Nature Profiles

Flora of Ben Lawers NNR, Perthshire

 

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Ben Lawers ridge trail.  The summit of Ben Lawers itself is the highest point, just to the left of centre.

 

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The south-west crags, where much of the scarce alpine flora can be seen.

 

 


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Typical high alpine mire, where rare sedges can be found, such as Carex saxatilis.

 

 

Alpine Flora

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Alpine flora on the south-west crags - Saxifraga aizoides, Salix reticulata, Alchemilla sp (photo 1); Sedum rosea, Viola lutea (photo 2).

Saxifrages

Saxifraga aizoides (Yellow Saxifrage)

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A common upland saxifrage, this beautiful plant is abundant beside streams and wet flushes around Ben Lawers.  In Britain it is common in the Scottish Highlands, but elsewhere is only found in the higher hills of north-west England and western Ireland.  It is absent from the mountains of Wales.

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Saxifraga stellaris (Starry Saxifrage)

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A much smaller plant than S.aizoides, this dainty species is also easily seen on Ben Lawers.  It resembles some of the rarer saxifrages, but is easily distinguished by its oval, toothed leaves and flowers which have two yellow dots at the base of each petal. 

Nationally it is one of the most widespread montane saxifrages, with a similar distribution to S.aizoides, but it is also found in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, the Cheviot Hills and the Welsh mountains.

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Saxifraga hypnoides (Mossy Saxifrage)

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As well as hosting rare alpine species, the Ben Lawers range is also home to more widespread saxifrages such as S.hypnoides.  This species can be recognised by a combination of its plain white flowers and stems with sharply pointed leaf lobes. 

Mossy Saxifrage is a widespread species of rocky calcareous habitats, ranging from high Scottish mountains to lowland rock ledges in the south of England.  You can see a photo of a plant in the Derbyshire Peak District here.

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Red-tinted foliage

 

 

Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage)

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One of the classic mountain flowers of Scotland, Purple Saxifrage is also one of the first to flower each spring, although individual flowers can still be seen later in the summer (as in this photo).

The foliage of this species is highly distinctive, with triangular opposite leaves, which have slightly lime-encrusted tips and stiff marginal hairs.  The stems creep across base-rich rock exposures forming cushion-like patches, and finding these often promises the presence of other interesting or rare base-demanding alpine plants.

 

 

Saxifraga nivalis (Alpine Saxifrage)

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Alpine Saxifrage is a rare plant, amost exclusively found in the Scottish mountains in Britain, although there are a few older records from the Lake District, Snowdonia, the Southern Uplands and the west of Ireland. 

As a species it can be distinguished from other mountain saxifrages by its crinkled leaves which are purple underneath.  When in flower, the flowers are very similar to S.stellaris, but lack the two yellow spots found on each petal of flowers of that species (see above).

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Small leaf rosette amongst Saxifraga oppositifolia and mosses

 

 

Saxifraga cernua (Nodding Saxifrage)

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The rarest of the Britain's alpine saxifrages, S.cernua is found as scattered plants in various locations on the Lawers range at high altitude.  It is easily recognised when seen, thanks to its habit of forming bulbils in the leaf axils, rather than flowering.

Nationally, the species is currently only known from four separate 10km squares, all in the Scottish Highlands.

 

 

Other Alpine Flora

Myosotis alpestris (Alpine Forget-me-not)

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A very rare mountain wildflower, M.alpestris is found at fewer than ten sites in Britain, and is classified as Nationally Rare. 

There are three occurrences in northern England, and the others are on high peaks in the Scottish Highlands.

 

 

Gentiana nivalis (Alpine Gentian)

This little plant is one of the gems of Ben Lawers.  As with other members of the family, the flowers only tend to open on sunny days, so I was lucky to see them in their full glory on the day I visited! 

Nationally this is a very rare plant, known from only 3 hectads in the Scottish Highlands.

 

 

Silene acaulis (Moss Campion)

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Well-known in cultivation as a popular alpine plant, this cushion-forming species is common on Ben Lawers, and throughout the Scottish Highlands in general. 

It is very distinctive when in flower, although when not, it blends in with the associated mosses on the crags.

 

 

Cerastium alpinum (Alpine Mouse-ear)

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This dainty little plant is easily recognised on Ben Lawers by it nodding delicate white flowers and hairy whitish leaves.  It is related to the commonly cultivated C.tomentosum, which  is frequently grown in rockeries, and is a native of northern Europe and North America. 

