Life in the Scottish Highlands
the Highlands of Scotland consists of moorland. This can be defined as
the great treeless wastes covering the mountain sides as high up as the
limit of the heaths. This limit, which may be as high as 3,000 feet, must
not be taken too literally, for at this height we are entering the region
of alpine vegetation and many alpines are to be found well below it.
Therefore, we will confine the moorlands to those areas where the heaths
attain their finest development, that is up to about 2,000 feet.
the mountain areas that are vast areas of moorlands covering the great
sandy moraines of Speyside, and the other sandy morainal areas which occur
in most of the larger valleys. There are also the huge upland plateaux
such as the Moor of Rannoch, which are covered with huge stretches of
heather and deep treacherous bogs.
people are acquainted with these great sweeping moors where the wind
whistles eternally among the heather stems. Dull and monotonous at most
seasons except when the heather transforms them into a blaze of colour,
they have a charm and beauty of their own. The haunts of loneliness where
the curlew whistling from his bogs, the chattering of a noisy burn or the
hoarse cry of some lone bird of prey alone breaks the silence. Regions
that invite the walker to explore their remotest corners and yet are full
of treachery, especially in the autumn and winter when the snow-laden
gales sweep across them with unbroken fury, or the mists obscure the
treacherous bogs and morasses.
the Scottish moorlands are composed of soil containing a large peat
content caused by the dampness of the soil. But in Speyside there are
large areas of moorland covering dry, sandy soil which dries out so
quickly that only xerophytes vegetation such as heaths, broom, etc. can
few people who have not been struck by the beauty of the moorlands when
the heather transforms them into a blaze of colour. The purple moors
sweep up the mountain sides and along the valleys covering the land with a
purple mantle on which the tarns and lochs shine like brilliants. The
honey-scented air is full of the hum of the millions of bees who come from
far and near to this banquet table, so rich in honey, whose flavour is not
excelled by that from any other plant. What delightful memories the
heather bring back to me! Tramps over the heather-covered hillsides where
the brown grouse fly out from beneath ones feet with a whirr of swift
wings, and the proud red deer regard from a distance the disturber of
their sanctuary. Delightful days spen in Speyside where the heather
moorlands mix with the dark pine forests, lakes and rivers to form scenes
of unsurpassable beauty, or among the wild Western Isles where the purple
heather runs down to the blue Atlantic, turning scenes of barrenness and
austere grandness into scenes of loveliness and unmatchable colour.
although many must have admired the beautiful scenic effects made by the
heather blooms, how few there are who can distinguish the individual
species which are classed together as heather, and how few know how
wonderfully they are suited to these habitats and what are their wonderful
arrangements to ensure fertilization.
heathers of our Scottish moorlands are composed of three species, two of
them Erica cinera and Erica Tetralix, being members of the
great Erica genus of which so many are cultivated as ornamental shrubs in
our gardens and conservatories, and Calluna vulgaris, an allied
species which is the flower usually known as the heather.
moorlands where the heathers grow have a covering of peat. Peat is the
result of accumulating vegetable matter and is formed in those places
which are cold and damp, and in which decay is a slower process than in
warmer situations. On the moors this layer of peat is very thin owing to
the sparse vegetation which covers them, for plants such as heaths
contribute little vegetable matter to the soil. As the vegetation slowly
decays organic acids are liberated which give the soil an acid reaction.
This acid property of peat makes it unsuitable for many types of
vegetation. This results, firstly, from the fact that the acids acting on
nitrogen compounds in the decaying vegetation release the nitrogen as free
ammonia which is given off into the air, and into nitrogen salts which are
quickly washed out of the soil. Thus the soil of the moors is lacking in
nitrogen is vital to the welfare of plants, and as plants depend on almost
the whole of their nitrogen supply from the soil via the roots, it stands
to reason that plants growing in soils lacking nitrogen must adopt other
methods of obtaining it.
among the inhabitants of the moors and bogs, we find parasitic plants,
insectivorous plants and others that keep colonies of bacteria and
sometimes fungi in nodules of the roots to fix the nitrogen for them.
heaths certain species of fungi live in the roots. They are able to fix
the nitrogen of the air in the soil and make it available for the plant to
use. In return the fungi obtain certain vital products from their host.
mutual help is know as symbiosis. Thus has Nature enabled these plants to
conquer the sterile regions which would otherwise be almost desert.
