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Plant Life in the Scottish Highlands
The Shrubs and Trees of the Mixed Woods (Part 2)


Surely, of all flowers, the Rose is the Queen of the garden, for what other flower has such a wealth and brilliance of colouring, such fragrance and such elegance of form as the Rose.  Cultivated for centuries its ancestors have become through cross-breeding and selection, but we know that exotic and native wild species have been united to give us this magnificent flower.

Our native Wild Roses are no mean representatives of a beautiful family and one of the loveliest sight of the whole summer is a thicket of wild roses covered in delicate pink flowers.

Here in the Highland glens, the wild roses have a deeper rarer shade of pink than those of any other region.  Washed by the rains of a thousand storms, caressed by soft winds and mountain air and bathed in the bright sunshine which seems to have an added brilliance In the mountains, their colours are more brilliant than anywhere else.

The Dog Rose (Rosa canina)

The Dog Rose is the commonest wild rose to be found in Britain and its widespread in the lower parts of the Highlands where we may find it on the fringe of woods, in hillside thickets, as a hedgegrow plant and in the lower pastures, especially in the west where it grows scattered here and there on the open hillsides.

This plant is a large spreading shrub with a deep-striking woody-rootstock which sends up a thick main stem which may attain a height of three to four feet in the first year.  This stem is at first green and easily broken, but as the seasons pass it becomes hard and woody and well able to support the long branching flowering stems which are thrown out by the main stem in its second or third year.

These flowering stems are long and spreading, usually curving over towards the middle and forming an arch.  They are often very gracefully arched and when covered with blooms are very beautiful.

The stems are covered with many sharp, curved, reddish-brown thorns which effectively protect the plant against browsing animals.  These thorns are not modified branches as in the case of many  plants, but are formations on the skin n the same way as hairs.  We may, therefore, look upon them as modified hairs.  They also perform another very useful purpose as they aid the flowering branches to scramble over the surrounding shrubs and hedges, the curved thorns gripping leaves and branches and so helping the stems to climb upwards.  Thus in the hard struggle for existence, on the crowded woodland borders, the rose can climb over its competitors and flaunt its flowers from the highest ad most conspicuous spot.

The stems and branches are covered with pinnate leaves, the petioles of which are terminated by long fringed stipules.  The usually possess five to seven leaflets which are ovate and rather thin in texture, while they vary much in appearance, in some cases being quite smooth, and in others having a whitish down on the under surface.  They are toothed, usually with a double row of teeth.

The flowers are produced at the ends of the branches and may be solitary or several together.  They vary much in colour. The most common colour is a pale rose pink but this may be a beautiful deep rose in some plants and sometimes may be shaded from pale rose towards the tip of the petal to a dark reddish rose at the base.   Sometimes the flowers are almost pure white.  They are large and very conspicuous, but to make even more certain of attracting bees, they are also delightfully scented.

They are well adapted to examination and, by a close study of them, we can obtain a good general idea of the structure and fertilization of the Rose Family.

The flower stalk will be found to be terminated by a smooth vase-shaped swelling.  Most person would take this for the ovary, but actually it is a receptacle on which the flower is supported, the real ovary being concealed in the swollen portion of the receptacle.  The top of this receptacle, which is within the flower, is a cup-shaped depression.  In this depression are situated the carpels.  From the outside of the cup spring the petals sepal and stamens.

The five sepals are usually leaf-like and fringed. One is often pinnate, two fringed on one side only and two unfringed.

The petals are large and have a broad limb.  The corolla is shaped like a saucer.  The stamens, which are very numerous and long stalked, spread out from the receptacle and so the danger of pollen falling on to the carpels is not serious.

The rose, unlike many flowers of the Rose Family, produces no nectar and hence it is visited by pollen-seeking insects such as bees, beetles, and flies.  The large bees are probably the chief benefactors as, owing to their weight, they must land in the centre of the bloom where the stigmas are situated and so cannot fail to leave imported pollen upon their receptive surfaces.

After flowering the receptacle becomes pulpy and turns to a bright re colour and is crowned by the persistent sepals.  Its colour makes it very conspicuous and the fruit is greedily eaten by many species of birds, the seeds being carried and dropped by them probably far from the parent plant.  Thus has the rose made sure of the distribution of its species.  No wonder a plant so well adapted to the struggle of life has so well succeeded.

The Dog Rose (R. canina) is actually a general term covering several distinct sub-species and varieties.  The differentiation of these various plants is complicated by the fact that they hybridize freely and hence a large number of so-called species, sub-species and varieties has been named.  A further complication is added by the fact that various authorities are not in agreement as to what characters should constitute the distinguishing points of the various species. To avoid dragging the reader through a welter of descriptions and difficult names I have, therefore, placed all the various forms under the general term of Dog Rose. 

