Exploring the Wildflowers of Orkney

Nestled amidst the rugged landscapes and ancient ruins of Orkney, a delicate tapestry of wildflowers paint the islands with vibrant hues and fragrant scents. These blooms, resilient in the face of harsh coastal winds and ever-changing weather, contribute to the unique charm of this northern archipelago.

The aromatic Wild Thyme spreads its tiny lilac-coloured flowers, releasing a delightful scent that mingles with the salty sea air

Here we uncover the enchanting world of some of Orkney’s wildflowers.

See also: Exploring the wildflowers of Shetland

Thrift (Armeria maritima): The Coastal Jewel

Thrift (Armeria maritima)
Thrift (Armeria maritima) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

‘Arby’ Sea Pink, Cushions, Lady’s Pincushion
As one of Orkney’s most iconic wildflowers, Thrift, more commonly known as Sea Pinks blanket the cliffs and coastal areas with its striking pink blooms. Its ability to thrive in the salty sea spray makes it a symbol of resilience.
Best time to see: May – September

Primula Scotica: The Scottish Primrose

Primula Scotica: The Scottish Primrose
Primula Scotica: The Scottish Primrose photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon

Exclusive to Orkney, North Sutherland, and Caithness, this delicate beauty with pale lilac flowers that brighten the moorlands thrives on maritime heath. Despite its diminutive size, this plant demonstrates remarkable resilience, standing stout in its exposed surroundings, its presence is a reminder of its northern locations unique biodiversity.
Best time to see: May – July

Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella): The Orchid’s Elegance

Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella)
Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

‘Long Purples’
Dainty and elegant, the Northern Marsh Orchid graces the wetlands and meadows of Orkney with its intricate purple blossoms. Orchids are often sensitive to habitat changes, and some species may be considered threatened or protected. Local conservation efforts may be in place.
Best time to see: May – July

Spring Squill (Scilla Verna): Violet Serenade

Spring Squill (Scilla Verna)
Spring Squill (Scilla Verna): photo © Copyright Charles Tait

Swine’s Beads, Sea onion
A charming wildflower that graces the coastal grasslands of Orkney during the spring season. Its delicate blooms create a soft and enchanting display, painting the landscape with hues of violet-blue for a fleeting period in the late Spring and early Summer months.
Best time to see: May – June

Speedwells (Veronica spp.): Natures Brushstroke

Speedwells (Veronica spp.)
Speedwells (Veronica spp.) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

Several species of Speedwells, belonging to the genus Veronica, can be found among the wildflowers in Orkney. These dainty and often low-growing plants contribute to the vibrant tapestry of the region’s flora. With their small, intricate blossoms ranging in colour from blue to violet, Speedwells add a touch of beauty to Orkney’s meadows and grassy landscapes.
Best time to see: April – July but some species can bloom later

Red Campion (Silene Dioica): Crimson Inspiration

Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
Red Campion (Silene Dioica) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

This perennial plant is known for its vibrant, pink to red flowers and is often seen in meadows, woodland edges, and along roadsides. The plant typically blooms from late spring to early summer, adding a burst of colour to the natural surroundings. The plant can grow up to 80 centimeters in height.
Best time to see: May – November

Wild Thyme (Thymus Polytrichus): A Fragrant Tapestry

Wild Thyme (Thymus Polytrichus)
Wild Thyme (Thymus Polytrichus) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

‘Tae Girse’
In the rocky crevices and coastal grasslands, the aromatic Wild Thyme spreads its tiny lilac-coloured flowers, releasing a delightful scent that mingles with the salty sea air. The flowering period for Wild Thyme is typically from late spring through early summer. During this time, the small flowers create a carpet of colour across the landscape.
Best time to see: May – August

Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima): Oceanic Sapphire Bloom

Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima)
Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima) photo © Copyright Charles Tait

‘Sea Lungwort, Northern Shorewort’
Oysterplant may be found along the coastlines, particularly in areas with sandy or rocky soils. The plant’s ability to tolerate challenging conditions, such as salt spray and cold temperatures, makes it well-suited for the coastal environment of the Orkney Islands.
Best time to see: June – August

Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.): Opalescent Meadow Muse

Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.) photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon

In the tapestry of Orkney’s landscapes, the Eyebright emerges as a delicate artist’s stroke — a small, dainty wildflower graced with ethereal white or blush-pink petals. Its presence is a study in subtlety, a whisper amid the meadows and grassy realms that frame the islands.
Best time to see: June – September

Sundew (Drosera Rotundifolia) and (Drosera Anglica): Botanical Sorcerer

Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) photo © Copyright Agnieszka Kwiecień and licensed for reuse under this via Wikimedia Commons

In Britain, three sundew species grace the landscapes, and Orkney hosts two of them — the Round-leaved (Drosera Rotundifolia) and the Great Sundew (Drosera Anglica).

Sundew (Drosera anglica)
Sundew (Drosera anglica) photo © Copyright Ayotte, Gilles Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0 and licensed for reuse under this via Wikimedia Commons

Locating both sundew species can be challenging as they are small and inconspicuous. One of the best locations for spotting these elusive beauties is the island of Hoy in boggy areas.
Best time to see: June – August

The wildflowers of Orkney are more than just botanical wonders; they are living testaments to the resilience and beauty of this remote archipelago. As we stroll through meadows, along coastal cliffs, and through ancient ruins, let us take a moment to appreciate the delicate blooms that add a touch of magic to Orkney’s landscapes. They are not just flowers; they are living poetry, a testament to nature’s enduring artistry in this captivating corner of the world.

Victoria DixonBy Victoria Dixon
Orkney and Shetland fanatic, likes to capture life through a lens, loves creating, eclectic taste in music, enjoys being a Mum; would secretly love to be a star of the West End!

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Header image: Wildflowers Birsay Orkney photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon