Twinflower – a Hopeful Story

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) Photo By Walter Siegmund – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

Dear Readers, I have never seen Twinflower, and the chances are that unless you’re livijng in Scotland and have access to a Caledonian pinewood, you haven’t either. Which is a shame, because this is one of those fairy flowers, tucked away beneath the heather and the blaeberry, with the Scots pines towering over head. In case you’re not sure why it’s called Twinflower, have a look at this:

Photo By Walter Siegmund (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

What has happened is that as the pinewoods have become more and more fragmented, pollination no longer works, as the bees have to fly too far to find other populations, and the plants cannot be self-pollinated. Instead, they grow into colonies like the one in the first photo, which means that all the individual flowers are genetically identical – clones. This means that they are at risk from any gene that is dangerous because there are no plants to provide any diversity, and if conditions change they are especially vulnerable.

Enter the Cairngorms Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project. They are helping the plants do what they can’t do on their own – meet new plants. Some members of the group have been nurturing cuttings from the original plants in their own gardens, and the young plants are now robust enough to be planted in the wild, at ten sites across the Cairngorms. Within ten years, the hope is that the plants will be producing seed themselves which will cross-pollinate with the existing plants and create colonies of their own. Let’s hope that this is the start of a whole new lease  of life for Twinflower. After all, this flower such a favourite with the father of taxonomy, Linnaeus, that the whole genus of Twinflowers, Linnaea, was named after him.

Photo by Alastair Rae from London, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons




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