visitors to the Highlands must have been struck by the huge areas of
bogland to be found in almost every situation, whether in valley bottoms,
on gently sloping hillsides, or on elevated plateaux.
us must have been disagreeably aware of them when tramping over the
mountain sides, and many the long detours one has been forced to make to
avoid these treacherous areas of water, mud and moss. All visitors must
have also been struck by the sight of Highland crofters cutting peat sods
for fuel along the drier edges of many a quaking bog.
is due this peat formation? Why are such vast areas of mountain land
covered by bogs? The answer to these two questions is bound up in the
climatic factors of rainfall and temperature.
warmer, well-drained soils, countless numbers of unseen organisms are
ceaselessly toiling to break up plant and animals remains into substances
such as ammonia and nitrates, chief among them being the soil bacteria.
The ammonia is oxidized into nitrites by a bacterium call Nitrosomonas,
and these are then oxidized by another bacterium, Nitrobacter, into
nitrates. Thus all organic material disappears in the course of time, the
products of its break-up enriching the soil.
bacteria responsible for this can only do their valuable work in the
presence of oxygen, and at a suitable temperature, hence they cannot work
in soil which is waterlogged, as the water drives all the air out of the
Scottish Highlands are a region of very heavy rainfall which is
distributed throughout the year. Wherever natural drainage is blocked,
the soil becomes waterlogged, with the result that flat, relatively
low-lying plateaux, such an Rannoch Moor, the bottoms of valleys, the
shores of lakes and gentle slopes become soaked with water which is often
visible at the surface. At the same time the average temperature over
most of the area is rather low.
Conditions such as these are not conducive to the oxidizing bacteria, and
so vegetable remains instead of being broken up endure in their fallen
state. They form acids which attack the mass of undecayed vegetation and
blacken it, but it is not reduced to mineral salts, with the result that
year after year the leaves and stems of heather, moss and fern add layer
on layer to the waterlogged soil.
the pressure of the upper layers presses the lower layers into a hard
compact mass which can be cut into blocks, and drying can be used as
centuries have passed the pressure increases until the lower peat becomes
a brown coal-like substance called lignite. Such a layer buried under
huge masses of soil and rocks will become real coal after the passage of
thousands of years.
like a sponge, holds vast quantities of water and in course of time a deep
peat bog may be formed. This is an area of liquid plant remains covered
by bog moss, but although the surface appears quite firm, it is a
death-trap to the unwary as the drier surface layers cover a mass of
liquid into which the poor unfortunate sinks without hope of succour.
the concentration of acid in the soil, the lack of oxygen and of mineral
salts, peat is a very infertile soil, which cannot support trees and is
shunned by most herbaceous plants.
plants, however, have become specialized to this habitat, as for example
the insectivorous plants which depend for nitrates upon the insects they
catch. For this reason the Butterworts and Sundews are abundant in these
bog plants are the Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris); the
Bog Myrtle (Myrica Gale); The Cloudberry (Rubus Chamaemorus):
the Marsh Cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris); the Bog Violet
(Viola palustris); the Cranberry (Vaccinium Oxycoccus); the
Bog Whortleberry (V. fuliginous); the Dwarf Birch (Betula nana);
the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) and the Scottish Asphodel
(Tofieldia palustris). Several species of Sedge, conspicuous among
these being the Cotton-grass, are abundant in the bog lands.
plants show xerophytic adaptation due mainly to the exposed wind-swept
situations, not, as formerly believed, to the acid soil.
