Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Plant Life in the Scottish Highlands
Some other Interesting Meadow Plants


SEMI-PARASITES OF MEADOWS AND PASTURES

In the plant world, as with man, we find individuals who have forsaken the honest ways of living and steal from their more industrious fellows, thus living easily at the expense of these unfortunates.

These robber plants, or as they are termed botanically ‘parasites’, are fairly common in warm latitudes, and even in these islands we have quite a number of species.  The real parasites depend absolutely upon their host for sustenance, tapping either their roots or their stems and stealing their vital juices.  These plants are of rare occurrence in the Highlands.

There are plants quite widely spread throughout the Highlands which are semi-parasitic.  That is to say they obtain nourishment from the soil like the other plants, but also tap the roots of neighboring grasses, etc., and absorb their juices.

These semi-parasitic plants all belong to the Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae); they are the Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), a beautiful biennial very common in woods and thickets; the Alpine Bartsia (Bartsia alpina), found rarely in mountain pastures on some of the higher Scottish mountains; the Red Bartsia (Bartsia Odontites), very common throughout the Highlands and attaining considerable altitudes; the Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus Crista-galli), common in meadowlands; the Red Rattle (Redicularis palustris), common in damp meadows and in marshy places, the Housework (Pedicular sylvatica), very common in moist meadows and pastures, and the Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense), very common in woodlands and shrubby borders of fields.  These plants are all very similar in habit and they all practice parasitism in a similar fashion.

As we have seen, plants are dependent upon their roots to obtain nourishment from the soil, and upon their leaves which obtain nourishment from the air.

The semi-parasites, however, have gradually slipped from the true way of life.  They produce roots like other plants, but rather fewer of the fine thread-like roots which are the real absorbing medium.  If we dig up a plant of say Yellow Rattle, we shall find that it is impossible to detach its roots from the surrounding roots of grasses.  Closer examination would show us that at certain places the roots of the Yellow Rattle seemed to be stuck to the roots of the grasses.  If we placed one of these points of union under a magnifying glass, we should find a tiny sucker upon the roots of the Yellow Rattle which joined it to the roots of grasses at certain points. Through these suckers the Yellow Rattle draws off the vital juices passing along the rootlets of the grass.  This stealing of nourishment gradually causes the grass to become yellow and withered and large colonies of Yellow Rattle are very detrimental to the meadowlands.

At the same time the roots of the Yellow Rattle also obtain nourishment from the soil in the ordinary way.

If we look at the above ground portion of these plants, we shall notice that the leaves of many of these semi-parasites are not the beautiful bright green of ordinary plants, but are tinged with dull red and purple, the green being often almost indistinguishable.  Thus these plants, which slyly live upon the toil of others, are as indelibly marked with the token of their crimes as the robber in the broad arrows of his prison garb.

Naturally, a plant which obtains its food already half-prepared, is not as dependent upon the chemistry of sunlight and chlorophyll as other plants in order to obtain nourishment.  Hence the bright green chlorophyll is much less evident in their leaves, its place being taken by dull colours.

The Foxglove is rather different in appearance from the other semi-parasites.  This is because it has not yet decided upon its future career, or rather is at the stage of evolution which marks the line between parasitism and hones living.  The Foxglove can live in ordinary soil as an ordinary plant without stooping to theft, but if its roots do encounter the roots of a suitable plant they may attach themselves to them and become semi-parasitic.  The fact that it is not yet dependent on a host is shown in that its leaves are large and green.

Having described the semi-parasites generally, we will now describe more fully the more important species.  The Foxglove, however, has already been fully described in the chapter on the plants of the woodlands.

Alpine Bartsia (Bartsia alpina)

This plant is actually an inhabitant of the higher mountain pastures.

It is a small plant seldom more than six inches in height and is hairy on the leaves and stems.  The perennial rootstock sends up an erect stem clothed with alternate leaves which are without stalks and have crenate margins.  They are dull in colour and the upper ones, especially, are usually of a deep violet hue.  The flowers are arranged in a short leafy spike at the summit of the stem, and are of a deep livid purple colour tinged with violet in the lower part.  The calyx is short, but the corolla, like that of all flowers of the Figwort family, is of peculiar form.

The petals are united to form a long tube, the entrance to which consists of five lobes; these lobes are arranged to form two lips; the lower lip is often large and wide consisting of three lobes, while the upper one is smaller and erect consisting of the other two lobes.  The whole gives the effect of an open mouth with an extended lower lip.

