Officially called Gorse, but generally known as Whin in Scotland, Whin is also the 17th letter of the ancient Celtic alphabet. In Argyll and elsewhere Whin is associated with Cailleach, or the Goddess of Winter in the old Celtic tradition. It is an extremely hardy evergreen flowering shrub with sharp and ubiquitous spines all along its stems. The explosion of yellow flowers in late winter and early spring is accompanied by the powerful scent of sweet coconut. It grows all over Scotland where there are rough grassy places, loving acid soils near the coast, including clifftops. It has been introduced on the Isles.
Serving for leaves are sharp rigid and grooved spines up to 2.5cm long jutting out along the branching stems and at the ends. The flowers are typical pea flowers, bright yellow with 5 petals. They grow in clusters along the stems and are often present throughout the year, though at their most prolific in April-May. There is a saying in Scotland, ‘when the Whin is blooming, kissing’s in season,’ which refers, wishfully, to the fact that Whin can produce flowers all year round. The seed pod is a legume, about 2cm long, which splits open rather explosively to disperse its seeds.