Iain and Carole discuss alpines
On a cold January afternoon, 30 hardy individuals from Urr Valley Garden Club gathered to hear Drs Iain and Carole Bainbridge on the topic of Alpine Plants of Scotland.
The audience learned that an alpine plant is small, tough and ground-hugging so as to minimize the effects of wind and water loss; and that although they are generally found above the tree line, in scree or alpine turf, in Scotland they can occur in other habitats.
They are found in subalpine meadows just below the treeline, in mountainous woodland, in bogs and along rocky shores.
Scotland’s high rainfall variation from west to east has resulted in different types of alpines across the country.
Plants that can withstand a range in temperature and humidity can outcompete lowland-growing plants.
Botanists theorise that nunataks – isolated mountain peaks that project through ice fields and glaciers – formed refuges for alpines during the last glaciation and so they were able to recolonise once the ice receded.
Although Scotland does not have as diverse a range of alpines as the European mainland, a surprising number can be found and are continuing to be found and many of these tough little plants are ideally suited for the Scottish garden.
Among examples to be found above the treeline are purple mountain saxifrage, ferns (although these were depleted by Victorian plant-hunters), pink moss campion and the stemless, half-an-inch tall loiseleuria procumbens. The rare Diapensia lapponica is found in only one location, possibly two, in Scotland and was identified as recently as 1951.
Grassland alpines include blue gentian nivalis (snow gentian), white dryas octopetala and yellow saxifrage aizoides.
High sheep and deer numbers have restricted the spread of alpines in mountain meadows; therefore seed/ cuttings have been collected, grown on and planted in protected areas.
The twinflower was thought to grow mainly in the north. However, it has now been found in the Borders. In bogs and flushes, saxifragas, white bogbeans, carnivorous sundews and cranberries can be found.
The Scottish primrose, endemic in Orkney and from Sutherland to Thurso, is an alpine. Carole and Iain said people do not have to travel far to find alpines – they just need to look.