslane is main body of the woodland and was looking particularly lovely in the sunshine. If you look closely one of the flowers on the left hand side has an insect on it. This isn’t a native wildflower to this area.


There are two different clumps of Squill (Scilla). The one clump which is on the right is as you come into the woodland from the Dunglass Road entrance, near the dog poo container. I suspect that these may be Spring Squill (Scilla verna) which is native to Scotland. However their natural habitat is on coastal grasslands rather than woodland.

The other patch of Squill are near one of the entrances from Dunglass Road quite near to the passing place. I suspect these are Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides) which aren’t native to Scotland. As this plant is near to dumped garden waste I suspect they have made their way into the woods that way.

Spring squill

In amongst the undergrowth of the woodland is a patch of flowers. They have quite thin leaves and look as if they may have grown from a bulb. The flowers are quite fragile looking and are a pale-ish shade of lilac and have a very prominent band of darker colour from the longest part of each petal.
There are at least two different patches of squill (Scilla sp.) within the woodland. These ones are darker than the others.

Striped Squill

This is a woodland scene with the woodland floor covered in the remnants of the leaves that fell last autumn. In amongst he leaves are several long green leaves and between then are delicate pale blue flowers with a darker band at the middle of each petal running for the full length of the petal.
I have looked into the type of squill this may be - but there are several. I suspect this is the Striped Squill (Scilla sp.). However, although some squill are native to this part of Scotland, I can't find any reference to Striped Squill being native. Therefore, I suspect that this came from the abandoned garden waste which was nearby.


This photo shows a clump of oblong green leaves with a prominent centre spine. There are several 5 petalled blueish flowers with large petals. In the inset at the to right hand corner is a closeup image of the periwinkle flower.
There's a large clump of periwinkle (Vinca sp.) just at on the entrances to the woods. These are not a native plant in this area so I suspect that it originated from a garden and has either self sown or spread by birds.


There are familiar leaves of 3 different patches of daffodil plants with one of the patches flowering. At the very right hand side of the photo is the trunk of a tree and we see some Ivy leaves at the top left hand side of the photo. They look as if they are stretching down to touch the daffodil flowers.
Another flower that is non-native to this area. Again this is at one of the entrances to the woodland and I suspect it's make its way here from a nearby garden. I particularly like how the ivy leaves look as if they are stretching down to touch the daffodil flowers.

Woods and Daffodils

In the distant background you can see glimpses of the Black Isle between the trees. In the foreground of the phots of 3 clumps of flowering daffodils. Behind the daffodils are a variety of species of woodland trees. Low early spring sunshine is streaming through the trees.
The sunshine streaming through the woodland really makes this photograph. A few minutes before it had been raining.


In one section of the woodland there are the “Memory Trees” which were planted by visitors to Brahan Estate in the 1800s. These are really mature trees. They are also not native (aliens). However, I’m going to look at two of the most prolific non-native spreading trees that are in the woodland.


We see the trunks of some mature trees in this photo but in the centre of the photo is a dense mass of beech saplings.
In the middle of the photo we see a mass of beech (Fagus sylvatica) saplings. They are growing really densely and are covering a large area. Beech is what is known as a naturalised tree ie in this area it is not a native and was a human introduction a few of centuries ago. These beech trees will out-compete all the native trees and will become the dominant tree in this area.

Western Hemlock

This is a dense patch of Western Hemlock trees with a small, narrow path between the trees.
This is another alien tree - the Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). As we can see in this photo they can grow very close together and make a very dense woodland. They also spread lots of seedlings which grow very rapidly. Again, these can form a very dense plantation which cuts out the light to plants underneath. They also outperform native trees.


1, 2 – Botanic Society of Britain & Ireland
3 – Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

In addition to these I have used the following reference books and websites extensively. Without them you would have had a page of photos with very little else.

Plant Atlas –

Scott, M (1995), “Scottish wild flowers”, Collins Guide
Rose, F (1981), reissued 1991, “The wild flower key – British Isles – NW Europe”, London: Penguin Books Ltd
Fitter, R, Fitter, A and Blamey M (1978), 2nd Edition, “The wild flowers of Britain and Northern Europe”, Glasgow: William Collins Sons and Co Ltd

If you want to visit the official Maryburgh Community Woodland site please click on this link

This blog was originally published on:

17 April 2023

and subsequently modified on:  

11 February 2024