In the Alpine Bartsia this lower lip is very short.  Nectar is secreted at the base of the tube.  The four stamens are arranged in two pairs, one pair being longer than the other, and are placed near the roof of the upper part of the flower.  The pistil is long and projects just beyond the lip.  A bee arriving at a flower will bring pollen from another plant, which will be transferred to the stigma at the entrance.  On pushing its head into the flower to obtain the nectar, it will be dusted upon the back and head with pollen from the anthers situated in the roof of the corolla, and it will be transferred to the next flower visited.  Thus cross-pollination is obtained.  Bees are the flowers’ chief benefactors, although butterflies may also be seen around them.

The Alpine Barsia is parasitic upon the roots of the alpine grasses and is a rather rare plant, being only found at high altitudes on some of our highest Scottish mountains.

Red Barsia (Bartsia Odontites)

The Red Bartsia is closely related to the Alpine Barsia, but it is confined to the meadowlands, the borders of cultivated fields and in the lower pastures.  It is a dull dingy-looking plant and decidedly unattractive.  It is much branched and erect, attaining a height of from six inches, the branches being clothed by small purplish colored opposite leaves which are covered with a short down.

The reddish flowers are arranged in spikes which are long and often one-sided.  They are shaped much like those of the Alpine Barsia, but the upper lip is longer than the lower.  It is a parasite on the roots of corn crops and grasses, and has been subdivided into two or three varieties, which are very difficult to distinguish.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)

This little plant is very common and is to be found over a wide range of countryside, ascending to considerable altitudes.  It may be found in meadowlands, in pastures, in woods and thickets, and on waste lands.

It varies greatly in form, size and colour, and has hence been divided into a great number of supposed species, sub-species and varieties.

It is an annual, rarely more than six inches in height and often in alpine situations hardly attaining one inch.  It is but little branched and is clothed in small ovate leaves which are usually deeply toothed.  The flowers are arranged in a leafy terminal spike.  The corolla is usually white, streaked with purple, and often with dark honey guides, whilst a yellow spot usually occurs on the throat, but in high alpine regions where the season is short the flowers may be minute and almost totally yellow.  The corolla tube is quite short and the flower is probably designed for fertilization by small bees.

Red Rattle (Pedicularis palustris)

The Red Rattle is the largest and most conspicuous of the semi-parasites, if we except the Foxglove.  It is a common plant in the Highlands and one may find it in boggy meadows, in marshes, along the edges of ponds, lakes and streams and in ditches.

It is an almost glabrous annual with erect, often much branched stems, attaining a height of from one foot to two feet.  The leaves are pinnate and beautifully cut into crenate segments, often being fern-like.  The flowers are arranged in short, terminal spikes and are of a deep purple red, the calyx being rather broad and lobed with jagged segments.  The corolla itself possesses a tube about as long as the calyx, a large lower lip consisting of a broad middle lobe and two smaller lateral lobes, and an erect upper lip which is slightly curved over to give the effect of an old church pulpit with a canopy.  The stamens are situated on the lower surface of this upper lip.  The flower is pollinated in the same manner as the Bartisia, but is much more conspicuous, arranging a fine landing stage, with its broad lower lip, for its insect visitors.

Lousework (Pedicularis sylvatica)

The Lousewort is another very common semi-parasite in meadows and heathy pastures.  It is related to the Red Rattle, but is much smaller, seldom attaining six inches in height, and is a perennial. The rootstock sends up spreading, branching stems clothed in pinnate leaves much like the Red Rattle. The flowers, which are arranged in a close terminal spike, have the same form as the Red Rattle, but have a much longer tube to the corolla.  They are of a pinkish-red colour, although they may sometimes be pure white.

The Louseworts are common plants in the Swiss pastures and meadow-lands ascending high up the mountain sides.

In Britain, however, our two species are confined to the lower lands.

Yellow Cow-wheat (Melapyrum pratense)

This plant is also very common in the Highlands, especially in wooded districts, although it may be found along the scrubby edges of fields and pastures as well as on banks and waste land.  Its very similar, but smaller relative, the Small-flowered Cow-wheat (M. sylvaticum), is also very common in the Highlands.