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
plant is a very beautiful one and is abundantly common in the Highlands,
being found I bogs throughout the whole area and attaining a considerable
altitude. It flowers late in the year and one may often come across its
chaste white flowers as late as October in the milder werst.
of Parnassus possesses a very short rootstock which is but slightly
imbedded into the mosses and mud of the bogs it inhabits. The leaves are
all radical and are produced on long, up-curving stalks, which take them
above the damp air immediately above the surface of the bog. They are
smooth and shining so that water vapour which condenses upon them will
immediately run off.
midst of the leaves rises a slender flowerstalk, which attains nine inches
to one foot in height and possesses a single sessile leaf which is
produced half-way up the stem. The stem is crowned by a single large,
pure white flower, the petals of which run down towards the nectarines.
flower possesses a tiny clayx of five small ovate sepals, whilst the five
petals form a large saucer-shaped corolla which is very conspicuous. More
internally we find the five stamens, and beyond them five peculiar objects
which are actually modified stamens. They are flattened structures from
which protrude several appendages which are for all the world like little
golden-headed pins in a pin-cushion. These appendages form a fence around
the pistils, and the nectarines are found at the base upon their inner
side. In the centre of the bloom, we shall find the ovary with its four
reason for these modified stamens is rather a mystery. The Grass of
Parnassus is pollinated by flies, which may often be seen licking the
golden shining knobs as if they expected nectar to be secreted, in which
hope they are disappointed. It may be that they perform the function of
false nectarines to attract the flies, or on the other hand they may act
as a fence which forces the flies to approach the real nectarines in a
certain fashion which makes sure that transported pollen if left upon the
stamens move in over the stigmas on by one until all the pollen has been
shed, when they return to their original position. The stigmas then
mature and become receptive.
the chief visitors, visiting the flowers both for pollen and nectar.
The Bog Myrtle (Myrica Gale)
be the number of hikers and walkers in the Highlands who do know the Bog
Myrtle, for apart from its widespread distribution and its abundance, the
sweet fragrant odour which issues from every bog makes the plant obvious
before it is actually seen. For, no matter where we may walk in the
Highlands, except at great elevations, we must meet with the bog myrtle
and its odour is a very part of the Highland scene. It is one of those
odour which form the complex smell of the Highlands, that nostalgia-giving
perfume composed of bog myrtle and peat, of pine and heather, that tang of
sea air and the cool breeze of the mountains which assails one as soon as
one alights from the train, and warns the traveller that he has once again
returned to the Highlands. That perfume which one can smell long after
one has returned to the city, as if it would pull us back to the purple
moors and brown mountain sides, to the black pines and the silver lochs.
Myrtle itself is not a very attractive plant. It has no beautiful flowers
or beauty of form and yet for all that Nature has endowed it with this
glorious perfume contained in certain specialized cells in the leaves and
It is an
inhabitant of wet, boggy places and its roots delve down into the mosses
and peat to find a suitable anchorage. It attains two to three feet in
height although at higher altitudes it is considerably smaller.
brown, slender, woody branches are covered with lanceolate rounded
leaflets which are usually rather downy upon the under surface and contain
numerous resinous cells. The downy under surface is, of course, nature’s
means of protecting the stomata from excessive condensation from their
boggy surroundings. These leaves are shed in the autumn.
flowers of the Bog Myrtle are very unattractive, consisting of small,
brown, stalkless catkins which are formed along the extremity of the
branches often before the leaves have commenced to grow. They are
dioeciously, i.e. the female flowers are produced on one plant and the
male flowers upon another, as in the case of the willow.
catkins, which are longer than the females, are composed of many brown,
imbricated scales, and have no petals or sepals. Six to eight stamens are
produced in each scale, the anthers being almost stalkless.
female catkins consist of two ovaries within each scale, at the base of
which the vestiges of a perianth may be seen. They are crowned by two
stigmas produced upon long styles.
catkins produce no nectar and, from the length of the styles, it is
obvious that they are fertilized by wind-borne pollen. This explains why
the flowers bloom early in the year before the leaves are fully formed.
fertilization the female catkins form a small resinous, nut-like fruit
containing one seed. The resinous coat protects the seed in its wet
surrounding until such time as the warmer weather makes germination
possible. If the seed falls into water it is well protected until such
time as it drifts upon a bank of soil and can commence an independent
The Cloudberry (Rubus Chamaemorus)
member of the Rubus genus is quite a different plant from the
others already described (see Chapter XII). It is to be found fairly
frequently in mountain bogs and may attain considerable altitudes, and I
have found it on Cairngorm at 3,500 feet.