Alpine Mouse-ear can be found on rock ledges throughout the Scottish Highlands, and one or two places in the Lake District and Snowdonia.

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Cerastium fontanum (Common Mouse-ear)

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Although certainly not an alpine plant in the strictest sense, Common Mouse-ear is perfectly happy to ascend to the highest altitudes on Ben Lawers, where it mingles with its much rarer cousin, C.alpinum.

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Sagina saginoides (Alpine Pearlwort)

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possibly S. x normaniana

The rare alpine relative of S.procumbens (below) can be seen at the highest altitudes on Ben Lawers.  The two plants are superficially very similar, but are easily distinguished on close examination, especially when flowering. 

Alpine Pearlwort has flowers with 5 sepals and petals, whereas S.procumbens has flowers with 4 sepals and often no petals.  S.saginoides also has a more densely-flowered appearance, because it flowers from the basal rosette of leaves, as well as creeping stems, whereas S.procumbens flowers only from creeping stems, with a non-flowering basal rosette.

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Sagina procumbens (Procumbent Pearlwort)

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This photo shows the floral features of S.procumbens described above - flowers with four sepals (see top left of photo) and few, if any petals.

 

 

Sagina nivalis

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Text coming soon!

 

 

Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady's-mantle)

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A common species in short turf around Ben Lawers, this plant is recognised by its palmate foliage and profuse yellow flowerheads. 

As its name suggests, it is restricted to upland areas of Britain, with the vast majority of occurrences in the Scottish Highlands.  It is absent from the mountains of Wales.

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Alchemilla glabra (Smooth Lady's-mantle)

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A common Lady's-mantle of upland Britain, A.glabra is a robust plant recognisable by its almost glabrous nature (there are often a few appressed hairs on the petioles and lowest stem internode.  The less common A.filicaulis ssp. filicaulis (see below) can look similar.

A.glabra is one of the characteristic plants of the large herb community found on damp base-rich outcrops at high altitudes on the mountains of the Lawers range.

Thanks to Dan Watson for the identification.

 

 

Alchemilla filicaulis ssp. filicaulis (Lady's-mantle) (probably)

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Much the rarer of the two subspecies of A.filicaulis, ssp. filicaulis is restricted to mountainous habitats.  It can be a tricky plant to identify (like many in the genus) - key features are the leaves hairy on both sides (a lens is often necessary to see them though) and the glabrous upper stem and inflorescence.

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leaf detail

 

 

Sibbaldia procumbens (Sibbaldia)

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Easily overlooked, this diminutive relative of the Cinquefoils is fairly common in calcareous grassland at high altitude on Ben Lawers.  The wedge-shaped, three-toothed foliage is very distinctive, and close examination of the short turf around the south-west crags will turn up this species without too much effort.  Unlike those of the Cinquefoils, the flowers of Sibbaldia are disappointingly small and understated.

Nationally, Sibbaldia is restricted to the Scottish Highlands, but globally it has a circumboreal distribtion and can be seen as far afield as the Rocky Mountains in North America.

 

 

Persicaria vivipara (Alpine Bistort)

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A distinctive little plant of wet areas on Ben Lawers, not easily confused with anything else. 

It is common in upland Britain from the Lake District northwards.

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Sedum villosum (Hairy Stonecrop)

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Hairy Stonecrop is a plant of upland alkaline rocky habitats,  and hence is rather localised in Britain.  It can be found from the northern Pennines northwards to the Grampian Mountains. 

The Latin name derives from the hairy leaves (not visible in this photo), but the plant can also be recognised by its pink petals, a feature shared only by S.telephium in Britain, which is a much larger plant.

 

 

Sedum rosea (Roseroot)

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It's always a treat to see big rosettes of this striking plant clinging to damp ledges in the Scottish mountains. 

It is common on Ben Lawers in suitable habitat, and widespread in upland Britain, although it gets much less common the further south you go.

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Erigeron borealis (Alpine Fleabane)

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Alpine Fleabane is one of the alpine gems of Ben Lawers, and not an easy plant to track down.  It tends to grow as scattered individuals on rock ledges, rather than in small colonies, and despite its pink flowers, it can be very easily overlooked.  I finally found several plants in flower in August 2012, after several luckless visits in previous years!  Once seen, it is utterly unmistakable, and cannot be confused with any other British upland plants.

