Natural History



Back to natural history menu click here
 
Arctic Alpines

Mountain Everlasting
Antennaria diocia
With its noticeable bluish-green wooly leaves forming a rosette at its base, creeping stolons, and upright woolly flowering shoots growing up to 20cm in height; the plant is fairly readily identified. In the mountains it usually grows on basic (alkaline) rocks. Diocia translates literally as two houses, due to the fact that the male and female parts are found in separate flowers.

Northen Rock-cress
Arabis petraea
This is a perennial herb and looks very fragile and spindly, but the taproot is sturdy; a basal rosette of leaves help also denotes it. The plant tends to form a mat and is usually 10 - 25 cm high. Grows on gravel, scree and ledges; producing white or purpleish flowers in July and August. This is signified in the Latin petraea 'of rocks'

Harebell
Campanula rotundifolia

The Latin word campanulla is literally 'a little bell', and the plant produces delicate blue bell shaped flowers, often seen nodding in the breeze. The rotundifolia should obviously be a reference to the roundish leaves of this plant. However, this is rather misleading, as it is only the early basal leaves that are round; by the time the plant has flowered these leaves will have disappeared leaving only long narrow grass like leaves. Although found on the high mountaintops; it can grow on moorland, grassland and in sea level fields; it is not strictly an Arctic Alpine. The plant favours calcareous soils.

Alpine Mouse-ear
Cerastium alpinium

Another plant forming mats or tufts; growing up to 20 cm in height; it has grey green hairy leaves and grows on well drained rather than calcareous rocks. Its flowers open in July and August and the white flower petals have distinct notches.

Parsley Fern
Cryptogrammaecrispa

A distinctive fern that requires plenty of moisture throughout the year and growing in thick clumps, between 15 - 25 cm high, and found on well-drained sites. This is a pioneer plant; that can grow on most kinds of rock; although preferring silicas i.e. acidic soils. The term Cryptogrammeis derived from the Greek kryptos 'hidden' and gramme 'line' the spores being hidden.

Tufted Hair-grass
Deschampsia cespitosa sspalpina

Only found in some localities. Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrumalpinum A relation to ferns rather than mosses, this is to be seen quite often at high altitudes in Eryri. It keeps close to the ground and the leaves are small and tightly packed, to reduce water loss, it is this feature that forms the distinctive club shape of its branches.

Hoary Whitlowgrass
Draba incana

Growing on screes and rock ledges, this tufted perennial with a leafy erect stem growing out of a rosette of leaves. It is capped with ahead of many white flowers, which blossom in June and July. The plant prefers calcareous (limestone based) soil and can grow up to 50 cm in height in favourable conditions. Draba is the old Greek word for cress; it may be due to the bitter nature of the leaves of the plants of this genus.

Mountain Avens
Dryas octopelata

A prostrate dwarf evergreen shrub rather than a flower, the Mountain Avens form large clumps or mats. The crinkled oval leaves have a dark green gloss and edges that although toothed are quite rounded, the woody stems and tough roots allow the plants to survive in harsh conditions. Its creamy white flowers are made up of eight petals, seen in the Latin name, are open in June and July. The term dryas: is derived from the Greek druas 'dryad, nymph'.

Viviparious Sheep's-fescue
Festuca viviparia

This particular plant is a tufted perennial grass growing on mountainsides and rocky areas all over Eryri. This grass grows to a height of about 40 cm and has a flowering season between June and august. The hair like leaves are in rolled tubes and as is seen in the name vivipara, the young grasses develop on the spikelets. The name is derived: from the Latin festuca 'blade, stem'.

Alpine Hawkweed
Hieracium sect.Alpina

A difficult set of plants to describe as there are thousands of micro-species in the genus Hieracium, one group of these microspecies can be found in the uplands and are therefore termed the Alpine Hawkweed group. Generally found on rock ledges, screes and heaths, the plants in this group prefer acid soils. Usually found above 700m, they are between 10-20 cm in height with a hairy stem and leaves and a single yellow flower in July and August. The Greek word hierax 'hawk', Pliny described the belief that the hawk ate the flower to increase the power of its eyesight.