The Common Cow-wheat is an erect plant which may attain as much as one foot in height.  The stem is usually branched, the branches being opposite to one another and almost at right angles to the stem, and they are clothed with a few, fairly long, lanceolate pairs of leaves which are of a deep brownish-green colour.

The flowers occur in pairs in the axils of the leaves and all face the same direction.  They are pure yellow with a long tube.

In case of the Small-flowered Cow-wheat (M. sylvaticum) the plant is much smaller in all ts parts and its flowers are also small and of a deep yellow.

THE YELLOW RATTLES

Scotland is rich in species of Yellow Rattles, two of them actually belonging to the mountain pastures.  They can only thrive in close contact with grasses, upon which they are semi-parasitic.

The various species can be divided into two sections--those with glabrous calyces and those with hairy ones.  The first section contains species more or less confined to the lower valley pastures.

The commonest species and the one most likely to be met with by the tourists is the Common Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). It has an erect simple stem, sometimes giving rise to three or four short, sterile branches, and is usually quite smooth, whilst the stems and leaves have a brownish-green or bronze hue.  The stem is terminated by a spike of bright yellow flowers which are remarkable for their large inflated-looking calyx, and are surrounded by numerous dark green, deeply-serrate bracts.  The plant has earned its popular name from the fact that the seeds rattle inside the capsules when ripe.  It can be found in full flower in May and June in the lower areas.

Another species, R. stenophyllus, is very similar to the Common Yellow Rattle, but is distinguished from it by the fact that it braches from the middle, the branches being as tall as the main stem and also bearing flowers.  A very distinctive character is its flowering period, which is from July to August, two or three weeks after R. minor has finished to bloom. It may be looked for in grassy places in the eastern Highlands, Argyll, Skye, and in the northern Highlands.

A third species, R. monticola, is confined to poor, grassy pastures in Scotland, being found only in Perthshire, Angus, Inverness-shire and the northern Highlands.  It is easily distinguished from the preceding species by its dull, treacle-brown flowers and its deep violet calyx.

The species with hairy calyces are both mountain plants and are confined to Scotland.  R. borealis has a short, densely downy, simple stem with small, ovate-oblong leaves and, although a rare species, is widely distributed being found in Perthshire, Inverness-shire, Argyll, Sky and Sutherland.

The second species, R. Drummondi-Haye, is a very local plant, and is distinguished from R borealis by its branched hairy stems and very narrow leaves.  It has a similar distribution and is also found on Ben Lawers.

SOME OTHER COMPOSITE PLANTS

The composites with their perennial habit, long flowering period and parachute seeds, are very common in the meadows and pastures.  Most of them are abundant and, being gregarious in habit, form large colonies whose flowers give their colour to the meadows.

The Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) is a handsome member of this family and is very common at low levels.  Its tough underground tap-roots is surmounted by a rosette of long-stalked, ovate, spreading leaves which are tough with minute hairs.

From the summit of the stock arises a tall, wiry, branching stem covered with leaves, the upper ones being narrow to cut down transpiration.

Each branch is terminated by a large flower head.  In bud the head appears as a hard, blackish globe, the black colour being due to the many imbricated bracts of  the involucre, each of which is fringed by spreading, stiff teeth in the upper part.  These form a perfect protection to the florets when n bud and a fence against creeping insect when in flower.

Each head consists of many, tubular, purple-red florets, each containing stamens and a pistil.  The style on lengthening pushes the hairy stigma through the anther ring, brushing the pollen out.  Later on the stigma lobes spread apart ready to receive any transported pollen.

The corolla tubes are deep, and hence the nectar in only obtainable by long-tongued insects, bumble-bees and butterflies being the chief visitors.

The hairy pappus is often lacking in this plant.

Another very common meadow plant and a general favourite with everyone is the  Ox-eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum). This plant is also a perennial and forms vast colonies in the meadows.  I have seen the grassy fields along the shore of Loch Linnhe white as with freshly fallen snow, the blooms were so numerous.

The stems are tall, much branched and tough, and are usually smooth.  They are covered with narrow, toothed, smooth leaves, which become almost scale-like on the upper part of the branches where the plant is most exposed.

The heads are solitary and large, the involucre consisting of several rows of imbricate, brownish, scale-like bracts.