Nationally, E.borealis is a very rare plant, found in only ten 10km squares, all in the Scottish Highlands.

 

 

Saussurea alpina (Alpine Saw-wort)

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Alpine Saw-wort is an attractive alpine plant found throughout the Scottish Highlands, although it tends to occur as scattered individual plants and is not abundant in any one place.

The species is described in more detail in the Flora of Corrie Fee NNR section of the site.


plant in habitat, Beinn Ghlas

 

 

Gnaphalium supinum (Dwarf Cudweed)

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This silver-leaved member of the daisy family is widespread in the Scottish Highlands, but absent from mountainous areas of England and Wales.

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Minuartia sedoides (Cyphal)

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The green cushions of this alpine relative of the sandworts resemble the more abundant Silene acaulis, but have distinctively toothed leaves, and yellow, rather than pink flowers. 

In Britain, Cyphal is entirely restricted to the Scottish Highlands.

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Close-up, showing toothed leaves

 

 

Minuartia rubella (Mountain Sandwort)

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One of the rare alpine specialities of Ben Lawers, M.rubella is a rather nondescript plant, less showy than some of its relatives, such as M.verna.  Nevertheless, its rarity alone makes it an interesting plant - it is currently known from just five sites in the Scottish Highlands.

M.rubella is a cushion-forming plant, although the cushions remain rather loose, unlike M.sedoides (see above).  The leaves and petals are smaller than the slightly similar M.verna.  It always occurs on very basic rocks.

Thanks to Dan Watson for the identification.

 

 

Oxyria digyna (Mountain Sorrel)

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The fleshy, kidney-shaped leaves instantly identify this uncommon plant of damp, rocky mountain habitats. 

It is widespread in the western Highlands of Scotland, the Lake District mountains and Snowdonia, but is very rare elsewhere.

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Tofieldia pusilla (Scottish Asphodel)

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Resembling a miniature Iris, the foliage of this northern speciality is distinctively flattened in one plane.  The plant is widespread in western Scotland, and is also locally frequent in Teesdale in the north of England. 

It is a plant of boggy habitats, always where there is base enrichment.  When present, the flowering stalks have a few small greenish-white flowers held high above the foliage. 

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for the identification.

 

 

Viola lutea (Mountain Pansy)

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Mountain Pansy is widespread in the Scottish mountains, and not uncommon, although plants often occur in low densities. 

Purple and yellow flowering forms occur. 

I've described this species in the Flora of Derbyshire section of the site, where the yelow form is pictured.

 

 

Epilobium anagallidifolium (Alpine Willowherb)

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One of two diminutive alpine willowherbs, E.anagallidifolium is more common than E.alsinifolium, and can be recognised by smaller proportions and stems which produce runners above ground.  Both species occur in mountain flushes.

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Draba incana (Hoary Whitlowgrass)

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This white-flowered crucifer of alkaline rocks is fairly widespread at higher elevations on Ben Lawers, where it can be seen on rock ledges. 

It is very similar to the much rarer Draba norvegica, which occurs very sparingly on Ben Lawers - see the notes on that species below for the key differences. 

Hoary Whitlowgrass is mainly an upland species in Britain, but does occur on calcareous dunes and in open grassland at lower elevations.  It is widespread in Europe and is also native to North America.

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Draba norvegica (Rock Whitlowgrass)

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This unassuming little alpine is one of Ben Lawers' rarest plants.  Like many of Britain's alpine plants, it is restricted to the Scottish Highlands, and D.norvegica occurs only on base-rich rock, limiting its range further. 

This species and D.incana (above) are very similar, and the best feature for distinguishing them is to investigate the ripe seed pods - those of D.incana are twisted, while those of D.norvegica are not.  D.incana is also a larger plant and its flowering stems have hairy, stalkless, toothed leaves on them - a feature D.norvegica usually lacks.

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Cochlearia micacea (Mountain Scurvygrass)

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The fleshy heart-shaped leaves and four-petalled flowers make this mountain species easy to identify. 

It favours wet sites on schist-derived soils, like the alkaline flush this plant was growing in. 

Mountain Scurvygrass is one of the few endemic British vascular plant species, and is only found in Scotland.