Some other fairly distinct species much less closely allied to Rosa canina occur in the Highlands.

The Glaucos Rose (R. glauca) is very similar to the Dog Rose, but is rather more northern in its distribution.  In the Highlands we find it chiefly in Argyll, the Western Isles and in the Northern Highlands. It is distinguished from the Dog Rose by the often glaucous texture of its quite smooth leaves, and by its sepals which are usually erect and do not fall off until the fruit is red.

The Soft-leaved Rose (R. villosa) is mainly a Scottish species and is found at rather higher altitudes than the other British species, being recorded at 2,000 feet in the Southern Highlands.  It is best distinguished from the preceding by its softly downy leaves and the rounded fruit which is covered with glandular hairs.

The Sweet Briar (R. Eglanteria) is less widely distributed, but is to be found in the Eastern Highlands, Skye and Ross.  It is a beautiful shrub with its clusters of small, rose-pink flowers and its very fragrant leaves whose odour is supplied by numerous glands scattered over the leaf surface.

The last species of rose of fairly frequent occurrence in the Highlands is the Burnet Rose (R. spinosissima). It is usually confined to sandy places near the sea, but it can be met with on inland heaths up to 1,000 feet.  It is a small very much branched plant which is seldom more than one foot in height.  Its branches are erect and the whole plant is clothed in many fine prickles which are not curved as in the Dog Rose, the erect manner of growth and shortness of the branches making curved climbing prickles superfluous.

The leaflets are very small, sometimes quite smooth and sometimes covered in short down.

The flowers are pure white in colour and sweetly scented, and produce a globular fruit which is usually black in colour, although varieties with red fruit may be found.


Probably no family of plants in the world has given us so many delicious fruits as the Rose Family; peaches, pears, plums, apricots and strawberries to name but a few, along with our delicious raspberry, perhaps one of the finest flavored fruits in the world and the ubiquitous blackberry which makes such delightful jellies and preserves/

Our present subjects include all the British species in the genus Rubus, except the Cloudberry.  They are the Raspberry (Rubus Idaeus), common in woods and thickets; the Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), whose many varieties have never been definitely established, and the Stone Bramble (Rubus sterilis), a fairly frequent plant in thickets, rough pastures and stony places.

The Raspberry (Rubus Idaeus)

It is a common shrub in many of the thickets and copses of the lower glens and valleys, where it forms extensive colonies beneath the shade of the trees.

It has a long, creeping, perennial rootstock which, sending up stems as it spreads, increases the domain of this plant.  These stems are tall and erect, covered with many fine prickles and simple in the lower part, but slightly branched near the summit.

The leaves are pinnate, the lower ones consisting of five leaflets which are broad and coarsely toothed of a whitish colour beneath, the upper ones consisting of three leaflets only.

The flowers, which are white, are arranged in panicles at the ends of the short branches. They possess a calyx covered with felt-like down, which protects the flower against damp and cold whilst in bud.  Nectar is secreted in a ring around the receptacle.

The petals, however, are erect and little longer than the calyx so that the blooms are not very conspicuous.  The erect petals prevent the stamens spreading out and away from the stigmas as in the case of the Dog Rose, so that the flowers are usually self-fertilized. Bees do not visit these flowers very frequently as they are inconspicuous and the erect petals make them difficult of entry.

Occasionally a bee may visit the flower and leave transported pollen on the stigmas, but this is the exception.  Apparently these occasional visits are enough to make sure of a certain quantity of cross-fertilized seed each year.

In the case of the self-fertilized blooms, the quality of the fruit produced does not seem to suffer.

The fruit of the raspberry is formed by the union of the many one-seeded, fleshy carpels, which swell after fertilization to form the delicious fruit with which we are so familiar.  These fleshy carpels are known as drupels.

The bright rd colour of the fruit makes it very conspicuous and it is greedily eaten by the woodland birds, especially the blackbird and thrush.

The Bramble (Rusbus fruticosus)

This very common plant is widespread throughout the wooded areas of the glens and lowlands, along roadsides, on the edges of heaths, the borders of fields and in rocky places.

Many of us must have regaled ourselves upon its luscious fruits during a long tramp in the autumn, for the large blackberries have a very inviting appeal, especially to those who are thirsty and tired after a long day in the mountains.

It is very adaptable plant and seems to be equally at home on sandy wastes, in rich soils or in rocky pastures.

