Monday, August 22, 2016

Wild flowers from the fells - Jämtlanstriangeln Sylarna Summer 2016


Storulvån. The name of the river, and also the name of the adjacent Fjällstation, which was the start and finish of our four-day triangular jaunt in the fells (29/7/16 - 1/8/16). (I did the walk with Kyli and Hannah.)

As I struggled along with my too-heavy pack, I of course snapped a few common mountain plants; and here they are.

(During the actual walk my meditations mostly concerned the various dwarf willows we saw along the way, but in the end I never made time for in-depth willow study, there were too many other exciting things to do. I brought home a plastic bag of willow samples, and forgot to unbag them until they'd gone mouldy and had to be thrown away.)

Angelica archangelica

Angelica archangelica (Sw: Kvanne, En: Garden Angelica)

It's true we were only just above the tree-line at this point, but there remains an air of paradox about the sight of this sturdy vegetable in the open fell country. The places it frequents, however, are usually luscious spots on the edges of streams.

Its worldwide distribution is bizarre: a sort of line from the Himalayas and Urals through Russia and Scandinavia to the Faeroes, Iceland and Greenland: and nowhere else.

The above statement lumps together two different subspecies. The one famous as a candy, food and medicine, is this mountain plant, ssp. archangelica, sometimes known in Sweden as Fjällkvanne to distinguish it from the coastal ssp. littoralis (Strandkvanne), which is found only in Scandinavia and Iceland. [Neither are to be confused with the familiar woodland plant Wild Angelica (A. sylvestris) (see end of this post!).]

An extremely fragrant plant, attracting insects from a wide area around. Unfortunately I couldn't smell it at all;  it was far too early in our ramble for my uncertain sense of smell to have recovered from months of office air-conditioning!

The plant has been used locally as food, e.g. in Sami dishes (compare Oxyria digyna, below). The stems can even be eaten raw; they have a sweetish taste.

But its wider use in international cuisine began with its cultivation at the other end of Europe, in the marshy flatlands of Marais-Poitevin in W France. (Most sources say the cultivation began in 1602, following an outbreak of the plague, for which the plant was said to be a remedy.) One of its main uses today, aside from the familiar green candied angelica, is as flavouring of e.g. Vermouth, Dubonnet, Chartreuse and Bénédictine.

Angelica archangelica in my garden

In the UK it has never been native (hence the English name Garden Angelica) and it occurs only as an escape from cultivation; the London area is where you're most likely to run across it.

Persicaria vivipara

Persicaria vivipara (Sw: Ormrot, En: Alpine Bistort). The plants hedge their bets reproduction-wise, with hopeful sexual flowers at the top, and more reliable bulbils further down.

It works: this plant grows nearly everywhere in Sweden. Sentimental attachment probably explains why I snapped this not particularly splendid specimen, and why the resulting photo moves me as it does.

It has a wide distribution all round the northern hemisphere, getting about as far north as it's possible for a plant to go (on the north coast of Greenland).

In the British Isles, however, P. vivipara is restricted to the mountains of C Scotland and a small area of the N Pennines.

The vernacular names reflect that. The Swedish name "Ormrot", which means "snake root", is homely and obviously of popular origin. Just as obviously, the English name "Alpine Bistort" comes from the botanical community.

At least both those names are stable. On the other hand, the scientific name has proved a nightmare. In addition to Persicaria vivipara you'll also see it called Polygonum viviparum, Polygonum vivipara, and Bistorta vivipara. I'm still not really sure which name we're meant to be using.

Ranunculus acris

Ranunculus acris (Sw: Smörblomma, En: Meadow Buttercup)

Surrounded by so many plants unknown in our daily lives in lowland Britain, it was almost a surprise to spot the odd familiar species. One of them was Meadow Buttercup, here growing with Angelica archangelica. I also noticed lots of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor).

Dryas octopetala

Dryas octopetala (Sw: Fjällsippa, En: Mountain Avens)

The Dryas leaves are the fresh green gribbly-edged ones. [The larger grey-green orbicular leaves are a dwarf willow that is so unmistakable that even I can recognize it, Salix reticulata (Sw: Nätvide, En: Net-veined Willow).]

Dryas octopetala characteristically grows on dry, calcareous ground from which the snow clears relatively early. This type of species-rich vegetation is known as  fjällsippshed / Dryas-heath. We only saw it in one place, beside a pretty beck on the ascent to Blåhammaren.

