Flora and fauna (Scottish Highlands) - streapadair

Alpine gentian [Gentiana nivalis]

Ben Lawers, 18/07/93

~ Like the Drooping saxifrage, the Alpine (or Snow) gentian maintains no more than a toe-hold in the Flora Britannica, its only other site a remote Angus glen. Unusually among mountain plants it is basically an annual, so it must compress its growing season into a few summer months, and sheep have a taste for its tender shoots. There was a 10-year experiment (1987-96) on Lawers, in which small exclosures were erected around some colonies to keep out grazing animals - for 2 or 3 years the gentian thrived, but then went into decline as the more vigorous grasses also thrived and muscled it out, the conclusion being that on balance grazing was beneficial. The flowers are highly photoreactive, and these intensely blue petals only open up when a bright sun is shining on them.