HOPE is growing for an endangered plant as Scottish conservationists attempt to establish the Alpine blue-sow -thistle at a popular tourist spot.

The flower has been sown in a gorge at the Water of Clunie in the village of Braemar in Aberdeenshire, where it is hoped it will thrive.

The joint project between Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) also includes new signage to bring the story of the plant to life.

The Alpine blue-sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina) is an extremely rare plant, with only four populations known to survive in the wild, all on remote mountains in the eastern Cairngorms.

The plant’s range in Scotland may have been wider in the past but it has been reduced by grazing.

Preferring to grow in high rocky crags and mountain gullies, the population planted at the Water of Clunie is part of a wider experiment to see if flowering would be possible at lower altitudes.

The RBGE and SNH have been working on a long-running project to understand the plant’s genetics and to establish new populations.

SNH Operations Officer Mike Smedley said: “The site is one of several chosen to see whether it is possible to establish this species at relatively low altitude,”

“If successful, flowers could be visible as early as next year and at such a popular tourist spot in the heart of Braemar, this is a great opportunity to showcase nature conservation in action.”

Rare Plants Conservationist Martine Borge added: “The future of this delicate and luminous plant is very uncertain in Scotland.

“Like many of Scotland’s rare plants it needs a lot of support from horticulturists, scientists and members of the public to ensure it can recover from such a vulnerable position and help safeguard Scotland’s biodiversity.”

Research has shown that the genetic variation found within and between the four existing sites is low and the plants are in danger of becoming increasingly inbred.

If the species is not genetically varied, this will leave it vulnerable.

Using seed and root stock collected from the wild, the RBGE has cultivated plants from different origins at its gardens in Edinburgh.

Plants from two different genetic sources have been used in Braemar in the hope that they will crossbreed at the new location and become more genetically varied.

Dr Aline Finger, RBGE Biodiversity Scientist, said: “Our aim is to create healthy, self-sustaining populations for the future.

“We hope that by maximising genetic diversity, this and other planted populations have the genetic basis to be able to cope with future environmental challenges.”