The Swedish name connects it with various with other showy wild plants such as Vitsippa (Wood-anemone), Mosippa (Pasque Flower), Blåsippa (Hepatica) and Gulsippa (Anemone ranunculoides). But this one is in the Rose family, not in the Buttercup family like the others.

Also native to the British Isles, mostly in NW Scotland and the Burren.

Dryas octopetala

Last sunset on hills - from Blåhammaren, about 23:00

Blåhammaren is the smallest and highest Fjällstation in Sweden (1086m - 3562 feet). We arrived two hours late for the famous three-course dinner, but they gave us our own sitting.

While the weary hikers were sleeping, or trying to sleep, in the packed sweaty dormitories, a dozen reindeer came to graze around the buildings, and the sunlight moved round the northern horizon. The next morning it was raining heavily.

Saxifraga aizoides

Saxifraga aizoides (Sw: Gullbräcka, En: Yellow Saxifrage). It can often look more spectacular than this: especially when you find the orange and yellow forms growing side by side. By streams and springs on calcareous substrate.

Throughout the fell region. Also found in the Highlands of Scotland, Lake District, and Benbulbin in Co. Sligo.

Carex saxatilis

Carex saxatilis (Sw: Glansstarr, En: Russet Sedge).

I can't believe I've never written about a sedge before, as my list of "Botanical Entries" (to the right of this blog) seems to affirm.

Anyway this handsome sedge is common throughout the fell region in wet places with calcareous substrates. Also found in the Scottish Highlands.

The Swedish name "Glansstarr" translates as "Lustrous Sedge" or "Splendid Sedge".

Pinguicula vulgaris

Pinguicula vulgaris (Sw: Tätört, En: Common Butterwort)

The least bad of several attempts at photographing this single Butterwort flower, while balancing on narrow planks half-way across a bog.

Not specifically a fell species, it grows in wet places almost everywhere in Sweden. In the British Isles it's common in the north-west but has disappeared from much of the south and east due to agricultural drainage of wetland.

Långfil (also called Tätmjölk) is a local kind of fermented milk with a distinctive slimy or ropy texture. One way of starting the culture is rubbing the inside of the churn with the leaves of Butterwort or Sundew. This leaves a substance (it's disputed whether it's the enzymes of these insectivorous plants, or the bacteria they attract) whose effect is to make the milk proteins form into long polysaccharide chains, hence the ropy texture (which you can get rid of by stirring it before eating it). Linnaeus (Flora Lapponica, 1737) gave a different description of the method: "Some fresh, newly picked Pinguicula leaves, of any kind, are put in a strainer, and the freshly-drawn, still lukewarm, milk is poured over it."

Fermentation was a way of preserving the milk, much needed in the local transhumance culture of Jämtland, where people often spent months at a time pasturing cattle far from their homesteads.

[The Swedish Wikipedia entry for Långfil, however, states that all modern attempts to use butterwort to ferment milk have failed, the appropriate bacterium Lactococcus lactis being absent, and suggests that the much-repeated story of its former use for this purpose should be treated as a factoid. It is certain, however, that butterwort leaves have bactericidal properties and were used to clean the udders of cows.]

Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum

Pedicularis is a more significant genus up here than in the British Isles (and the Swedish name "spira" sounds much nicer than the English name "lousewort").

This one is the biggest and most magnificent species, Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum (Sw: Kung Karls spira, En: Moor-king Lousewort). Common on the edges of wet, boggy ground. Not found in the British Isles.

Lichens on stone

Typically decorative stones. I don't know anything about lichens, but the further north you go, the better they seem to get.

More lichens on stone

Hieracium alpinum growing among Alchemilla alpina

Hieracium alpinum (Sw: Fjällfibbla, En: Alpine Hawkweed)

I've made up the English name. Hawkweeds are a highly critical group and this may be better regarded as an aggregate group of microspecies (Hieracium sect. Alpina). Similar hawkweeds occur in C. Scotland. Whether they are the same species as any of the Scandinavian plants is a moot point.

Whatever, Fjällfibbla  in a general sense (whether it's one species or many) is highly recognizable up here and very common.

Alchemilla alpina (Sw: Fjälldaggkåpa, En: Alpine Lady's-mantle)

"Daggkåpa" means "dew-cape", so there is evidently some connection with the English name Lady's Mantle. I suppose these names were suggested by the pleated orbicular leaves of the lowland types (and perhaps, in the case of the Swedish name, the blob of rainwater that often collects in the middle). In the alpine species, however, these leaves are divided into finger-like leaflets.

