Life in the Scottish Highlands
The Mountain Pastures--Plants of the Rocks and Screes
Mountain Pastures comprise al that area of the mountain side having as it
lower limit the highest altitude attained by the pines, and it higher
limit that zone where such alpines as the Moss Champion, the Snow Gentian
and other typical alpines supercede the other vegetation. This limit is
much more arbitrary than the lower limit, but for the purpose of this book
we will take 3,000 feet as the mean height at which one enters the real
alpine zone. Nearly all the plants to be described in the ensuing
chapters will be found below this limit, although a few are also found at
vegetation of these wind-swept mountain sides consists largely of heaths,
sedges, rushes, and hardy grasses, while large patches of bog are common
everywhere. Rock patches, screes, etc., are found scattered throughout
therefore divide the mountain pastures into three distinct divisions:
rock, screes, etc., which dry out quickly, becoming hot under summer
suns. These areas support the drought-resisting species such as Sedum
Rhodiola, Dryas octopetala, and Antennaria diocica.
grassy areas where we find such plants as Oxtropis Uralensis and
describe these three different zones separately. They contain many widely
differing species with many interesting devices adapting them to their
habitat and to their insect visitors.
OF THE ROCKS AND SCREES
Mountain Dryas (Dryas octopetala)
north-western Highlands, in one of the wildest mountain areas of Britain,
lies a group of mountains of austere grandeur. Here are the strange
pinnacled peaks of Liathach, Ben Eighe and Slioch, whose fretted sky line
stand out so magnificently against a blood-red sunset sky, and are
reflected in the waters of beautiful, island-studded Loch Maree which lies
glittering in the dying sunlight, the wind gently ruffling the birches and
pines that fringe its rugged shores.
mountains, composed as the are of ancient sandstones, limestones, etc.,
have weathered into many strange forms; pinnacles, battlement-like ridges
and needle-like peaks occur everywhere.
among these mountains on limestone plateaux and dry, barren rocks that one
will find the huge carpets of the beautiful Mountain Dryas.
plant is a typical carpet plant. The roots are large and deep striking,
and above ground the stem is woody and often as thick as a man’s wrist,
giving rise to many woody branches which spread out across the surface of
the ground. The main stem attains a great age, as much as one hundred
years having been recorded. Each branch bears numerous tufts of small,
long stalked leaves which so cover the branches as to form a carpet. They
are crenately lobed, like oak leaves, and are glossy and dark green upon
the upper surface. Below they are covered with dense coat of white,
felt-like hairs, which are of course typical of plants growing in dry
conditions. The hairy felt also protects the stomata from the effects of
saturation in the spring when the snows melt and the ground is covered
with water. In the winter time they roll up so that the lower surface is
completely protected. They remain like this throughout the winter under
the thick snow mantle. This is an important factor with regard to a plant
which keeps its leaves for several years.
conspicuous white flowers are produced singly on long peduncles. All the
floral parts are inserted on the disc-shaped receptacle. The calyx,
consisting of eight to ten sepals, is clothed with a black, hairy coat
which completely protects the flowers while in bud. The flower itself is
over one inch across and is composed of eight to ten white, glossy petals,
which in some plants may have a yellowish tinge. At the base of the
petals are inserted the stamens, which are very numerous. In the middle
of the flower is situated the ovary consisting of several carpels. This
floral construction is typical of the great Rose Family to which the White
flowers are devoid of nectar, but the many stamens supply much pollen
which is sought by many different types of bees, such as mason,
leaf-cutters, etc. The many-flowered carpet is very conspicuous as the
Individual flowers are so large and showy. The stamens and the stigmas
mature at the same time, but as the stamens face away from the centre of
the carpels in the middle of the flower, this being the only place where
it obtains a good foothold, hence the pollen transported by it is
deposited on the stigmas. It does not then matter if any pollen falls on
the stigmas from the stamens, as cross-pollination has been effected.
seed matures the style are prolonged into long, feathery awns. When the
seeds are ripe, each carpet separates from its neighbours and the seeds,
supported by the feathery awn, drift long distances on the wind to start
life far from the parent plant. Thus does Nature distribute its species.
plant is found chiefly in the north-west Highlands and in the north,
especially where limestone is found. It is not strictly an alpine plant
in Scotland, and is rarely found above 3,000.