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Thalictrum alpinum (Alpine Meadow-rue)

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A common plant of base-rich flushes throughout northern Britain, Alpine Meadow-rue is easily located on Ben Lawers.

The species is described in more detail in the Flora of northern England section of the site.

 

 

Veronica fruticans (Rock Speedwell)

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In Britain, this rare arctic-alpine plant is restricted entirely to the Scottish Highlands and is classified as Nationally Scarce.

It is easily distinguished from other montane speedwells by the intense blue colour of the flowers, which have a magneta-red ring around the central white eye.

 

 

Veronica serpyllifolia ssp. humifusa (Thyme-leaved Speedwell)

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The commonest of Scotland's alpine Veronicas, this alpine form of the common lowland Thyme-leaved Speedwell favours damp ledges and hollows in the mountains.  I've described it in more detail, along with much better photos in the Flora of other areas of Scotland section of the site.

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Chrysosplenium oppositifolium (Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage)

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text coming soon!

 

 

Armeria maritima (Thrift)

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Although largely a coastal plant in Britain, Thrift is also a frequent plant of calcareous upland habitats, especially in Scotland - this dual habitat preference is also the case in Europe.

I stumbled across this colony next to one of the many flushes on the western slope of Beinn Ghlas.

 

 

Willows

Salix herbacea (Dwarf Willow)

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A rare montane willow, this species can be mistaken for more abundant shrubs such as Arctostaphylos sp.  The toothed leaves, and flowers (if present) readily distinguish this tiny creeping willow however. 

On Ben Lawers it occurs at altitudes of around 1000m, creeping over boulders or bare soil, and often intergrown with mosses and lichens.  The leaves frequently have bright red galls, which resemble berries.

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Bright red galls on S.herbacea leaves

 

 

Salix reticulata (Net-leaved Willow)

This rare shrubby willow is entirely restricted to the central Highlands in Britain.  The very prominent vein network on the leaves makes it a very distinctive and easily recognised willow. 

On Ben Lawers itself, this plant is restricted to inaccessible crags where animals cannot graze the foliage.

 

 

Salix arbuscula (Mountain Willow)

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Although it can be found on Ben Lawers itself, these photos were taken on the Tarmachan range of hills neighbouring Ben Lawers, above Lochan na Larige, where the species is abundant on steep craggy slopes.

 

 

Salix lapponum (Downy Willow)

There are small areas of the shrubby willow on the Lawers range, with a significant area of willow scrub now fenced to keep out grazing sheep and allow the habitat to regenerate. 

I have described the species in more detail in the Flora of Corrie Fee NNR section of the site.

 

 

Salix aurita (Eared Willow)

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Some willows can be tricky to identify, but this species is highly distinctive thanks to its blue-green foliage, which looks pale thanks to its think covering of tiny hairs. 

Eared Willow is common in much of western and northern Britain, but is absent from many areas of the south and east. 

Thanks to Helen Cole for confirming the ID.

 

 

Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa (Arctic Downy Birch)

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The two species of Downy Birch are very similar and sometimes difficult to tell apart.  Ssp. tortuosa differs in usually having more than one stem, hairless young twigs, viscid (covered with a sticky resin) buds and smaller leaves. 

As its common name suggests, it is primarily a plant of high, cold mountains, although it is found in some lower-altitude areas of England. 

Thanks to Helen Cole for the ID.

 

 

Juniper (Juniperus communis)

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Text coming soon!

 

 

Lowland Plants

Gentianella campestris (Field Gentian)

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I was delighted to come across this species on a recent trip to Ben Lawers - it is a scarce and declining plant in England, but remains widespread and fairly common in Scotland.

Although similar to Autumn Gentian (G.amarella), Field Gentian can be readily identified by the large oval sepals which overlap two narrower, inner ones on the flower calyx.

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Narthecium ossiphragum  (Bog Asphodel)

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This attractive bulbous perennial is a classic denizen of acidic boggy terrain, and can be found across Britain wherever there is suitable habitat.  After pollination the flowerheads turn bright orange - you can see a photo here.

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Succisa pratensis (Devil's Bit Scabious)

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Devil's Bit Scabious grows abundant on the lower, damp, heathy slopes around Ben Lawers. 

I've described this species in the Flora of the White Peak grasslands part 1 section of the site.

