Flora and fauna (Scottish Highlands) - streapadair

Drooping Saxifrage [Saxifraga cernua]

Ben Lawers, 30/07/95

~ This modest little plant is more interesting than it appears. In the British Isles it is found only here near the summit of Lawers, on a certain cliff on Bidean nam Bian, and on a hilltop in the Ben Nevis area. Its true home is beyond the Arctic Circle, and only there is it known to set seed, and reproduce sexually. A Scottish plant may produce a single plain white flower at the top of the stem, but it will be sterile, and reproduction is by means of these scarlet nodes at the leaf-junctions, known as bulbils, which drop off when ripe and have the means to grow into a new plant, perhaps carried some distance away by the wind. This method of reproduction is efficient, but carries the massive disadvantage that each plant is a clone of its parent - every plant in a locality is genetically identical to every other one - and therefore evolutionary adaptation is impossible. It would not take much in the way of climatic change to leave it defenceless and facing extinction.