produces a large creeping rootstock in comparison with which the above
ground portion of the plant seems ridiculously small. This is another
example of how mountain plants have become prominent geophytes.
ground are produced short stems which seldom attain six inches in height
and are often much less. I have gathered plants in the Cairngorm at 3,500
feet in which the whole plant did not exceed two inches in height.
leaves of this species are not divided and are large and rounded, or often
kidney-shaped with a white cottony down on the under surface which
protects the stomata from the damp vapors continually arising from their
flowers are large and conspicuous and are produced singly on a terminal
peduncle. Their pure white colour and spreading petals make them easily
seen and they are visited for their honey by bees.
flowering, a beautiful orange-colored fruit is formed, and as it is very
finely flavored it is much sought after for jams and jellies.
is Cloudberry is probably derived from the fact that the species is found
in those regions where clouds cover the sky for many days of the year.
The Marsh Cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris)
It is a
fairly common plant in many parts of the Highlands, being found in peaty
bogs, on the edges of lakes and in marshy places in many of the lower
coastal regions, and in the valleys and glens.
It is a
peculiar looking plant as it often assumes a bluish-purple hue, the stems,
glowers, and even leaves often sharing this colour.
perennial rootstock sends up weak stems which are rather creeping at the
base, where they often send out adventitious rootlets. They become more
erect towards the extremity, but usually sprawl across the surrounding
plants and mosses.
leaves are produced on long stalks and consist of five almost equal,
oblong leaflets arranged like the fingers of a hand and are either quite
smooth above with soft hairs below, or are hairy on both surfaces. As
with the meadow sweet this is to guard against condensation.
flower which terminate long stalks are rather strange, being of a dull
purplish colour often approaching a brownish tinge. Like the Water Avens
they possess a double calyx which is usually tinged with purple, and is
longer than the corolla. The yellow anthers are conspicuous against the
dull purple background of the petals are the main attraction to insects.
They possess much nectar and, as in the case of the Water Avens, large
bees are probably the chief benefactors.
Bog Violet (Viola palustris)
difficult to pick out the most beautiful species in this family of lovely
plants. No one can say that the gloriously perfume Sweet Violet is more
beautiful than the yell Mountain Violet with its large show flowers, or
than the Dog Violet whose numbers may tint the woodland banks with blue.
I am sure, however, that most people will agree that the demurely
attractive Bog Violet can hold its own with any member of the family.
visit’s the bogs in May, one may be rewarded by the sight of tufts of long
stalked, heart-shaped, shiny leaves from the midst of which arises a
slender stalk crowned by a delicate, lilac-blue flower. This is the Bog
possesses a long, slender, creeping rhizome which may extend for a
considerable distance through the soft peat and bog mosses, and at
intervals gives off slender white roots which push down into the peat,
whilst tufts of leaves are given off into the air.
leaves have beautiful crenate edges and are completely smooth and shiny.
flower has the structure of the typical violet, but is very small, the
lilac petals being delicately marked with dark veins, whilst the spur is
very short. The flowers are visited by small bees.
plants also produce cleistogamous flowers in the same way as the Wood
Sorrel, and these ensure that seed is set if the showy flowers are not
visited by insects, as must often happen in bad season.
typical bog plant is the Cranberry (V. Oxyoccus), which may be
found, if one is lucky , in some Scottish peat-bogs. I say ‘if one is
lucky’ because this plant is rather local in distribution, and is not to
be found in every peat-bog that one may chance upon.
very difficult from the other members of the Heath Family that we have
dealt with, but shows its affinity to the whortleberries by its very
similar red fruit.
Cranberry possesses very slender, wiry stems which creep over the surface
of the bog, climbing over the mosses and other small plant and often
forming matted carpets. The stems send out roots at intervals.
leaves are evergreen, very small and egg-shaped, and their xerophytes
natures is shown by the fact that their edges are rolled over as in the
case of the Trailing Azalea and the Heaths. Thus most of the stomata on
the under surface are enclosed between the rolled-in surfaces. The under
surface is grayish-blue in colour from a waxy covering which prevents
water soaking the surface and blocking the stomata. This s a very
necessary precaution for a plant creeping over a wet surface.
flowers are solitary at the summit of a long, slender, drooping peduncle.