When fully open the flower heads are over two inches in diameter and are very conspicuous.  The central portion consists of a bright yellow disc of small, tubular florets, contains both stamens and pistil and consisting of a short tube surmounted by a tiny yellow cup.  The outer florets have a large, ovate limb of a pure white colour.  These florets forma very conspicuous ray and are the advertising agents for the flower head.  They only contain a pistil and secrete very little nectar.

Insects are attracted to the outer, conspicuous florets, where they leave transported pollen upon the stigmas.  As they find little nectar there, they wander on to the disc of tubular florets where they find florets and at the same time become covered in pollen.  Many insects visit these flowers, especially the smaller butterflies and bees, flies, hover-flies and even beetles.

The seeds possess no parachute and depend for their distribution upon the swaying of the stems in strong winds.  When cut with the hay many seeds are transported long distances upon the farmers’ wagons.  Thus man himself aids the distribution of this lovely plant.

Another plant which is common in the meadows and closely resembles the Ox-eye Daisy, is the Scentless Mayweed (Matricaria inodora).  It is an annual and is more partial to cultivated land or fields which have been left fallow.

It is shorter in stature and less robust than the former plant, its leaves being cut up into very fine, hair-like segments, resembling those of a water plant.  Its flowers are smaller than those of the Ox-eye Daisy, but are similarly constructed and pollinated.

Whilst on the subject of Daisies mention must be made of this lovely, little pasture land plant the Common Daisy (Bellis perennis). This is one of the commonest of British plants, but is also a general favourite and one than can be found in flower almost throughout the year.

It possesses a short, underground stem, crowned by a rosette of spoon-shaped, smooth , spreading leaves pressed close to the soil.  Their closeness to the soil saves the plant from being eaten by cows or sheep, and hence allows it to survive where these animal are kept.

The rootstock often gives rise to offsets which also produce plants.  For this reason the Daisy forms large, close colonies which other plants are unable to invade.

Each plant gives rise to a short, naked, slender flower stalk which bears a single, small head flowers, which is a miniature replica of that of the Ox-eye Daisy.  They are visited by small insects such as flies and smaller bees.

The next plant might at first be mistaken for an Umbelliferous plant.  This is the Yarrow (Archillea millefolium), a very common plant that must be familiar to everyone and often forms colonies in meadow land.

It perennates by means of a tough, long, creeping rootstock which gives rise to many leafy, barren stems, and forms dense colonies which invade colonies of other plants.  It thus extends its domain, unless checked, to the detriment of better pasture plants.

The leaves are pinnate and consist of a large number of fine segments, which are again divided into hair-like lobes, so that they have a featherly, light appearance.  The upper leaves are much smaller, as in all tall plants, to counteract excessive transpiration.

The flower head are arranged in a corymbs and give the appearance of a flat, white table composed of many heads all at the same level.  As the heads are small and close together, one might be excused for thinking the plant was an Umbellifer.

Each head, however, contains five or six white ray florets and several yellow, inner, tubular florets, and are thus like daisies in miniature.  The ray florets possess a broad limb which may be white or pink in colour.  In spite of the smallness of the individual heads, they are very conspicuous through being massed together.

They are pollinated by bees, butterflies and small insects such as flies and beetles.

In the damper meadows we may often meet with a similar looking plant, but with fewer and larger heads.  This is the Sneezewort (Achillea Ptarmica).  Its leaves are entire, but toothed, and hence are being correlated to its damper habitat.

The heads have from ten or fifteen ray florets, the ray being very wide, and a proportionately larger number of disc florets.  It is pollinated by bees and flies.

A very common weed, especially in neglected fields and pastures, is the Common Ragwort (Senecio Jacobaea). 

It possesses a short, tough rootstock which gives rise to a tall, branching, leafy stem which is very strong.  It forms huge colonies when allowed to spread and then, although very beautiful with their masses of golden blooms, betray the lazy farmer.

The leaves are pinnate, the segments being narrow and smooth, and as the contain an acrid juice are not touched by grazing animals.  In spite of this, they are greedily devoured by large, black and golden striped caterpillars, dozens of which may be found on a single plant.

The flower heads are about an inch across and are produced in a very large corymbs, the ray florets being bright golden yellow in colour and forming a very conspicuous border, whilst the disc florets are also bright yellow.

They are visited by many insects, including butterflies, hover-flies and flies.

Two more plants of very common occurrence in fields and pastures as weeds are the Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvensis) and the Spear Thistle (Cirsium lanceolatus).