The Bell-Heather (Erica cinerea)
Bell-Heather is a very wiry, small shrub from one to two feet high, but in
exposed or very dry situations it may not attain one foot. The stems are
tough and not easily broken, and give rise to leafy shoots which are
terminated by the flower spikes.
leaves themselves illustrate admirably how nature adapts plants to their
environment. The Bell-Heather, growing as it does in dry exposed
situations where the perils of drought are ever present, could not have
survived if it had continued existence without adaptation. The leaves are
dark green in colour, and shiny, and arranged in whorls, in the axils of
which are small leafy shoots. As most people know, the breathing pores of
most leaves are situated on the lower surface and from them water vapour
escapes from the leaves. It is vitally important to the bell-heather that
too much water does not leave the stomata, so it has rolled the edges of
the leaves inwards until they nearly meet, leaving a groove between the
two opposing surfaces. Thus the stomata are protected by the inrolled
surfaces of the leaves. But in order to make even more sure Nature has
covered the under surface with fine hairs which completely block the
groove and other spaces by which water might escape.
flower of Erica cinerea are also very interesting and merit a
detailed study. The flowers, which are a bright purplish-red in colour,
are arranged in spikes at termination of the branches, and are very
flower is a delightful little object, the petals being welded together to
form a base-like structure about a quarter of an inch long, surmounted by
four narrow lobes. At its base are situated four very inconspicuous green
sepals, whilst within we find the round ovary surmounted by a fine style
which projects beyond the corolla mouth.
base of the ovary spring eight stamens, which arrive at the mouth of the
vase but do not project beyond it. Their anthers, which are pressed close
against the style, each have two horn-like projections, which effectually
close the mouth of the flower. As the nectarines are situated under the
ovary creeping or short-tongued insects cannot obtain the nectar, which is
reserved for the long-tongued bees and butterflies.
bee arrives at a bloom it grips the lobes with feet and pushes its tongue
into the vase. On so doing it cannot fail to touch the horns on the
anthers, which are immediately jerked up and throw the pollen over its
face and head. On visiting another flower it must leave some pollen on
the stigma at the entrance. It is impossible for the pollen from the same
flower to be deposited on the stigma.
The Cross-leaved Heath (Erica Tetralix)
plant, which has a rather hoary appearance and is very beautiful, is not
quite so abundant as the other heaths and is usually found in damper
situations. The leaves, which have a fringe of hairs, are arranged in
whorls of four around the stems and are not as revolute as in E.
flower themselves are of a delicate, pale pink hue and are arranged in an
umbel at the termination of the branches. They are very beautiful,
looking as if modeled in wax, and they smell very strongly of honey, which
aids in making them more conspicuous.
of this flower is slightly longer than in E. cinerea and may be one
reason why the hive-bees are not so partial to it, humble-bees and
butterflies being the flowers chief visitors.
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
plant, whose habit is much the same as that of E.cinerea, is one of
our most abundant British flowers and covers large areas of mountain sides
and moorlands. The whole plant is much more leafy than in the other
species and the very revolute, small leaves are imbricate on the branches.
flowers, which are a bright pink in colour, and are arranged in very dense
spikes, are very conspicuous and smell fragrantly of honey. The flowers,
themselves, are differently constructed from those of the Ericas.