Unlike the other whortleberries the corolla is not campanulate or
vase-shaped, but instead is deeply divided into four bright red segments
which spread outwards and are often recurved, with the result that the
stamens are fully exposed. They are visited by small bees, and flies
which pollinate them.
flowers are followed by bright red berries which are greedily devoured by
grouse and blackcock which are instrumental in distributing the seeds.
Whortleberry (V. uliginosum) is a very different plant, but much
more common and it may be found at considerable altitudes in the
resembles the Whortleberry (V. Myrtillus) (see Chapter XI) very
much, but may be distinguished from that species by the fact that its
branches are almost cylindrical and not angular, it is also much smaller,
more woody and more branched, the leaves being smaller, but thin and
deciduous. The flowers are very similar, whilst the fruit cannot be
distinguished by size or colour.
Dwarf Birch (Betula nana)
another shrubby plant which, like the Bog Myrtle, prefers bogs for its
habitat. It is a very different plant from its relative, the Silver
Birch, and rarely attains the stature of a tree, and although luxuriant
specimens twenty feet high may be sometimes found, it does not usually
exceed three to five feet.
is at once known by its leaves, which are different from those of any
other British shrub. They are very short, rarely more than half an inch
long, almost circular in form with beautifully crenated margins, dark
green in colour and completely smooth and shiny.
catkins are similar to those of the Silver Birch, but are very small, the
males ones being oblong in form, whilst the females are thinner and only
about a quarter of an inch in length.
wind pollinated and the seeds are winged as in the case of the Silver
Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum)
plant is very abundant throughout the Highland area and is often the
dominant member of the vegetation. Before the flowers are in bloom, the
plants appear like those of rushes; however, the Bog Asphodel is a member
of the Lily Family.
rootstock is tough and woody, and buried in the mud and peat, giving rise
to a stiff, erect stem about six inches in height, the lower part of which
is covered by the remains of the dead leaves of other season.
actual leaves are narrow, flattened and grass-like in form, and are
arranged in two rows on each side of the stem, in much the same way as
those of the Iris. They are glabrous, deep green and shiny, and when the
plants are growing in large colonies, the resemblance to some species of
sedge is very marked.
flowers are produced at the summit of the stem to form a dense spike. The
perianth is constructed of six members, each of which is lanceolate,
sharply pointed, widely spreading, green on the outer surface and bright
yellow on the inner one, hence when the flowers are fully out the spikes
are very conspicuous.
flowers resemble those of the Jointed Rush or Toad Rush, and for this
reason some botanists have placed this plant in the Rush Family.
stamens are beautiful objects, their filaments being covered by a thick,
white wool. The ovary is very pointed and terminated by a single stigma.
The flowers are visited by flies, which are probably the chief pollinating
fertilization the flowers are followed by long, orange-read capsules.
Hundreds of plants, each with its spike of orange-red fruit, make a
delightful splash of colour in the autumn, when most bright hues have
faded from the bog lands
Scottish Mountain Asphodel (Tofieldia
resembles the Bog Asphodel, but is much smaller in all its parts and much
less common. The leaves are in two rows, and are sword-shaped and very
flowers, which are greenish-yellow in colour, are produced in dense,
terminal spikes and are very similar in structure to those of the
usually found in elevated stations and is rarely found below the 500-feet
Bog Orchid (Malaxis paludosa)
Highland bogs have also their own orchid, a tiny plant to found in
sphagnum-bogs, here and there throughout the whole area. It is a very
difficult plant to discover, because the flowers are green in colour and
hence lose themselves against the bright green background of mosses.
carefully extract the plant from its mossy bed, we shall find that it
consists of a tiny bulb suspended among the lower moss stems and anchored
by several fine roots given off from the base of the bulb. These toots
ramify among the mosses and do not enter the soil. It thus resembles
those tropical, epiphytic orchids which perch upon the branches of trees
and have no contact with the soil.