The former possesses a long, creeping, underground stem which gives rise to several annual stems.  This makes it a very difficult plant to eradicate once it is established, as any pieces of stem left in the ground give rise to new plants.  If undisturbed it will form large colonies which play havoc in wheat fields, the leafy stems shading the wheat plants and retarding their development, whilst they absorb all the goodness and water in the soil, which should be available to the wheat.

The annual stems are three or four feet high and are very strong and much branched.

The leaves, which are adapted to dry conditions, are narrow and lanceolate, their margins being produced into strong, stiff, sharply-pointed spines.  The under surface is covered with cottony down, the upper epidermis being thick and smooth.  The base of the leaf usually runs down the stem for some distance as a spiny wing.  No grazing animals, except donkeys and goats, will touch this formidable-looking foliage.

Each branch is terminated by a loose corymbs of medium-sized purple heads.  The involucre consists of numerous, closely-pressed bracts with small, prickly points.

The plants are remarkable in being dioeciously, i.e. the males and female flowers are found on different plants.

The florets are similar to those of the Black Knapweed and possess a very long tube.  They are visited by bumble-bees and butterflies, which alone can reach the nectar.

In the male flowers an abortive style is found, crowned by a ring of hairs, which brushes the pollen out of the anthers, but as there are no stigmas, the flowers can never be fertilized.

After fertilization the female florets five rise to large, silky parachutes.  The heads of flowers at this time form a beautiful, spherical mass of silk, greedily stolen by goldfinches and titmice to line their nests.  Their beauty, however, spells disaster to the farmer as thousands of parachuted seeds fill the air and after drifting, often for long distances, descend like an invading army upon his fields and pastures.  The following year hundreds of prickly-leaved plants reduce crop yields and impoverish the soil.  At the same time, the parent plants will have further increased their territory by means of their creeping stems.

The Spear Thistle is a very handsome plant in spite of its formidable, spiny leaves, and is a very common plant, wherever the soil is deep enough for its large tap-root.  It is not a  perennial, but a biennial, and is quite at home on the borders of fields and poor pastures.

During its first year, it produces a deep-striking, fleshy tap-root surmounted by a rosette of very large, lanceolate, spiny leaves.  These rosettes are very beautiful objects with their regular arrangement of the large leaves, and are very impressive when covered with dew in September, each spine and hair covered with scintillating drops, which turn the rosettes into diadems of brilliants.

The leaf is cut into toothed lobes, each lobe ending in a stout spine.  The upper surface is covered with stiff hairs, whilst the under side is covered with white, cottony hairs.

During the first year the tap-root becomes fat and fleshy with stored up food manufactured by the leaf rosette.  This store passes the winter safely in the soil.  As soon as the warmer weather returns, a tall, stout stem arises from the middle of the leaf rosette.

It is covered with large, prickly leaves which diminish in size towards the summit of the stem.  The upper part of the stem branches, each branch being terminated by a very large flower head.

The involucre is composed of many imbricate green bracts, each of which is terminated by a stout spine.

The whole plant is thus strongly armed and is avoided by herbivorous animals.

The beautiful flower heads consist of a large number of purple-red florets, similar to those of the Creeping Thistle, but are much larger and are hermaphrodite.  The corolla tube is over an inch in length and widens out above to form a cup about a quarter of inch deep.

The heads are sweetly perfumed and are very conspicuous, and as the nectar is only accessible to long-tongued insects they are much visited by the larger bumble-bees.

When ripe each seed, surmounted by a large, silky parachute which forms a glove of fine hairs when air-borne, travels long distances on the breeze.

Field Gentian (Gentiana campestris)

Probably one of the most beautiful plants we can find in the Scottish pastures is the Field Gentian.

Although a common plant in many meadows, especially in Speyside, I first made its acquaintance in a grassy glade in Rothiemurchus Forest.  A tiny stream trickled through the lush grass and every blade was scintillating with multi-hued raindrops, as the sun, chasing away the heavy clouds, broke forth in splendour.  The stately ferns hung their feathery foliage in graceful curves whilst the shining drops of water fell on them from the gently , whispering pines.  A red squirrel popped head out of a hollow pine where it had been sheltering and began to brush its whiskers and ears with its front paws.  A roe-deer stayed its flight to browse awhile in the sweet grass and then bounced away into cover.