The petals form a wide mouthed bell, which is very small and almost hidden
by the petal-like calyx, which is the most conspicuous part of the
flower. Owing to the shallowness of the bell, the nectar is easily
accessible to all flying insects, and for this reason the moors in August
hum with the myriads of insects which come to partake of the bountiful
feast so easily obtainable.
are the chief visitors, but many other short-tongued insects are to be
found around the flowers, as well as humble-bees, Syrphidae-flies and
Broom (Cytisus scoparius)
plants impress themselves upon us, not so much by the individual beauty of
their flowers, but by the combined effect of their millions of blooms
colouring the whole landscape. Such plants are the heather which throws a
purple mantle over the mountains in August, the buttercup which spreads a
cloth of gold over the meadows in May, the hawthorn with its billows of
snowy blooms, and the broom which turns Speyside into a valley of gold in
is a beautiful plant when thus seen in all the glory of its youth; seen in
autumn or early spring in its an untidy, rather unattractive shrub with
its long, green, slender twigs rising like a shock of uncombed hair from
the main branches.
what is known as a xerophyte, i.e. a plant which is constructed to live in
dry, windy, exposed places. We have already met some xerophytes in the
course of this chapter, the heaths being good examples.
It is a
very common plant in the Highlands, especially in places such as Speyside
where large areas of sandy soil, brought down by ancient glaciers, are
It is a
tall shrub with a stout, woody, erect stem which branches at the summit.
From the branches arise a large number of green, angular, slender twigs
upon which the flowers and leaves are borne.
leaves are very small in proportion to the size of the plant. The lower
ones are trifoliate and are covered with silky hairs on the under surface,
whilst the upper ones are reduced to one narrow leaflet. This great
reduction in leaf surface reduces transpiration to a minimum, but if the
plant depended solely upon them for the manufacture of food substances, it
would be unable to maintain itself. To supplement this deficiency the
green twigs contain much chlorophyll in their outer tissues and it is they
who carry out the main function of photosynthesis. They offer much less
surface to the drying effect of wind and sun than leaves would do, this
being an adaptation to the dry conditions which this plant faces.
beautiful flowers are produced singly or in pairs in the axils of old
leaves and form a long, leafy raceme. Owing to the smallness of the
leaves, the plants seem to be a mass of flowers when in full bloom, and as
they tend to form colonies, the effect is magnificent.
flowers are typical of the great Pea Family to which the Broom belongs and
are constructed for pollination by bees. The five golden petals are
arranged as follows; the upper one, or standard, is broad and erect and
forms the main advertisement of the flower, and it is often marked with
brown honey-guides; the two side petals, or wings, are ovate in form and
produced back into a tiny claw, a depression occurring at the base of the
petal near this claw; the two lower petals are united to form a
boat-shaped structure, the keel, and near the base of each a tiny
prominence occurs, which fits into the depression on each wing and forms a
kind of hinge.
flower possesses ten stamens, five of which are longer than the others,
their filaments being all united towards the base to form a closed sheath
around the ovary. The ovary is long and narrow and is terminated by a
very long, flexible style which is twisted spirally among the stamens.
Both ovary and stamens are contained with the keel.
visiting a newly-opened flower, alights upon the wings, which, being
hinged to the keel, depress it, the short stamens springing out and
dusting the underside of the bee with pollen. ON going to an older flower
the pistil and longer stamens spring out and the hairy style, covered with
pollen, deposits the precious dust upon the bees back. At the same time
the stigma collects any pollen which the bee may have brought upon its
back from another flower. If it has no transported pollen upon its back
it does not matter as the style twists downwards to the position occupied
by the anthers of the short stamens, and in that position, the stigma will
collect pollen from the abdomen of the bee.
be obvious to anyone that there is no contrivance to prevent pollen from
the anthers falling upon the stigma during these movements and thus
self-pollinating the flower. This, however, does not matter as it has
been proved by experiment that the ovules cannot be fertilized by pollen
from the stamens of the same flower, thus cross-pollination is imperative
for the production of fertile seed.
flowers produce no nectar and are visited by bees solely for their
fertilization the ovary lengthens and swells to form the characteristic
pod or legume, typical of the family.
sunny days in August the pod splits explosively, throwing the seeds to a
considerable distance from the parent plant.
have another example of how marvelously plants have adapted themselves to
the conditions of life in which they find themselves.
of this plant, as in the case of the clover, are also inhabited by
bacteria, which aid the roots to obtain nitrogen, an element usually
deficient in their sandy, stony habitat.