COMPOSITES OF THE ROCKS AND SCREES
family of Composites is well represented in the mountain pastures of the
Highlands and at least six species are peculiar to the rocks and screes of
these vast areas.
include Alpin Flea-bane (Erigeron alpines), a very rare plant found
in the Breadalband Clova Mountains; the Mountain Everlasing (Antenmaria
dioica), very common in dry situations; the Alpine Hawk bit (Leontodon
pratensis), the Alpine Lettuce (Mulgedium alpina), only found
on Lochnagar and in the Clova Mountains, and there very rare; the Alpine
Hawkweed (Hieracium alpinum) and the Wall Hawkweek (Hieracium
murorum), whose alpine varieties are multitude and are a bugbear to
composites such as Gnaphalium supine, although common in the
mountain pastures, are also common to the highest mountain areas and have
been described under that heading.
Alpine Hawkweed (Hieracium alpinum)
the heart of the western Cairngorms runs a wild glen, pine-clad in its
lower part but almost savagely beautiful in its upper reaches, where a
lonely lake nestles deep among the mountain precipices. Ancient moraines
block the valley, and a wild mountain torrent hurls itself down among the
rocks and boulders, as it rushes down into its gorge, deep hidden in the
lies lonely Loch Einich in a setting as magnificent and as savage as
anything in Britain. On one side rises the great bulk of Braeriach, his
head hidden in the clouds, while on the other side rise the great black
precipices of Sgorr Dubh which encircle the far end side of the valley;
sheer precipices which shoot up 2,000 feet from the lake shores, their
faces cut and scarred by innumerable rifts and water courses; precipices
so high that their shadow rests across the southern and western shores
lake, devoid of trees and surrounded by steep cliffs and fallen boulders,
is very lovely. At the outlet end of the lake is a beautiful crescent
beach of white sand surrounded by banks of stones and pebbles. These
stony banks and the precipitous shores are perfect collecting ground for
the mountain botanist and I have found many interesting plants in the
course of a scramble around it.
here that I found the Alpine Hawkweed among the screes at the side of this
lonely lake, its large golden heads starring the somber, black patches of
pebbles and small boulders.
Alpine Hawkweed is a typical composite and detailed description will give
one a good insight into the reason for the amazing success of the
composites in the struggle for life.
is long, deep-striking tap-root which reaches the moist layers deep down
where winter frosts cannot touch it and the summer droughts cannot destroy
it. This root is a storehouse for food, where, throughout the long
winter, energy is stored so that at the first opportunity the plan can
start forth into life. The rootstock is crowned by several oblong, green
radical leaves covered with long, white, silky hairs. The are presses
closely to the soil so that the stomata are in contact with the dampers
air near the soil, and are so arranged that no leaf is covered by another
and they receive the fullest amount of light and sunshine.
leaves, spreading outward as they do, prevent any other plant establishing
itself within their bounds. This is very important to the welfare of a
plant growing in regions where good soil is scarce and each inch of soil
must be fought for and held. The hairs on the under surface protect the
leaves from excessive transpiration.
middle of the radical leaves rises a single flower stalk which attains
about nine inches in height. It is rough and covered, like the leaves,
with long hairs which are often rust colored. There are usually two or
three very small leaves on the stalk.
terminated by a large head of bright yellow flowers, often over an inch In
width. It is a very interesting structure and well worth detailed study.
Below the head we notice what at first appears to be the calyx, composed
of many green sepals. Actually, this is not the calyx but an involucre,
the apparent sepals being really bracts which enclose the head of flowers
when in bud and protects the blooms from damp and cold. When the head
opens the involcre acts as a kind of fence against climbing insects, such
as ants, which have mounted the stalk in search of nectar. It is covered,
like the leaves and stalks, with long rust-colored hairs. Actually, there
are two rows of bracts, the outer one being much shorter than the inner.
of flowers contains many small, perfect flowers. If we dissect such a
head we shall find that each individual floret consists of a strap-shaped
corolla which is tubular at the base. It has four or five teeth on the
uppers edge, these corresponding to the five petals of ordinary flowers.
Around each floret, and springing from its base, are four or five fine,
silky, long hairs which form the real calyx. Within the tube of the
corolla are inserted the five stamens and the style. The corolla tube
arises from the summit of the ovary, which secretes nectar so abundantly
that the tube is often filled to the top.
composite flowers, the anthers mature before the stigmas and
cross-pollination is secured by the method known as the stylar-brush
study a newly-opened flower, we shall find that the style is short and the
two divisions of the stigmas are pressed close together with their vital
surfaces inwards. The style and outer surface of the stigmas are hairy.
