Scottish mountains have a great appeal for many plant lovers because of their special flora. It may not be as diverse as in some other countries on the continent, but it does have an attraction that leads many people to make repeat visits. I always went to the mountains to look for plants rather than for the views or summits, although the latter have their own attractions.
However, as the years go by and the limbs get weaker, reaching that special upland place gets more difficult. All is not lost, however, as some mountain plants can be seen at lower levels and river gravels are always worth a careful examination. Here are some of the upland species I have seen at lower altitudes recently.
Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady’s-mantle) This is one of the commonest mountain plants and one to look out for on the climb up, to get that feeling of being in the higher hills. However, I have often also seen it in river shingle at lower levels. The Alchemillas are in the Rosaceae and some are difficult to identify, but Alchemilla alpina has characteristic deeply cut leaves which are hairy beneath. The picture shows it by the inflow to Loch Glascarnoch, near the main road to Ullapool.
Saxifraga aizoides (Yellow Saxifrage) This is one of our commonest mountain saxifrages and is also one of the most attractive. It tends to be found in upland burns and flushes, but often also appears in gravel at lower levels. It can also grow on some roadsides as on the A9 near Drumochter. It has bright green leaves and cluster of striking yellow flowers, distinguishing it from other mountain saxifrages. The picture was taken by the river in Strath Mulzie.
Oxyria digyna (Mountain Sorrel) This member of the dock family has kidney shaped leaves and greenish yellow flowers. It is common in upland rocky places but is quite often spotted at much lower levels. The picture shows it by the track along Loch Glascarnoch.
Saxifraga stellaris (Starry Saxifrage) This beautiful plant is quite common in the mountains of Scotland. It has delicate white flowers with yellowish spots and pink anthers and characteristic basal leaves in a rosette. It is much less common at lower altitudes than the species described above. I found it by a river flowing into Loch Mullardoch.
Epilobium anagallidifolium (Alpine Willowherb) This has a typical willowherb appearance and is the commoner of the two Scottish mountain willowherbs. It has 4 petalled pink flowers and stolons above the ground. it should be distinguished from the increasingly common alien New Zealand Willowherb (Epilobium brunnescens) and other Epilobium species.
Epilobium anagallidifolium grows in upland flushes at high altitude. However, this species can sometimes be washed down the hill and I have seen it in river shingle in Strath Mulzie.
Minuartia (Cherleria) sedoides (Cyphel) This nationally scarce species is tufted with yellow-green flowers. It is to be seen on some higher and summit areas of the Scottish mountains. it is infrequent at lower levels but may sometimes appear. The picture shows it by the river in Strath Mulzie, where it took me a little while to identify it as I was not expecting to see it there.
Silene acaulis (Moss Campion) This is another cushion-like plant that has beautiful pink flowers. When not in flower it must be carefully distinguished from the above species. It is not a typical “wash down” species but I have seen it by Loch a Choire Mhoir at the base of Seana Bhraigh.
There may be other mountain species to be found at the base of the hills and I continue my search. Some mountain flowers are also to be found near the shore in Northern Scotland but that is another story. . . . .
Raven J. and Walters M. (1956) Mountain Flowers New Naturalist 33 Collins London
Scott M. (2016) Mountain Flowers Bloomsbury, London