Needle Whin (Genista anglica)
common moorland plant, occurring at higher elevations than the broom, but
often as abundant, is the Needle Whin, which also belongs to the Pea
Family and, like the broom, is a xerphyte.
It is a
low growing, almost spreading shrub which does not grown to a greater
height than that of the surrounding vegetation, and thus obtains shelter
from the wind in its exposed habitat. The stems are slender and woody,
and give rise to short, spiny branches in the lower part. The development
of spines instead of leafy branches serves two purposes, one being that of
cutting down excessive transpiration and other of protecting the main
stems against the attacks of herbivorous animals. The upper branches are
covered with small, narrow, smooth leaves which are not trifoliate.
stature, reduction of the lower branches and the small leaves, are all
adaptations to combat drought on the dry wind-swept moors.
flowers are produced in small, leafy racemes at the extremities of the
upper branches, and are much smaller than those of the broom and of a much
unopened flower the standard lies parallel to the wings and keel. This
position, however, is one of the tension, the keel being retained in it by
the union of its upper margins, which enclose and retain the curved
pistil, which presses against them like a spring. Within the keep is
found the ovary and the ten stamens, which are arranged in two whorls as
in the broom, but in this plant the anthers shed their pollen into the tip
of the keel.
bee alights upon the flower, its weight depresses the wings and releases
the tension in the keel, the stamens and pistil flying up, whilst the keel
flies down throwing a shower of pollen over the insect.
is secreted, the bees visiting the flowers for pollen only.
Slender St. Johns-wort (Hypericum pulchrum)
This is a
common plant on the moorlands and heaths up to 2,000 feet.
perennial stem is a short, decumbent stock which lies buried in the
shallow humus throughout the winter, and in spring gives rise to stiff,
erect stems. They are very slender and completely glabrous and produce
leaves at fairly long intervals. The whole plant is remarkable for its
very slender habit, ideally suited to withstand fierce winds.
leaves are heart-shaped in form and are opposite to one another, so that
at first glance the stem appears to pass through the middle of a single,
elliptical leaf. The leaves are marked with pellucid dots which are
actually glands secreting essential oils, and they have a thick cuticle.
These two factors help to reduce transpiration, for as the surface of the
leaf becomes heated by the sun, the essential oils evaporate, thus
reducing the temperature of the leaf, and hence the transpiration rate.
flower are produced on wiry, erect stalks from the axils of the upper
leaves and forma a pyramidal panicle.
consists of five broad sepals, which are united into a shallow cup, their
edges being fringed by black, glandular hairs which act as a fence against
crawling insects. The corolla is bright yellow in colour, and the five
petals, which are much longer than the sepals, are not united but form a
flower appears to have a vast number of stamens, but upon careful
dissection they will be found to be united into three bundles. The
three-sided ovary occupies the centre of the flower and is surmounted by
three long styles.
flowers are visited by bees, flies and beetles, which come for the
abundant pollen, no nectar being secreted.
Cowberry (Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea)
tramping over the wind-swept moorlands and sandy heathlands in autumn, one
must have been struck by the number of berry-bearing plants to be seen.
The Whortleberry with its luscious purple-black fruit, the small bluish
berries of the Crowberry, the red berries of the Bear-berry and the
Cowberry, are examples of the wealth of fruit to be found. No wonder that
so many grouse, blackcock and similar birds are able to thrive on the
bleak Scottish moorlands.
Cowberry is perhaps the most handsome of the Vacciniums or
Whortleberries. Its drooping, crowded racemes of pale, flesh-colored
flowers, its erect stems covered by thick, shiny evergreen leaves and the
mass of scarlet fruit which follows the flowers aid in making it
possesses a long, creeping, woody, underground stem which gives off
creeping branches or runners, and it is thus able to colonize extensive
areas. It is also an evergreen, as the soil is shaded by its leafy
mantle, competitors find it difficult to enter or thrive in its territory.
leaves are rolled over at the edges to protect, in some measure the lower
surface from the wind, and as they are thick, shiny and leathery, are well
adapted to exposed dry conditions. On the under side, many brown dots may
be seen; these are scales which help to cover the stomata and prevent
corolla is an open bell, the edges of which are not reflexed. Its stamens
are constructed in a similar fashion to those of the Whortle-berry, the
flowers being pollinated by means of bees and butterflies.
fruits are eaten by birds and the seeds pass uninjured through the
stomach and intestines, to be dropped far from the parent plants, thus
effectually increasing the Cowberrys territory.
Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi)
another common berry-bearing plant and also belongs to the Heath family.
It is actually a carpet plant, its long trailing stems covering extensive
areas, and it forms dense carpets of thick, leathery evergreen leaves.
Its flowers are similar to those of the Cowberry and the stamens are
constructed as in the Whortleberry, but they are followed by bright red
It is a
very common plant on the sandy heathlands of Speyside, but may be met with
on high moorlands up to 2,500 feet.
This is a
very rare plant, being found in a restricted area upon a moorland on the
Sow of Athol, and it also belongs to the Heath family.
It is a
small, much branched shrub covered by many fine, evergreen leaves which
are bordered by minute, glandular teeth. The fine leaves serve a similar
purpose to those of those of the heather, as they reduce transpiration and
offer little resistance to wind.
four slender erect stalks arise from the summits of the branches, and
these each bear an umbel of flowers, which are very beautiful and of a
purplish-blue colour, consisting of a bell-shaped corolla which bear five
very short lobes. The flowers are fertilized as in the case of the
reason for its very restricted habitat will be explained in Chapter XXII.
Devils-bit Scabious (Scabiosa succisa)
plant is very common on moorlands, heathy pastures and roadsides, and
could be quite easily taken for a Composite. It is a very showy plant
with its large, hemispherical, deep blue heads of flowers.
obtains its name from the short rootstock which seems to have been bitten
off short and then replaced in the soil. This rootstock lies dormant in
the soil throughout the winter, and it is thus unlike the heaths and
whortleberries which pass the winter largely above the ground.
the rootstock will be found to have given rise to a rosette of large,
ovate, radical leaves on long stalks. By their flat, spreading habit,
they are less exposed to the wind and prevent other plants from growing
close to the plant. The leaves are smooth and are not toothed, but a few
hairs sometimes occur upon them.
rosette of leaves arises a tall stem which may attain two feet. It is
usually clothed with one or two pairs of opposite leaves, much smaller
than the radical one and often toothed.
axils, tall stalks arise, terminated by a head of deep blue flowers. If
we examine a head carefully, we shall find that it possesses an involucre
as in the Composites. The involucre is formed of two or three rows of
bracts which effectually protect the head, before the flowers open.
resemblance to a Composite head ceases, for we shall find that each little
floret is contained in a tubular sheath known as the involucel. Each
floret is thus a separate flower, but as we have seen reduction has gone
so far in the Composites that the involucel does not exist.
involucel be carefully removed from a floret, the calyx will be seen to
consist of five rigid teeth surmounting the ovary. The corolla consists
of a narrow tube with four, spreading, rounded lobes, one of which is
larger than the other three. The four stamens arise from the sides of the
corolla tube and project well beyond it, their reddish-brown anthers
contrasting agreeably with the purplish-blue flowers.
is very long and projects well beyond the ring of anthers. Nectar is
secreted at the base of the corolla tube and is eagerly sought by many
kinds of butterflies, who are the flowers chief benefactors. The
protruding stigma must be touched before the anthers, so that
cross-pollination is assured.
that many florets are massed into a single compact head means that one
insect can visit and pollinate several flowers in a short time.
species of Composites occur upon the moorlands, one of the commonest
species being the Mountain Everlasting (Antennaria dioica), which
is related to the beautiful Edelweiss of the Swiss mountains.
possesses tufted stems which often give rise to creeping runners, the
stems and runners being clothed with oblong leaves which are covered by a
dense coat of cottony hairs and felt which gives them a whitish
appearance. This is a device to reduce transpiration and enables the
plant to thrive in dry, exposed places.
rather remarkable among Composites in producing the male and female
flowers on separate plants.