summit of the bulb arise three or four oval, concave leaves. If we
examine them we shall find that the upper part is fringed with minute,
greenish tubercles. These are actually bulbils and from some of them, if
we look closely, we may see the rudiments of two or three leaves. The
tubercles are freed by the decay of the leaf margin and they drop off to
form new plants. This is yet another example of vegetative reproduction.
flower-stalk may be four inches in height in luxuriant specimens, but is
often no more than two inches high. It is terminated by a slender raceme
of very small, greenish-yellow flowers.
examine a single flower under a lens, we shall see that there are three
narrow, outer, perianth segments (sepals), two pointing upwards and
downwards. There are three petals, two very minute and spreading
laterally, and the third forming the lip (labellum). The latter is
remarkable because instead of being pendent it is erect and forms a hood
over the stigmas and anthers.
flowers are pollinated as in the case of the other British orchids (see
Chapter XX). In this plant, however, each anther cell contains a pair of
pollinia which are in the form of very think leaves of waxy pollen, the
grains of which never separate.
of their small size and inconspicuous colour, the flowers are highly
attractive to insects and most of the flowers in the spike are usually
little plant is interesting as it is the only British representative of
the Malaxeae tribe of orchids, which includes a large number of
magnificent tropical species.
Marsh St. John’s-wort (Hypericum elodes)
this lovely little plant, we must confine our search to the spongy bog
lands of Argyll and the Hebrides, for it belongs to the Atlantic flora and
is not found far away from the influence of that ocean.
found it only once in a mossy bog in Argyll. I shall never be in any
doubt as to its identity if I chance on it again, for it has a strong
disagreeable, resinous odour which is difficult to remove from the hands.
It is also remarkable in being covered with white woolly hairs, although
inhabiting wet saturated places.
creeps for about one foot over the surface of the bog and roots at the
nodes. It is clothed with a thick mantle of white hairs as are both sides
of the round, opposite leaves, which clasp the stem by their bases. The
hairs help to keep the leaf surfaces free from water, which would
otherwise clog the stomata and impede gaseous exchanges. Hairy leaves are
met with in other bog and marsh plants such as the Hairy Willow-herb and
the Water Mint.
turn upwards at their extremities and produce a few-flowered, leafless
cyme of pale, yellow flowers. The sepals are edged by a fringe of
glandular teeth which effectually bars further progress to creeping
insects such as ants.
flowers are visited by bees and flies for their pollen, no nectar being
Marsh Penny-wort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris)
creeping perennial is to be found throughout the Highlands and is fairly
common in the lower marshes and bogs and is rarely found above 1,500 feet.
our first acquaintance with this plant is a mass of round, shiny leaves
covering the mosses and other lowly herbage of the bog. The stems are
only apparent if we pluck a handful of moss, when we hall find that each
leaf is attached to a long, weak stalk, which in turn arises from a
slender, creeping, white stem. The latter creeps in all directions among
the mosses and gives off bunches of fine roots at the nodes. The plant is
perfectly specialized to its habitat and its delicate stems and roots are
kept moist and protected from drought and cold by the soft blanket of
leaves are quite round, with beautifully crenate margins, and are peculiar
in being attached to the stalk at their middle point; such leaves are
known as peltate.
axils of the leaves arise short, leafless stalks which are terminated by a
single tiny head of minute flowers, with sometimes one or two whorls lower
come as a great surprise to my readers to know that this plant belongs to
the Umbelliferous Family. The tiny flowers remain concealed in the mosses
and are self-fertilized, although small creeping insect may accidentally
cross-fertilize them in crawling over the blooms.
visit any large stretch of bogland in summer; one can pick out any corner
of the Highlands one chooses. My choice would be a lovely stretch of
green moss and running water near the shores of Loch Coruisk in Skye, in
the very shadow of the Black Coolins. Others may prefer that lonely and
yet strangely beautiful area, where Rannoch Moor runs up to meet the Black
Mountains; here you can pick and choose, as there are bogs everywhere. No
matter what place you choose, you will be certain of finding most of the
plants described here.
arrived at your bog, you will probably be struck by a host of nodding
silky white tassels, shining in the sun and swaying gracefully in the
wind. This lovely sight is caused by the fruiting spikes of the Cotton
Grass, the seeds of which are surrounded by very long, silky hairs.