 

 

Galium saxatile (Heath Bedstraw)

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As a genus Galium is easy to recognise inflower, with its panicles of small, four-petalled flowers.  Heath Bedstraw is a common species of acidic grassland and heathland and can be found in suitable habitat almost anywhere in Britain. 

It is superficially similar to other white-flowered Galium species, but on closer inspection the diagnostic features of the leaves will be seen - a mucronate (pointed) tip, one vein (other species have more), forward pointing minute prickles along the margins and a whorl of 6-8 leaves, all broadest above the middle (obovate).  These features, combined with the mat-like growth habit and acidic habitat should make identification easy. 

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for confirming the third of these photos.

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Cirsium heterophyllum (Melancholy Thistle)

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Melancholy Thistle is one of the characteristic members of the tall herb community found on wet calcareous ledges on the Lawers range.  This specimen was on one such ledge below Meall nan Tarmachan. 

The species is described in more detail in the Flora of Corrie Fee NNR section of the site.

 

 

Cirsium palustre (Marsh Thistle)

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This very spiny plant is common on the lower slopes of Ben Lawers in marshy, acidic habitats. 

It is one of Britain's commonest thistle species, and can be recognised by its crowded, clustered flowerheads which have purple outer bracts.  the leaves are also shiny and lack hairs or prickles on their upper surfaces.

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Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell)

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I've described this common grassland species in the Flora of the Dark Peak and Peak Fringe section of the site.

 

 

Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata)

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I've described this species in the Flora of southern England section of the site.

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Empetrum nigrum (Crowberry)

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Crowberry is common at moderate altitudes on Ben Lawers and is abundant along the Nature Trail.  The berries are unpalatable to humans, but an important food for animals.

 

 

Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry)

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Bilberry is abundant around the lower slopes of Ben Lawers, and is a very important shrub for wildlife, which feasts on the delicious berries in late summer. 

Bilberry can be distinguished from other Vaccinium species by its four-angled stems and thin, finely-toothed leaves.

 

 

Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry)

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Unlike Bilberry (above), Cowberry has red berries in late summer, which are edible but rather sour.  The leaves are distinctively glossy, and have a thick, leathery texture quite different to Bilberry leaves.

 

 

Erica cinerea (Bell Heather)

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Three heather species can be found around Ben Lawers - Calluna vulgaris (see below), Erica cinerea and Erica tetralix

Bell Heather is easily recognised by its typical Erica bell-shaped flowers, and its hairless leaves which differentiate it from the very hairy E.tetralix.  It also lacks the very obvious 4-leaved whorls of E.tetralix.  Ling (C.vulgaris) has small triangular leaves and open-ended flowers, rather than bell-shaped ones.

 

 

Calluna vulgaris (Ling)

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In late summer, the lower slopes of Ben Lawers turn pink with flowering heather.  As mentioned above, the flowers of Ling are noticeably different in shape to those of Bell Heather, and the small leaves are a dull greyish-green.

 

 

Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew)

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At moderate altitudes this plant is abundant in bogs and around permanently wet areas.  It is absent from higher altitudes however.

 

 

Pinguicula vulgaris (Common Butterwort)

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Butterwort is common in wet, acidic habitats in much of upland Britain and is a common sight on many parts of the Lawers range.

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Thymus polytrichus (Wild Thyme)

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Thyme is one of the more abundant wildflowers in the short turf on Ben Lawers, and can even be found at higher elevations.

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Trifolium repens (White Clover)

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The identity of this plant confused me, but it turns out to be a rather stunted plant of the very common White Clover, a species familiar to many people. 

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for the identification.

 

 

Potentilla erecta (Tormentil)

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Tormentil can be found in just about any acidic grassland or heathland in Britain, and is abundant on the lower slopes of Ben Lawers.  It can be distinguished from other similar Potentilla species by its stalkless leaves and four-petalled yellow flowers on long stalks.

 

 

Solidago virgaurea (Goldenrod)

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Goldenrod is a common plant of grassy habitats in many areas of Britain. 

It can be recognised by its rather dense racemes of small, yellow 'daisy' flowers.  These are borne at different levels all up the stem of the plant.

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Euphrasia sp (Eyebright)

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Individual species of eyebright are extremely difficult to identify, especially for an amateur like me!  I'll leave these photos un-named for that reason!

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