We shall also see that the anthers form a close cylinder around the
stigmas. The style commences to lengthen and pushed the stigmas through
the ring of anthers. On so doing the hairs on the stigmas brush the
pollen out of the anthers. At this time self-fertilization is impossible
as the as the two surfaces are pressed close together. As soon as all the
pollen has been brushed out, the stamens wither. The style having now
grown out beyond the mouth of the tube, the stigmas open out.
bee arrives at a young flower and pushes its tongue down into a floret
tube to sup the nectar, the stylar brushes dust it with pollen. On going
to an older flower, where the stigmas are now mature, the bee will
pollinate many florets with the transported pollen.
florets have been pollinated the flower closes and the involucres close
together to protect the maturing seeds. The calyx hairs lengthen and then,
one day, the Involucres open and the golden yellow flower will be found to
have been transformed into a globe of whitish down. Each seed Is
supported by long, white, silky hairs. Then the strong winds, which
precede thunder-storms, and the mountain breezes jerk them off the
receptacle and, supported by their silky parachutes, they fly away to be
distributed far from the parent plant. Thus new territories are invaded
in much the way the same way as in modern war.
Alpine Hawkweed flowers in mid-summer, but only opens its blooms in full
sunshine, closing them by night and in wet weather to conserve the pollen
from damp. At this season insect life is at its climax and the bright
golden blooms attract hosts of insects. Hive-bees, hover-flies, flies,
beetles and wasps are the flowers’ chief benefactors. Self-pollination,
however, takes place very frequently and often the ovules are fertilized
without the aid of pollen. This is known as parthenogenesis.
fairly common in the Highlands and is easily recognized. In certain
places, however, a variety occurs in which the leaves are broader and the
flower stems longer, while the involucre is covered with black hairs.
This variety has been named Hieracium nigrescens and is a link
between H. alpinum and H. murorum, which be described next.
Wall Hawkweed (Hieracium murorum)
hawkweed, which is so abundant on banks and walls and in woods and
thickets in the Lowlands, is also common in the Scottish Highlands. It
is, however, so modified by local conditions and by hybridization that a
multitude of varieties may be met with, many of which have been elevated
to the ranks of species by modern botanist. Over two hundred species of
British hawkweeds have been named, most of them being varieties of the
common form of the Wall Hawkweed which may be found In the lower mountain
areas, but hardly penetrates very far into the higher regions, is, in
itself, very variable. There is a tap-root with a tough stock from which
springs a tuft of radical leaves. They are always stalked and are ovate
either with toothed edges or without any teeth at all, and some-times
taper into the stalk, at other times being quite-heart-shaped at the
base. Their upper surface is usually dark green and covered with short,
rough hairs, which, however, may be absent. Their lower surface is
usually of a pale green, often smooth, but sometimes downy.
flowering stem is often one to two feet in height and usually has one or
two small narrow leaves upon it. It is terminated by a corymbs of bright
yellow flowers smaller in size than in the Alpine Hawkweed. There are
usually only four or five flowers, but in some specimens as many as twenty
or even thirty may occur. The involucres and flower stalks are usually
covered with black glandular hairs interspersed with white or rust colored
colonies on sides of precipices and on rocky hillsides, and banks on the
lower mountain slopes where its stem often projects at right-angles from
its steep habitant.
tramp among the higher mountain pastures and glens, we shall encounter
many different looking hawkweeds which will be found to be varieties of
this plant. I have discovered several around Loch Einich. In one case
the flower heads were quite small, less than half an inch in diameter.
The leaves, stems and involucres were almost devoid of hairs. No stem
leaves occurred and the radical leaves were quite small and obtuse.
another example the stem was short and the flower heads large and reduced
to two in number. The involucres were shaggy and the whole plant much
more hairy than usual.
attempting to depict the varieties of this very puzzling plant for they
are legion, and those who would know more about them must obtain one of
the monographs dealings with this very difficult genus.
Alpine Flea-Bane (Erigeron alpines)
this lovely plant, one must search the higher slopes of the wild mountains
surrounding the head of Glen Clova (an area famed for its rare alpine
plants) and among some of the higher Breadalbane Mountains. Unless one
know the more or less exact stations of this rare species it will be an
almost hopeless task, for it is very local, as well as very rare.
It is a
small plant, sometimes only two inches in height and never more than eight
inches high. The rootstock is perennial and buried deep in the soil. It
sends up a few hairy stems which are terminated by a single flower, or by
a corymbs of two or three flowers. At the base of the stems is a rosette
of several, lanceolate leaves which are covered with a coat of rough hairs
on both surfaces, and these well protect them against drought, when the
mountain sides are swept by biting winds or are scorched by the pitiless
sun. The stems usually produce a few small leaves.
of flowers are bright purple in colour and are about half an inch in
diameter. If we examine a head, we shall find that it is composed of an
involucre of several rows of imbricate bracts which are also very hairy.