Sedum rosea

Sedum rosea (SW: Rosenrot, EN: Roseroot). A common plant up here, and some of it was still in bloom. This one wasn't, but it looked really good in the rain.

Pedicularis lapponica

Pedicularis lapponica (Sw: Lappspira, En: Lapland Lousewort). One of my favourites, common throughout the fell region. Not found in the British Isles.

Photo taken just outside the Sylarna Fjällstation, where we stayed for two nights.

This was 1040m / 3412ft above sea level, but the Meadow Buttercup in the background was still hanging in there!

Oxyria digyna

Oxyria digyna (Sw: Fjällsyra, En: Mountain Sorrel) is a very small dock. Very common (one of the plants that grows highest, along with Ranunculus glacialis). The leaves, like those of lowland sorrel, have a fresh, sour taste. (It's added to reindeer milk to make the Sami dish "Juobmo".)

Silene acaulis

Silene acaulis (Sw: Fjällglim, En: Moss Campion).

"One of our few true cushion plants", wrote C.A.M. Lindman in Nordens Flora. This form of growth involves every stem being an identical length, so as to form a perfect defensive dome, cradling the warmth and repelling wind and snow. Each stem produces only a single flower.

When the flowers first appear they are salmon-pink, later becoming a pale violet, as here.

In Britain it's mainly a plant of NW Scotland, with outliers in the Lake District, Benbulbin and Snowdonia.

Bartsia alpina

Bartsia alpina (Sw: Svarthö, En: Alpine Bartsia).

Common in the Scandinavian fells, sometimes descending into the lowlands along river systems. Extremely local in Scotland and N England.  

A rather striking plant. "Svarthö" means "black hay", though I don't know if that's really the origin of the name,

The high fells: Tempeldalen, Sylarna

Veronica alpina

Veronica alpina (Sw: Fjällveronika, En: Alpine Speedwell).

This photo shows the flowers when they're closed. They close up whenever it rains, and up here that's most of the time. (It isn't heavy rain, just the sort of continuous light precipitation that you always get when you're up in the clouds.)

Grows throughout the Scandinavian fell region, in areas where the snow lies late. In the British Isles, restricted to a few mountains in central Scotland.

Ranunculus glacialis

Ranunculus glacialis (Sw: Isranunkel, Renblomma. En: Glacier Buttercup, Glacier Crowfoot).

This remarkable buttercup is the flowering plant that grows highest in the Scandinavian mountains. It's also the plant that grows nearest to the north pole (on the north coast of Greenland).  It's characteristically found on the lower edges of glaciers and permanent snow-patches, where there is a trickle of melt-water all summer. (On Sylarna there are three glaciers, though they're shrinking year by year.)

Occasionally a solitary plant turns up in a lowland river valley, growing from a seed that's been washed downstream.

When the flowers first open they are whitish, but rapidly darken to pink and magenta.

According to Lindman it's a favourite food of reindeer (hence "renblomma"), and I guess that's true, since there's a photo of reindeer grazing on it in Sven Kilander's 1955 book about the height limits of vascular plants on the Swedish mountains (p. 71). An unusual example of the normally-poisonous buttercup family providing pasturage!  (Though I've also been told that the root nodules of Lesser Celandine can be eaten.)

Ranunculus glacialis has never been recorded in the British Isles; not too surprising, as there's really no suitable environment for a plant that's as ice-loving as this one.

Ranunculus glacialis

This is close to the limit of higher plants. The other leaves in this photo are Oxyria digyna, Veronica alpina and Gnaphalium supinum (Sw: Fjällnoppa, En: Dwarf Cudweed). Above this,  it's nothing but moss, algae, lichens and bare rock.

Ranunculus glacialis

Ranunculus glacialis

In the high fells

Finally, a couple of shots from the return leg:

Arctostaphylos alpinus

Arctostaphylos alpinus (Sw: Ripbär,  En: Arctic Bearberry). At Spåime, on species-poor moorland. A specialist of harsh environments where the winds are too strong for snow to settle.

I wrote a separate post about this one:

Angelica sylvestris

Finally, as we descended in warm sunshine to the friendlier environs of Storulvån, I couldn't resist snapping this enthusiastic crowd of hoverflies on a just-opened umbel of the lowland Angelica species, Angelica sylvestris (Sw: Strätta, En: Wild Angelica).

We were back!


Here's my translation of Curt Lofterud's very informative booklet about this walk:

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