Its roots push down into the soil to utilize all the available moisture to be found in the lower layers.  Its long curved stems are tough and strong and wherever their curvature brings the tip into contact with the soil, roots are produced and a fresh bramble plant is formed.  For this reason a single bramble plant will cover a considerable area in a few seasons, if unchecked.  Its stems, armed with curved prickles, climb over the surrounding shrubs and form impenetrable thickets.

As we have already remarked, the bramble has many varieties, and some plants will be found I which the stems are semi-erect and do not produce new plants at the ends of the shoots.  The degree of prickliness also varies greatly, some varieties possessing many glandular hairs with the prickles, whilst others possess small feeble prickles and others again large fierce some-looking thorns which tear the flesh and clothing of the too-daring bramble picker.

The stems are clothed with pinnate leaves which consist of five leaflets, three large ones at the top of the main stalk, and two much smaller ones some distance below.  The upper leaflets are large and round and are remarkable for the intense hues of scarlet, orange, yellow and bronze which they produce in the autumn.  The main midrib is protected by a small row of small curved prickles.

The flowers, which are produced in panicles along the branches, are fairly large with spreading pink or white petals.

The bramble produces nectar and, as its spreading petals form a fine landing stage, it is much visited by bees which are the flowers’ main benefactors.  The honey is secreted in a fairly deep ring around the receptacle.

The berry is formed as in the case of the raspberry, but it is deep purplish back colour.

The Stone Bramble (Rubus sterilis)

This bramble is found in damp rocky thickets throughout the Highland area and climbs to higher elevations than the common bramble.  It is a much less conspicuous plant, with small flowers and fruit.

It is a creeping rootstock which sends out runners from which arise the stems.  These stems are seldom more than one foot in height and may be armed with a few weak prickles or none at all.  The leaves consist of three large rounded leaflets which are green on both sides.

In the axils of these leaves two or three flowers are produced on thin stalks.  They are small and inconspicuous with narrow, erect yellow petals.  As in the case of the raspberry, the erect nature of the petals and their lack of conspicuousness does not invite insect visitors, and hence the blooms are usually self-fertilized.

The fruits of the Stone Bramble are small, consisting of a very few rather large red drupels.

This plant with its creeping rootstock and short stems is a transition between the ordinary lowland types and the definitely mountain species such as Rubus Chamaemorus and Rubus arcticus.

The Honeysuckle (lonicera Periclymenum)

Another plant to be found in the mixed woodlands of the Highlands is the beautiful Honeysuckle.

This plant, like the woodland vetches and wild roses, is also a climbing plant, but unlike them it climbs by twisting its stem around the trunks and branches of small trees and shrubs, enveloping them in graceful spirals which always mount in a clockwise direction.

In the climbing habit, we again see evidence of the struggle that never ceases in the shaded woodlands, where every plant does its best to flower in the sunshine and light, where its blooms will be as conspicuous as possible.  This struggle attains its height in the great tropical forests where climbing plants compose a great proportion of the vegetation.  Our climbing plants are much less spectacular, but no one, I think, would question the beauty of the hanging, leaf-covered stems of honeysuckle, studded with umbels of sweetly scented, creamy flowers.

In the evening time, in July and August, when the long northern twilight is darkening into night, and the shadows deepen in the woods, when the night owl hoots from his pine tree roost and moths commence to glide through the forest glades, then the beautiful perfume of the honeysuckle wafted through the peaceful air betrays its lovely flowers, and enraptures the passer-by long before they themselves are visible.

Why has the honeysuckle such pale colored flowers and why such a glorious perfume so late in the day?  Simply to attracts its benefactors, the large hawk moths, who are best adapted to cross-pollinate its blooms.  Thus again, we see that in the flower world, colour, perfume, form and habit are not just a random haphazard collection, but have a real significance.  They are not the result of change and coincidence, but an intrinsic part of the particular species founded on countless ages of natural selection and adaptation to environment and insect visitors.  It is only when we commence to search for the inner meaning of the flower that we realize what a fascinating story each one has to tell and how little we know of any particular plant.  As the great British naturalist, Richard Jefferies, wrote; ‘I want the inner meaning and the understandings of the wild flowers in the meadow. Why are they?  What end? What purpose?  The plant knows and sees and feels, where in its mine when the petal falls?  Absorbed in the universal dynamic force or what?  They make no shadow of pretence these beautiful flowers of being beautiful for my sake, of bearing honey for me, in short, there does not seem to be any kind of relationship understood between us and yet….language does not express the dumb feeling of the mind any more than the flower can speak.  I want to know the soul of the flowers!  All these life-laboured monographs, these classifications, works of Linnaeus and our own classis Darwin, microscope, physiology-and the flower has not given us it message yet.’