The head is composed of two types of florets. The centre is occupied by
many, small, yellowish tubular florets and are very similar to those of
the Alpine Hawkweed, but they do not possess the strap-shaped corola. The
mechanishm with regard to fertilization is very similar to that of the
same plant. Around this yellow, central ring, we shall notice another
ring of many purple petals. These petals each represent a single floret
and are the advertising agents as by their conspicuousness insects are
attracted to the flowers. They also act, in co-operation with the
involucre, as a barrier against crawling insects who would like to steal
the abundant pollen and nectar.
florets of both rings are surrounded by a pappus of many hairs. These
lengthen after fertilization of the ovule to form a parachute to support
the ripe seeds in their flight.
Alpine Hawkbit (Leontodon pratensis
another uncommon plat that I have found on the wild shores of Loch Einich.
It is also a composite and is related to the common Dandelion. Like it,
it has a deep-striking tap-root crowned by a tuft of long, narrow, deep
green leaves which are deeply pontific and are usually devoid of hairs,
although a few stiff ones may be found on the upper surface. From the
middle of the tuft of leaves rises a fairly tall flower stalk which is
smooth and fairly robust. At the upper end below the flower, the stem is
much enlarged and swollen. The involucres which taper into the flower
stalk are covered with black hairs and arranged in two or three rows.
are not supported by simple hairs as in the hawkweeds, but by feathery
Alpine Hawkbit is found fairly frequently in dry mountain pastures and
among screes, rocks and on dry banks. It may be only a mountain variety
of the Autumn Hawk bit (L. autumnalis) so common in the lowlands.
ALPINE ROCK CRESSES
Alpine Rock Cresses both belong to the Arabis genus of the great
Cruciferous Family and are typical plants of dry, rocky clefts and screes.
Of these two plants the Alpine Rock Cress (Arabis alpina) is a very
rare mountain plant found on dry, rocky ledges of the Coolin Mountains of
Skye, and the Northern Rock Cress (Arabis petraea) is fairly common
in the western and northern Highlands. Both plants bring back pleasant
memories to me.
former I discovered on a blazing June day on one of the higher peaks of
the Coolins (that jagged ridge which closes in the beautiful Loch Coruisk
and Loch Scavaig with their strange loneliness and beauty, which when the
clouds are low on the Coolins can be weird and almost sinister), when the
azure sky was repeated in the rippling sea and all nature was at peace.
On such a day as this high up in a stone-filled gully which radiated heat
like an oven, I discovered this rare plant. It was growing from the
clefts of rock on the sides of the fully, a dry and arid spot where one
would scarcely have looked for plant life, although it would be wet enough
when the thick clouds hung around the tooth-like peaks.
rather like the Hairy Rock Cress which is common enough in many Lowland
localities. It possesses a rosette of ovate, toothed leaves which are
hairy on both surfaces. >From the rosettes arise erect flowering stems
which are terminated by a raceme of fairly large, white flowers. After
flowering the flowers are replaced by a raceme of long, slender pods.
flowers, which secrete nectar, are visited by small bees and flies, for
whom the honey is easily accessible.
Northern Rock Cress I discovered late in May, on my first tramp through
that most magnificent of Highland passes, the Larig Ghru. Again I was
favored with a blazing sun which turned the Larig into a furnace of
unbelievable heat which burned one’s feet and beat fiercely off the
granite boulders into ones face. The higher corries of Braeriach were
filled with snow and sparkling cascades poured down the steep mountain
sides. As I gained the Pools of Dee, I looked back over Speyside, across
the Blackness of Rothiemurchus and the golden, broom-covered plain of the
Spey to where the blue sea shimmered off the coast of Morayshire.
of Dee seemed so delightfully cool on this broiling day that I decided to
rest awhile upon their rocky edge. After bathing my face and hands in the
clear waters, I reclined on my back in the sunshine and as I did so, I
noticed that in the niches of the rocks were growing many tiny cress-like
plants. I dug out a whole plant and found it to be the little Northern
Rock Cress which had chosen those enchanted pools beneath the beetling
precipices as its home.
possesses a perennial stock with a long, slender root system which threads
its ways down into the interstices of the stones. The stock is crowned by
a rosette of pinnately cut leaves. From the leaf rosettes arise a short
stalk terminated by a small head of fairly large white or purple flowers.
As in the
case of the Alpine Rock Cress, the flowers are fertilized by small bees
and flies for which two tiny glands secrete nectar.