Cotton Grass (Eriophorum vaginatum)
two species in Britain, the Hare’s tail Cotton Grass (Eriophorum
vaginatum) and the Common Cotton Grass (E. plystachion).
If we dig
up a plant of the Hare’s-tail Cotton Grass from the soft peat, we shall
find that it possesses a long whitish rhizome, giving off many tufts of
roots and at intervals leaves and stems.
leaves are cylindrical in form, the edges being rolled up on each other.
This is, of course, a xerophytes adaptation, and thus when temperatures
are low and strong winds are sweeping the bogs, the plants run no risk of
are terminated by a dense spike of long, silky hairs. If we had visited
the bog in May, we should have found that the silky tufts were not in
evidence, instead each stem would have been found to be terminated by a
yellowish spike of flowers, similar to those of a sedge except for the
fact that both pistils and stamens occur in the same flowers.
If we had
dissected out a flower, we should have found that it was composed of
olive-green bracts surrounding three stamens on long, slender filaments,
and a tiny ovoid ovary surmounted by a long, trifid stigma. Around each
ovary would have been seen several short bristles, and it is these which
lengthen after fertilization to form the silky tufts so conspicuous in
searching among the plants of Cotton Grass, we may notice many stouter
looking plants bearing several head of hairs instead of a solitary one.
This is the Common Cotton Grass. It is very similar to the preceding, but
the spikes of flowers are produced in an umbel which is overtopped by one
or two long green pointed bracts.
seed the many dense tufts of hairs, which may exceed one and a half inches
in length, form a very beautiful object indeed.
examine the many different inhabitants of our particular bog, we may
notice masses of stiff, rush-like stems terminated by handsome, dark,
shining brown, dense heads of flowers. This is the Bog-rush (Schoenus
nigricans) in which the flowers are similar to those of the sedge, but
are not unisexual. Each stem is terminated by two or three brownish
bracts which have long, stiff points and overtop the spikes. The leaves
are small and not very conspicuous, forming dense tufts at the base of the
of fine, wiry stems about nine inches high and producing a terminal spike
of pale, almost white, spike lets betray the presence of the White
Beak-sedge (Rhynchospora alba), which produces one or two small,
lateral spikes well below the terminal one, whilst a long fine, greenish,
pointed bract overtops each spike.
also be attracted by another plant producing a head of very dark brown,
almost black, spike lets. Its leaves are small and cylindrical, whilst
the flowers are partially concealed by large, brownish bracts. This the
Narrow-leaved Blysmus (Blysmus rufus), which is very abundant in
the Scottish Highlands.
these particular species of the Sedge Family, we may find many different
species of the real Sedges (Carex). We have over seventy species in
Britain, many of them being bogland plants and many of them are extremely
abundant. Their general characteristics have already been described in
the chapter on the Mountain Pastures, and it would be out of place in this
book to attempt to describe the numerous species, but those who are
interested and have plenty of patience, and would like to discover the
names of the different varieties, must refer to a British flora.
interesting and beautiful collection may be made of these plants, and
although at first the various species appear very similar, it will be
found that each one has an individuality of its own. Their search and
discovery will add much interest to many wearisome tramps across the
desolate spots of the Scottish mountains.
I may add
there that to those of you who wish to discover all there is to know about
Highland botany and plants, and who posses a microscope and plenty of
patience, there is a large field of discovery open among the mosses and
their close relatives the liverworts. These lowly plants make up a large
part of the mountain flora and many are peculiar to the Highlands.
interesting ferns, club mosses and horsetails may be found on the Scottish
mountains, so that there is plenty of scope for those who would study our
own mountain plant life. The search for these plants will take you into
many a spot which would not be visited under other circumstances, whilst
the arrangement and study of your collections will give you untold joy and
happiness during the long winter evenings when all Nature is sleeping.