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27 Sept 2019

New discovery on Ben Lawers

A close-up of a blade of sedge, growing on the edge of a lochan. The sky and water are a deep blue.
While surveying aquatic plants in the lochans high on the Tarmachan ridge with Jim McIntosh, the BSBI’s Scottish Officer, our ecologist Dan Watson spotted an unusual sedge.

Sedges are grass-like plants that often grow in damp or wet areas. Unlike grasses, they have solid, often triangular, stems.

At first Dan thought this was an uncommon upland variety of water sedge, Carex aquatilis. However, on closer inspection the stem was found to be too sharply angled for this species, and its hybrid with stiff sedge, Carex bigelowii, known as Carex x limula, seemed to be the best fit.

A specimen was sent to the hybrid sedge referee (there is such a person!) Mike Porter, who agreed with this identification. This is a new taxon for Ben Lawers NNR. The hybrid is very rare and currently known from only two locations, both of these further north.

It has been a great month for finding rare hybrid sedges. Our ecology team have also made the first Ben Lawers record of Carex x biharica since 1899. This taxon is only known from four other locations in Britain. Its parent species are Carex echinata (star sedge) and Carex canescens (white sedge), which both grow on Ben Lawers. A new population of Carex x grahamii has also been recorded on the NNR.

A mountain burn runs down the lush green hillside, with the peak of Ben Lawers visible in the background.
Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve

Ben Lawers NNR is an internationally important nature reserve. Although it’s better known for its rich arctic-alpine flora, it’s also home to a wealth of habitats and rare plant communities within. Regular scientific surveys are carried out at the property to maintain detailed and accurate records of this plant life, which offer immensely valuable data of changes over the decades.

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