The twittering of warblers, the soft cooing of the wood pigeons, the sweet music of the brook, the soft soughing of the pines and the murmuring of bees, all proclaimed that this was summer, and as if to emphasize that this was so, the sun shone down warm and bright.

Then, as I contemplated this lovely scene, I noticed, what I had not seen before, that the grass was studded with pale blue stars that seemed to reflect the rain-washed sky.  Stooping, I found that the grassy glade was covered with plants of the Field Gentian, whose lovely flowers had been closed during the rain and had now opened under the influence of the benign sun.

I have since found it in many spots in the Highlands, but usually in meadows and pastures.

We have already met the Snow Gentian in the chapter on Alpine Plants; it, however, belonged to the section of Gentians in which the five petals are smooth and free of scales.  In the Field Gentian there are only four petals and there is a fringe of scales just within the corolla throat.

The Field Gentian is an annual.  Its tiny seedlings can be found in early April when the season is mild, and by July they are already in flower.

The stem, which is square in section, is rarely more than six inches high although I have found luxuriant specimens of nine to ten inches in height.  It is clothed by several pairs of sessile, opposite, ovate or lanceolate leaves, which are quite smooth and have an entire margin.  They are deep green in colour, often with a purplish tinge.

The flowers are produced in panicles, the calyx being tubular in form and composed of our sepals, two of which are small and narrow, while the other two are much larger and almost conceal them.

The corolla is a beautiful structure, consisting of a deep, narrow tube widening upwards and then expanding out into four triangular, lilac-blue lobes.  These, when the flower is fully open, spread at right angles to the tube and form a landing stage for winged visitors.

If we examine the corolla, we should see that at the base of each lobe, just below the entrance to the throat, there was a fringe of long, narrow segments.  These fringed scales meet and shut the entrance to the corolla tube, keeping crawling insects from entering the tube to steal the nectar.

The ovary is a cylindrical, green body arising from the base of the corolla tube and is surmounted by the stigma which ahs a very short style and is two-lobed.  The four stamens are connected to the corolla tube towards its base and are so arranged that the anthers are situated just below the fringe of scales, and also below the stigma.

Nectar is secreted in abundance by glands around the base of the ovary.  It can only be reached by long-tongued bees and butterflies, as they alone can force aside the scales, and have a proboscis long enough to reach to the bottom of the tube. 

The stamens and stigma mature at the same time, but as the latter is above the anthers there is no danger from self-pollination.

Like the Snow Gentian, the flowers are very sensitive to sunlight and will close up immediately the sun is obscured by a passing cloud. This is a clever device by which the pollen is protected from damage by the rain.

SOME OTHER INHABITANTS OF THE PASTURES.

Several other plants may be met with n the grassy pastures.  Some, like the Cathartic Flax (Linum cathartic),  being widespread and common, whilst others like the Bloody Crane’s-bill (Gereanium sanguineum) are much less common and local in their distribution. 

Let us commence with the Cathartic Flax.  It is the only member of the Flax Family to be found in the Highland pastures and it is often overlooked as it is small and inconspicuous.  It is an annual which produces slender, erect, branching stems clothed with pairs of small, ovate, sessile leaves which are quite devoid of hairs.  It only attains about six inches in height and the stems and braches are terminated by cymes of white flowers, each seated upon a fine pedicel.  Each flower possesses five tiny white petals and produces nectar at the bases of the five stamens.  They are visited occasionally by insects but, due to their inconspicuous flowers, are usually self-fertilized.

A common plant in more heathy pastures in the Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serphyllifolia).  It may be met with at great heights on many mountains where it often runs into the alpine species V. humifusa. It is a perennial with short, creeping stems which root at the nodes, the whole forming a flat, leafy tuft.  The leaves are usually ovate, quite glabrous and sessile.  The erect flowering stems may attain four inches in height and are clothed with small, ovate, smooth leaves, in the axils of which a single blue flower is produced.  They secrete very little nectar and are rather inconspicuous, thus insect visitors are not frequent and they depend largely on self-pollination.

Another plant we may sometimes meet with is the Lesser Meadow Rue (Thalictrum minus), a relative of the Alpine Meadow Rue.  It produces a rosette of much divided, radical leaves consisting of very small, rounded leaflets.  They have a close resemblance to the leaves of the Maiden-hair Fern.  The flowers are produced in a compound raceme, and possess four, purplish or yellow-green sepals and large numbers of bright yellow, conspicuous anthers.  The flowers are visited by bees and flies for the sake of their abundant pollen, but they are usually wind-pollinated, which explains the absence of any protective corolla.