Hoary Whitlow-grass (Draba incana)
plant, which is allied to the Rock Whitlow-grass (see p. 29), also
possesses a rosette of long, narrow leaves covered with short hairs which
are either simple or stellate (several hairs commence at the same spot and
radiate from it in a direction horizontal to the leaf to form a star-like
pattern). So close are these hairs that the whole leaf has a hoary
appearance. This is, of course, a fine example of a drought-resisting
device and shows us why this plant is so much at home in dry, rocky clefts
and on screes.
rosettes give rise to tall flowering stalks which possess several small
leaves, also covered with many hairs. The stems are terminated by a head
of small, white flowers which are pollinated as in the case of the Rock
Alpine Catchfly (Lychnis alpina)
beautiful mountain plant is peculiar in that it is to be found in one
solitary station in the Highlands and that, not some inaccessible corrie
whose precipices defy the mountaineer, or on the side of some steep crag,
but on an open wind-swept moor near the summit of Little Kilrannoch, a low
mountain top near the Clova region, so noted for its rare plants. Why
should this particular region be so rich in rare and local plants? Why
should Lychnis alpina and Oxytropis campestris, to mention
but two species, be confined solely to solitary stations there? These are
problems which will probably never be satisfactorily solved.
plant belongs to the beautiful Pink Family. It has a tufted perennial
stock which is clothed in long, narrow leaves, which are usually glabrous
or have a few long, woolly hairs in the lower part.
stock arise flower stalks which are seldom more than six inches high and
clothed with several pairs of leaves. They are terminated by a compact
head of about six pinkish flowers which are very beautiful and constructed
inexactly the same fashion as those of the Moss Campion which belongs to
the same family. They are similarly pollinated (see Chap. III). Bees and
butterflies are the flowers’ benefactors as they alone haves tongues long
enough to reach the nectar secreted at the base of the corolla tube.
Vernal Sandworm (Arenaria verna)
lovely little plant is of very restricted distribution in the Highlands,
due to the fact that it is confined to dry, calcareous rocks. This
explains its Perthsire habitat on the limestone schists of Ben Lawers, Ben
Lui, etc. It also occurs in Aberdeenshire and Banff.
possesses a very short, perennial stock giving rise to many short,
procumbent branches which give the plant a tufted appearance. This is
accentuated by the accumulation of old leaves and stems.
branches are densely covered with small, awl-shaped, opposite leaves whose
reduced surface cuts down transpiration and hence aids the plant to combat
its dry habitat.
flowering stems are erect and from two to four inches high. They produce
pairs of tiny leaves at intervals, and they usually branch. They are
terminated by tow or three white flowers on erect, slender pedicels which
are covered with short, viscid hairs. These prevent ants and other
creeping insects from reaching the flowers.
flower consists of five narrow, pointed, greenish sepals which are shorter
than the five ovovate, white petals. Within the corolla are two whorls of
five stamens each and spherical ovary with three long styles.
flowers are visited by small bees and flies, but in the absence of their
visit’s the styles curve over among the stamens and self-fertilization
Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale)
This is a
common place of the screes, moraines and rocky places and is distributed
throughout the whole Highland area. It is, of course, a member of the
Bedstraw Family (Rubiaceae) and is the only typically mountain
species to be found in Britain, although one or two other species climb up
from the lowlands.
rhizomatous stem creeps under the stones and rocks and gives rise to
erect, aerial stems which are rather more sturdy than in the case of the
lowland species. For this reason they have much less need of shrubs and
other plants to support them.
are four-angled, little branched and without the rough, prickly hairs of
most bedstraws. This is, of course, in keeping with its upright habit,
the curved climbing hairs of such species as the goose-grass not being
leaves, which are lanceolate in form, are arranged in whorls of four at
intervals along the stems. They are rather thick in texture with a smooth
surface and three prominent ribs.
flowers are produced at the summits of the stems in large panicles which
contain numerous white blooms. These consist of four, very small, white
lobes, the tips of which curve inwards. The lobes are united to form a
very shallow tube on the top of the ovary. Within the tube are the four
stamens which spring from its side, and the inferior ovary surmounted by
two, short styles
flowers have a sweet, rather sickly perfumed and are much visited by the
smaller bees, flies, butterflies, and beetles. The stamens mature first
and, after shedding their pollen, they curl back from the centre of the
flower. The stigmas then become receptive, self-fertilization thus being
fruit, which is green, two-lobed structure with one seed in each lobe, is
covered with hooked hairs and bristles. These catch into the fur or
feathers of passing animals and birds, and may travel long distances
before finally being brushed off.
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