Sunday, 19 February 2017

Botanising in Scotland Part 5: Ben Lawers

No botany trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to the botanists' paradise that is Ben Lawers. I'm really not very good with hills (let alone mountains) due to my ongoing health problem but there were plants up there I wanted to see badly, very badly!

View from the start of the walk.
 The mountain in the centre is Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers is beyond it and not yet visible. 

This is about two hours into the climb and I'd already had enough. It's about halfway, but still not at the summit of Beinn Ghlas. It was only going to get steeper from here, we foolishly took the path directly up Beinn Ghlas not realising there was a longer, but more gently climbing route around the shoulder of the mountain. It was only the thought of what I might see at the top that kept me going!

Looking back at the summit of Beinn Ghlas. We'd been walking for three and a half hours now and our destination was in sight.

Facing the other direction and there they are, the crags of Ben Lawers! I actually had a spring in my step again now. A small downhill section to look forward to at last. There were also some plants to see here on the ridge between Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers.

Dwarf Willow - Salix herbacea

   This is one of the smallest woody plants in the world, you can see just how small by the rabbit droppings in the foreground. 

Dwarf Cudweed - Gnaphalium supinum 

Although you can't see in this photo these grassy ledges are awash with colours from mountain flowers and one of the most striking is .... 

Alpine Forget-me-not - Myostois alpestris 

The ledges are just covered in these beautiful flowers which are the most amazing bright blue...except when they are pink!

The large flowered and exceptionally hairy Alpine Mouse-ear

Alpine Mouse-ear - Cerastium alpinum

Alpine Meadow-grass - Poa alpina 

This species is viviparous, meaning just formed seeds germinate on the mother plant giving a very distinctive appearance.

 Roseroot - Sedum rosea

Net-leaved Willow - Salix reticulata

Mountain Speedwell - Verronica serpyllifolia ssp. humifusa

This orange 'stuff' was a puzzle. Moss? Lichen? Fungus? Actually it turns out to be an algae called 
Trentepohlia aurea. 

Hoary Whitlowgrass - Draba incana

 This is the flower that the thought of seeing kept me going on the long hard climb up.
It's Alpine Gentian (or Snow Gentian) very small, very blue and very beautiful. We were amazed at how may there were, we counted a good fifty plants and didn't really cover a lot of ground as we still had the summit to tackle, so our time here was shorter than we'd have liked. I was also hoping to see Rock Speedwell and Alpine Fleabane in this area but unfortunately we couldn't find either of these. Good excuse for another visit though and I was more than happy with seeing the Alpine Gentian.

Alpine Gentian - Gentiana nivalis

To give you an idea of size I gave it the 'Polo Mint Treatment'.

There were more rare plants to look for on the summit and so we made the final ascent which took another grueling half hour.

View back from just below the summit.

Moss Campion - Silene acaulis

Not looking at its best having all but 'gone over' and the same can be said for...

Mossy Saxifrage - Saxifraga hypnoides

Starry Saxifrage - Saxifraga stellaris

Mossy Cyphel - Minuartia sedoides

Rock Whitlowgrass - Draba norvegica

Unfortunately we were too late for this and as you can see it is in seed. Still great to find though.

Alpine Pearlwort - Sagina saginoides

Alpine Saxifrage - Saxifraga nivalis

Drooping Saxifrage - Saxifraga cernua

This very rare plant rarely flowers, when it does it has one large flower at the top of the plant, more usually it reproduces by bulbils as seen here.

Mountain Saffron - Solorina crocea 

A very eye-catching lichen growing around the summit. 

I'm on top of a mountain... Never thought it would happen! 

Looking back to Ben Lawers from pathway down the Shepherd's Track 
(the way we should have ascended)

The Shepherd's Path, complete with sheep, looking toward the way back, just one and a half hours walking to go.

We arrived back at the car at 7.30 having set of at 8.30 in the morning. 
Eleven hours of agony and ecstasy! Worth every excruciating step!


Steve Gale said...

Karen, this has bought a great many Ben Lawers memories flooding back. Is the car park by the visitor centre still open? I believe there was talk of closing it.

Karen Woolley said...

Hi Steve,

There's a car park but no visitor centre, it's been demolished. I believe the car park is in a different place too, There are no facilities at all anymore.Just a few interpretation boards. Which is good in many ways.

Wilma said...

Karen - I am so glad you persevered! That Alpine Gentian is most wonderful. In fact, your trek seemed like a wonderland of botany in miniature. I doubt I will ever in my life have a chance to see these things, so thank you for the exquisite photos and the commentary. Cheers, Wilma

Gibster said...

I love reading this blog, such a kick up the bum to get out there and enjoy what's all around us! I've only ever made it halfway up Ben Lawers (after Mountain Ringlets not plants) but still saw many new plant species. Glad (in a way) to learn that the visitor centre has been demolished, I thought I was going crazy when I couldn't find it last time I was there - figured senility had finally struck!

Mick Lacey said...

Wonderful stuff, this really is on my list of places to visit. Great photos by the way.

con-tata said...

I extremely love to read this blog. Thank you greatly.

Karen Woolley said...

Thanks for the kind comments all greatly appreciated.

Wilma - Same goes for me in relation to your blog and the wonderful sights of Belize.

Seth - I've added your blog to my blog roll. I visited Skye for the first time in October it'll be on my blog soon. Hope to come back there this summer. Perhaps you could help me with some site info.

Mick - You should, you won't be disappointed!

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed this post with one site crammed with so many special plants.

David said...

What a fabulously evocative account! Took me back to leading a Biology 6th form group to the top of Ben Lawers in the 70's: one of my fondest memories of teaching!