Snowdon Lily
Lloydia serotina

This bulbuous perennial: its adaptations allowing it to survive in some of the harshest conditions in the high mountains. The Snowdon Lily has become the plant that is most associated with Eryri. It was first discovered by Edward Llwyd in the 17th Century. It has a short stem, no higher than 15 cm and yields creamy white flowers, whose petals are sometimes streaked with pink. The plant flowers in June, and it is usually only then that they are generally recognized. The Eryri plants are over 1000 km from their nearest other.

 
Welsh Poppy
Meconopsis cambrica

Derived from the Greek mekon 'poppy' + opsis 'like'; the cambrica obviously denotes the connection of this plant with Wales. Usually found along the banks of mountain streams and sheltered spots between rocks in the uplands. This is the true habitat of the plant, although it does now grow in gardens and as an escapee on wet lowland areas. The attractive yellow flowers can grow to about 9 cm across.

Spring Sandwort
Minuartia verna

A tufted or cushion forming plant with straight narrow leaves; it has tiny white flowers opening between May and September and grows up to about 15 cm in height. Preferring calcareous soils, its stout taproot can allow it to grow in rocky places, screes and gravel.

Mountain Sorrel
Oxyra digyna

This particular plant prefers damp or wet areas. Forming compact tufts of kidney shaped leaves and upright flowering stems can grow to30 cm in height, producing small green flowers between July and August. Its name is derived from the Greek for sour, due to the sharp taste of the leaves. The leaves being, edible and providing high levels of Vitamin C, have been used in Arctic areas to ward off scurvy.

Alpine Bistort
Persicaria vivipara

A very rare plant in Eryri, a tall thin plant capped by a clump of pink or white flowers, the flowering season being between June and August. Lower down the spike, the old flowers are replaced by purplish bulbils, from whence it usually regenerates. The bulbils prove to be a rich source of food for deer and ptarmigan.

Alpine Meadow-grass
Poa alpina

Growing up to 40 cm tall, this is a rare perennial grass that is found in gullies and high rocks with basic soils that are prone to long periods of snow cover. The leaves are broad and blunt and it has large spikelets that develop into new plantlets. Although the grass does flower, between July and August, it almost never develops seeds in Britain.

Holly Fern
Polystichum lonchitis

Found in crevices and gullies, this plant prefers basic soils and damp conditions. This fern has a small robust rhizome, the fronds develop from May onwards, and these develop to a length of between 12 -25 cm and have long spines, which give it its common name. Each frond is split into 20 - 40 pairs of leaflets with serrated edges. The name of the plant is derived from the Greek polys 'many' + stichos 'a row'; this refers to the several rows of spore cases on the plant, producing spores all through the winter: the word lonchitis 'spearlike' denotes its frond shape.

Alpine Cinquefoil
Potentilla crantzii

The name is derived from the Latin potens 'powerful', the Cinquefoil was thought to be a powerful medicinal plant. The flowers are a bright yellow and are seen between June and July. The leaf system is typically palmate; these leaves are arranged in a rosette around the base of the stem. It grows in crevices, on rock ledges, gravel and scree slopes and in some heath land communities.

Dwarf Willow
Salix herbacea

This particular kind of willow is a ground-hugging shrub, developing underground branches that form from a long creeping rhizome. The usual branches are very short and prone. The purplish flowers are seen between June and July, poking above a mass of leathery leaves with serrated edges. Usually found forming dense carpets on open hillsides; otherwise on rocky ledges and in heaths. The name is probably derived from the Celtic sal 'willow' + lis 'water'; the descriptor herbacea is illusive, as this plant is a shrub, although the smallest in Britain.

Alpine Saw-wort
Saussurea alpina

Named after N.T. de Saussure, the Swiss chemist and plant physiologist, the son of Horace Benedict de Saussure. This perennial herb has blue or purple flowers that form in dense flowers in August to September: they have a curious scent of vanilla. Found on cliffs and screes with short stems and toothed leaves with hairy white undersides.

Tufted Saxifrage
Saxifraga cespitosa

A name derived from the Latin saxum 'a rock, stone' and frango 'to break'; the secon descriptor of the name is cespitosa 'tufted', the plant certainly forms a compact cushion above a robust taproot. Each cushion is peppered with small white or yellow flowers between May and July. A very rare plant in Eryri, it grows in some localities where base rich soils can be found; often on exposed rocks and inaccessible crevices.