involucre, like the leaf and stems, is covered in dense cottony hairs and
the inner bracts have broad petal-like tips which spread outwards, like
the ray petals of a daisy; these are the advertising agents as the florets
themselves are inconspicuous, tubular and short. In the females the
spreading bracts are missing, but the corollas are very fine and protrude,
giving the head a snow-white effect and thus making them conspicuous.
pollination (and owing to the separation of the sexes only
cross-pollination is possible) the floret produces a long hairy pappus,
which supports the seed and aids its distribution.
common Composite is the Wood Cudweed (Gnaphalium sylvaticum), which
Is related to the preceeding.
also a perennial and its erect stems are clothed by long, narrow leaves
which are covered by a short, grayish felt, which gives protection against
flower heads are very small and produced on a long, leafy spike, the
bracts of the involucre being a bright, shiny brown, whilst the outer
florets of the heads are filiform, the inner ones being tubular.
fertilization they produce a white, silky pappus and , in their wind-swept
habitat, the parachute seeds travel long distances. Thus the Wood Cudweed
is a common and well distributed plant.
Dwarf Cornel (Cornus suecica)
the finest tramps in the Highlands is that from Aviemore, through
beautiful Rothiemurchus Forest and the Larig Ghu Pass to Braemar. As one
climbs out of the forest, one must have been struck by the grandeur of the
scenery. Cairngorm, with its wild corries, looms up to the left, and
Braeriach stands grand and solemn to the right of the deep savage cleft,
which is the Larig Ghru. Heather-clad moors, sweep up to the pass from
the forest, and as one toils upwards over stony paths and bogs the
ptarmigan glide, with a whirr of wings, almost from beneath ones feet,
and the deer bound away to safety.
here in the sanctuary of the mountains that I first found the Dwarf
This is a
strange little plant, whose only other relation in Britain is the shrubby
Dogwood so common on chalky hills in the south.
It is a
herbaceous plant, fairly well distributed over moorland areas of the
Highlands, its relationship to a family of woody plants being shown by the
main perennial stem is a creeping, woody rhizome buried in the moss and
soil. The Dwarf Cornel is, therefore, a dwarf tree or shrub whose trunk
is buried in the ground and whose leafy branches only appear above the
erect, annual stems are about six inches high and die down in the autumn,
and are clothed by a few pairs of opposite, ovate, smooth, entire leaves
with five to seven conspicuous white veins running up the leaf. The stems
are terminated by an umbel of small flowers.
seeing the plant, one could fall into the quite excusable error of
thinking that each stem gives rise to a single flower.
examined the apparent flower, we should notice four large whitish
spreading objects tipped with purple, which look like petals. These,
however, are bracts, the actual flowers being the small dark purple
objects in the middle of the bracts.
plant, as in the Mountain Everlasting, the bracts are the advertising
agents which attract insects to the actual flowers.
flowers themselves are tiny purple cups with four small projecting stamens
and a projecting stigma, and as they secrete nectar they are visited by
bees and flies.
fertilization the ovaries swell to form bright red berries, and it is thus
yet another moorland plant which obtains distribution of its seeds, by
attracting birds with its bright fruits.
Cornel may be found up to 3,000 feet in the Highlands and is rare below
1,000 feet. It thus belongs to the special flora of the Scottish
Heath Bedstraw (Galium saxatile)
This is a
small plant with weak, prostrate stems, but it is usually quite
conspicuous in spite of its small size as it forms considerable colonies,
and is common on dry moorlands and heaths.
are clothed in whorls of narrow leaves, about six leaves being produced in
each whorl, each one being terminated by a short, awl-like point and
fringed with tiny forward-pointing prickles.
flowers, which are very small and white, are produced in dense cymes and
collectively are fairly conspicuous. Each tiny flower possesses four
spreading petals, four erect stamens and two erect styles, and as the
produce nectar and are sweet smelling, are visited by butterflies and
is a tiny burr containing two seeds, which attaches itself to the fur of
animals, the seeds being thus distributed far from the parent plant.
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