How many of us who love flowers must have, sometimes, felt like Jeffries.  But to return to our present subject.

The honeysuckle has fairly deep-striking roots which send up weak stems which wind themselves around the nearest support.  They are at first soft and herb-like, but as they grow they become woody and the base of the stems are hard and covered with fibrous bark.  These stems live for several years.  As they grow they climb higher and higher until they have reached the summit of their host, when the branches send out many smaller branches which hang down.  They are covered with many opposite leaves which are ovate in form, of a glossy green on the upper surface, but usually hairy beneath.

The flowers are produced are about one and a half inches long and consist of a long tube, the mouth of which is lipped.  The upper one is four-lobed whilst the lower is entire and curved downwards.  At the base of the tube are situated the nectarines which secrete a copious quantity of nectar for their visitors, so much indeed that if the flower is not visited, the tube is soon almost filled with the sweet liquid.  The ovary is surmounted by the long style, which is longer than the corolla tube in order that the stigma may project beyond the entrance.  The five stamens which are inserted in the tube also project, but are shorter than the style.

The flowers open in the evening and are of a pure white colour with a very fragrant perfume.  The sphinx moths are the chief benefactors, for their tongues alone can reach the base of the long tubes, and it is to them that the colour and perfume of the flowers are directed, for these moths are nocturnal.  Their habit of hovering before the flowers as they suck the nectar is the reason for the small lower lip, a landing stage being unnecessary for these insects.  They, naturally, leave pollen upon the projecting stigma before being dusted with pollen by the stamens.  Thus cross-pollination is obtained.  By the next morning the colour of the flower has changed to a yellowish hue and it is then visited by bees, butterflies, and flies who come to share what the moths have left. Thus if there are few moths abroad by night the honeysuckle may be pollinated by day flying insects.  During the night, if unvisited, the nectar will almost overbrim the tube and is available to quite short-tongued insects.  Bees and butterflies are the chief benefactors by day.

After fertilization the flowers fade.  The ovary swells and becomes fleshy and gradually changes to form a bright red berry containing one or two seeds.  These berries are eaten by birds which distribute the seeds.  As these birds will perch in trees or bushes, the seeds will be dropped near to some support.  Hence the formation of berries is a very nice adaptation to ensure the continuation of the species.

Thus we see, by studying each plant carefully, how amazingly they are planned and how wonderfully they are fitted to the life they lead.

Ivy (Hedera Helix)

The Highlands contain few climbing plants and besides our present subject the only other shrubby climber to be found is the honeysuckle.  The ivy is one of those plants which is known to everybody, for it is as much at home on the walls of ruined castles, old houses, and rocky crags as in the woodlands, and thus is a familiar plant to the town dweller and the countryman alike.

The Ivy seedling, with its tender green leaves and stem, has little to distinguish it from the seedling of any other plant.  Nobody would expect it to be capable of growing into a remorseless strangle, able to destroy the strongest and noblest tree.

If we could watch its growth during the next few years, we should see a fascinating story unfold.  After growing erect for a short distance, the apex of the shoot curves over and, if no support is hand, it will grown down to earth and adopt a creeping habit.  The stem gives off roots at the nodes which anchor it, and at the same time it produces many long-stalked, beautifully shaped, evergreen leaves. These are typically five-lobed, but it is a difficult to find two which are exactly alike.  The under surface is usually a pale green, but very often it is tinged with red and purple, and the upper surface may be almost variegated.  They are also rather thick and leathery.

In many woods we shall find that patches of the soil are completely hidden by the trailing stems of ivy which may stretch for many yards.

Let us suppose, however, that our seedling finds itself at the base of a tall spreading oak.  We should notice that as soon as the young tender stem of the seedling touched the rough trunk of the forest king it continued to grow erect.  If we examined the ivy stem carefully where it ran up the trunk, we should see that a vast number of tiny rootlets had been given off from the under side of the stem.  These penetrate into the interstices of the bark and aid in the plant to climb upwards/

The young ivy stem is at this period a beautiful object, with its two rows of deep green, shiny, five-lobed leaves pressed against the trunk.  Their only function seems to be that of adorning and beautifying the stalwart trunk of the forest king.  We should see no sign of doom here, for these fine, lithe, climbing stems are incapable of strangling anything.  Yet in the course of a century, the oak tree will have been smothered in a mass of climbing stems, massive branches and a blanket of evergreen foliage.  The erstwhile tiny creeper will have become a giant.

The adult ivy’s lower stem is a thick, woody, knotted trunk climbing up the oak tree like a petrified boa-constrictor.  Deep into the ground goes a large, ramifying root system, which fight the oak tree’s roots for water and mineral salts.