Mossy Saxifrage
Saxifraga hypnoides

The word hypnoides 'moss like' is a reference to the mat like nature of the plants growth. The mat of growth can serve to protect the plant from the worst of the weather, forming its own microclimate. The Mossy Saxifrage grows to between 5 - 30 cm in height and produces between three and seven small white flowers on each flowering stem. The plant flowers between May and July according to location and aspect. This plant can grow in a number of places, it is found on boulders, scree, rock ledges and other mountain environments, preferring basic soils.

 

 

 


Alpine Saxifrage
Saxifraga nivalis

Preferring wet alkaline soils, this plant can also survive ongravelly ledges and crevices. Quite a rare plant in Eryri, it has a comparatively thick and hairy stem that grows up to about 20 cm in height. The thick round-toothed leaves are arranged in a rosette around its base and have a leathery feel to them. The plant prefers basic rocks, and grows on either crevices, rocky ground or gravelly ledges.The term nivalis is s reference to snows.

Purple Saxifrage
Saxifragaoppositifolia

Growing in tufts or matted areas, this particular saxifrage has long prone stems keeping close to the ground and reaching inaccessible crevices and damp patches of calcareous soil. The plant produces pink or purple flowers from March through to the July, quite a lengthy period for mountain plants. In the name, the term oppositifolia is a reference to the fact that the tiny blue green leaves of this plant are positioned on opposite sides of the stem. Very rare in Eryri.

Starry Saxifrage
Saxifraga stellaris

Growing in moist and rocky areas, preferring acid soils, the Starry Saxifrage is found in most areas of Europe. The leaves are distinctively toothed; forming rosettes around the stem base, the plants occasionally produce tufts. The most particular feature of this plant is its flower; at the head of the stem, which may be between 5 cm and 20 cm tall. There are five white petals with two red or yellow spots near the base of the petal; although some may be unspotted. The anthers are also red or yellow, producing a quite striking little flower.

Roseroot
Sedum rosea

A plant that is often seen by rock climbers: growing in inaccessible crevices and on ledges high up on the mountain cliffs of Eryri. The taproot penetrates deep into the rock to provide anchorage and a thick stem protects it from buffeting winds, each stem can grow to over 30 cm. Somewhat reminiscent of a succulent, the leaves are thick and seem triangular in shape clustered as they are in tight rosettes up the stem. A tight head of yellow flowers are seen between May and August, the female plant has four carpels that redden gradually. The Roseroot was used as a medicinal plant by many peoples.

Moss Campion
Silene acaulis

Moss Campion is a long-lived perennial, found in all the arctic alpine regions of Europe. Preferring scree slopes, rock ledges and gravelly areas, it can also grow in moist areas if the soils are calcareous in origin. It tends to grow in dense domes or moss-like cushions, each cushion having a long taproot growing deep into cracks in the bedrock. The cushion is formed; by a great many tiny and very thin leaves; these have short stiff hairs along their edges. During the flowering season (from July to August): the surface of the cushion is mottled, by many pink and sometimes white flowers, each plant having either male or female plants. The name may be derived from the Greek sialon 'saliva' a reference to the secretion found on the stems that ward off insects; however, one may think that the term acaulis 'stemless' is a contradiction!

Alpine Meadow-rue
Thalictrum alpinum

A small frail looking plant, growing in rocky and/or wet areas, the Alpine Meadow-rue is hardier than it seems. The thin narrow stems, no higher than 15 cm, droop over with the growth of clusters of pale yellow flowers. The name may be an old Greek term for the plant, possibly from thallo 'to flourish'.

Globeflower
Trollius europaeus

A difficult name to be certain about, some experts lean towards trollius as being an old Swiss German name for the plant; others expound the theory that the name is derived from the German troll 'something round'.

Alpine Woodsia
Woodsia alpina

Avidly collected by Victorian botanists, this probably only served to amplify a decline in distribution already taking place; due to its being a relic species. Its range and population is thought to have been much greater in the periglacial or tundra period just after the last Ice Age. As the climate has ameliorated, the distribution of the Woodsia has become increasingly confined and the plant developing genetic impoverishment due to inbreeding. Named after Joseph Woods, the English Botanist; it is very rare and is listed as a Schedule 8plant with stiff penalties for disturbance.
The Woodsia prefers basic rich soils and fairly high rainfall and can grow in cracks on steep cliffs and rocks. The plant fronds are tufted, they have a general spear shaped appearance and are separated into short pair toothed leaflets that are between 3 - 10cm in length
.