A very attractive plant, but with a much more restricted distribution is the Bloody Crane’s bill.  We may be luck enough to find this lovely plant here and there in the southern and eastern Highlands, and rather more frequently in pastures bordering the western seaboard of Argyll, Inverness and the Southern Hebrides.

It possesses a thick, wood rootstock usually well ensconced in the fissures of rocks and stones among which it loves to grow.  It gives rise to several leafy stems, which rarely stand erect but spread outwards, and are covered with long, soft, white hairs.  The radical leaves, which are long-stalked, are beautiful structures, being round in outline but deeply cut to the base into five or seven segments, which are again cut into narrow lobes.  The stem leaves are opposite and have few lobes than the radical ones.  At the base of each petiole are large, brownish, hairy stipules which protect the leaf when in bud.  The large crimson flowers are produced singly on long, slender pedicels and are as much as one and a half inches in diameter.  A patch of this Crane’s-bill covered with these glorious blossoms is a magnificent sight.  The flowers are constructed and pollinated in exactly the same way as those of the Wood Geranium.

Another member of the Geranium Family to be found in the pastures is the Dove’s-foot Crane’s bill (G. molle). It is a widely distributed and common plant and is to be found in the lower pastures, as well as in cultivated ground throughout the Highlands and Hebrides.

It is a prostrate, very downy annual which in its early stages forms a rosette of long-stalked, round leaves divided into seven to eleven wedge-shaped lobes which are again three to five lobed. They are covered with soft down on both surfaces.  Once the radical leaves are fully developed several, short, weak, creeping stems are given off, each clothed with a few small leaves which are more deeply cut than are the radical ones.

From the axils of the upper leaves arise short peduncles from the summit of which two, tiny, purplish flowers are produced.

When the flowers first open, the outer row of five stamens is already mature, but the stigmas are still immature.  Later on the inner row of stamens ripens as do the five stigmas, thus making self-pollination easy.  This is very necessary as the small flowers have very little attractive ability, and hence are little visited by insects.

At least five members of the Umbelliferous Family may be found in the Highland pastures.  Two of them, the Sweet Cicely and the Spignel, have been dealt with in Chapter VIII.

A typical member of the lower pastures is the Burnet Saxifrage (Pimpinella Saxifraga), an elegant plant to be found in most parts of the Highlands, but absent from some areas and becoming less frequent towards the north.  Like most pasture plants, it bears a rosette of spreading, graceful, radical leaves which are long-stalked and consist of four or five pairs of oval, toothed leaflets.  The perennial stock is very thick and is continued downwards as a tap-root.

The flowering stem is tall, often attaining two feet, and bears few leaves.  These are gradually modified from the base of the stem upwards, the lower one or two being similar to the radical leaves, but with small much divided leaflets; higher up the leaflets are reduced to narrow teeth, while toward the summit of the stem only the sheathing base remains.  This is, of course, an adaptation to the drier conditions prevailing above the herbage of the pastures.  The stems branch towards the summit and produced two or three umbels of white flowers.  They are visited mainly by flies who are attracted by the easily obtained nectar.  Bees and butter-flies rarely visit them.

The Whorled Caraway (Carum verticillatum) is a much more local plant and is restricted to the western parts of Argyll and Inverness, where it is often quite common in the wetter, heathy pastures.  It is easily recognized by its long, radical leaves, covered with from twelve to twenty pairs of leaflets which are cut up into fine, hair-like lobes, giving them the appearance of being whorled.  It is also a perennial with a short, thick stock, giving rise to a tall flowering stem which possesses a few small leaves similar to the radical ones.  The terminal umbel is not very large and is composed of white flowers, which are again largely visited by flies, although beetles are often found browsing on the pollen.

The Pig-nut (Conopodium denudatum) is another widely distributed plant especially fond of sandy pastures.  Its perennial stem consists of a fleshy tuber hidden deep in the soil and giving rise to erect, slender, glabrous stems, one to two feet high.  The radical leaves are produced in spring and are composed of three, long-stalked segments, each of which is once or twice pinnate.  The die down early in the season, the assimilatory functions then being taken on by the green stems and the small, finely divided stem leaves.  It produces a terminal umbel of white flowers.


Return to Book Index Page