The climbing stem sends out thick branches which run up every branch of the oak.  The leafy branches spread out in every direction, and as the ivy is evergreen, the oak tree’s leaves are cut off from the vital light.  As by now the ivy is a luxuriant plant and its leaves are often of a very large size, those of the doomed oak have no chance at all.  No w the leaves are the plant’s lungs and also to a large extent its stomach, thus we can see the ivy is actually smothering the oak.  Sooner or later the forest king is destroyed and its shroud is a mass of darker green sombre leaves.

Once the ivy has attained the light above the shade of the oak tree’s branches (and this desire to reach the light is a real reason for the ivy’s climbing prowess), the extremities become clothed with leaves which are quite different from those of the lower branches.  They are ovate in form and much smaller, and when we see them, we can be sure that the flowers will be visible on these branches in due season. 

It is a remarkable plant as far as British plants go, for it flowers very late n the year, usually at the end of September or in October.

Let us visit a clump of ivy in October and examine it.  We shall see that the flowers are green in colour, and produced ten to twenty together in dense umbels, each flower terminating a short pedicel.  Around the top of the inferior ovary are five tiny teeth which represent the calyx.  The corolla consists of five, ovate, pale green petals which curve down and backwards.  The five stamens have fairly long filaments and curve outwards.  The summit of the ovary, which is capped by a short stigma, will be seen to be shiny and sticky looking.  This is due to the abundant nectar secreted upon it.

The nectar attracts a horde of late bees, hover-flies, wasps, bluebottles and flies.  These cross-pollinate the flowers.  By delaying its flowering period to the season when all rivals have ceased flowering it has no difficulty in attracting visitors.  The nectar seems to have a narcotic effect upon the visitors, for it is quite a common thing to find stupefied blue-bottles and wasps both on the flowers and on the ground beneath them.

The ivy forms small, bluish-black berries which ripen during the winter and are eagerly eaten by hungry flocks of birds.  These perch on the branches of trees and hence there is plenty of chance for the seeds to be dropped near to a support.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum Opulus

Our present subject is one of our loveliest shrubs, whether it be in spring when it is covered with masses of white, handsome blooms, or in autumn when adorned in bunches of highly polished, richly scarlet berries, or still later on when the foliage assumes a deep, reddish-purple colour as if in defiance of the advancing winter.

It is distributed throughout the Highlands and Hebrides, but is not a common plant.  It frequents damp, shady woods and thickets and often forms part of the special oakwood flora, especially in moist situations.

The Guelder Rose is a member of the Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae). It is rarely more than twelve feet in height and is very much branched so that it has a rather bushy appearance.  The branches, as seen in winter when bare of leaves, are reddish-brown in colour, rather straight and highly polished.

When the buds burst in spring, the young leaves are seen to be covered in down, but this is soon lost and the fully grown leaves are quite smooth and shiny.  They are three-lobed in appearance and their margin is surrounded by large, coarse teeth.  They have fairly long stalks and are arranged in pairs upon the branches.

The flowers are produced in large, flat, wheel-shaped corymbs, which are often three inches or more in diameter.  The shrub at this time is a glorious sight as the corymbs are produced in large numbers at the termination of the branches and hence stand out above the leafy mantle.

If we examine a corymbs, we shall see that it is composed of an outer ring of large white flowers, whilst the inner flowers are much smaller and much less conspicuous.  These outer flowers are composed of five large, white, rounded petals, but have neither stamens or pistils; they are hence neuter.  Their function is simply one of the advertisement.

The inner flowers, of which there are large numbers, are much smaller.  They consist of a small, cylindrical ovary terminated by five tiny teeth which represent the calyx, and a tiny, five-lobed, yellowish-white, cup-shaped corolla.  Within the corolla are five stamens which project well beyond the flower.  The ovary is surmounted by a very short, thick style, actually composed of three coherent styles, and round its base is a nectary ring.

The flowers are visited by large numbers of flies and small bees which are attracted by the large outer ring of flowers and the strong, sickly perfume.  On arriving at the outer flowers, the insects find no nectar and move in to the inner, perfect flowers. In the young flowers, the stamens spread away from the centre, but later on they bend in toward the centre of the flower, so that if cross-pollination has not been effected, the blooms can be self-fertilized.  Owing to the corymbs nature of the inflorescence, the flowers to not mature together, but successively so that the flowering period is prolonged. 

After pollination the flowers fade, the outer neuter ones dropping of as they have no further use to the plant. The ovaries swell, become rounded, and finally from bright scarlet, fleshy berries, each of which contains one seed. These fruits aware eaten by birds and are distributed as in the case of the Rowan.

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