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Arctic-alpine flora

The great variety of mountain plants is why Ben Lawers NNR has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland since 1950. It’s also why it has multiple designations for its natural heritage. 

Ben Lawers NNR has the most extensive populations of arctic-alpine plants in Britain. As the term suggests, these plants are adapted to growing in harsh mountain environments. The underlying geology of Ben Lawers, with nutrient-rich rocks outcropping at high altitude, provides them with unique habitats.

Some of the species and communities at Ben Lawers are extremely rare and threatened. Of the flowering plants and ferns on the reserve, 13 are classified as nationally rare. These include alpine fleabane (Erigeron borealis), alpine gentian (Gentiana nivalis), mountain sandwort (Sabulina rubella), snow pearlwort (Sagina nivalis), woolly willow (Salix lanata) and alpine woodsia (Woodsia alpina). Ben Lawers is the only British site for bristle sedge (Carex microglochin). Species classified as endangered in the UK include rock lady’s-mantle (Alchemilla wichurae) and alpine pearlwort (Sagina saginoides).

The site is equally, if not more, important for its lower plants, the lichens and bryophytes (liverworts and mosses). With over 600 species recorded, again including a concentration of national rarities, Ben Lawers is arguably the most important individual site for lichens in Britain. Identifying lichens is a specialised skill, but even at a superficial level it’s easy to appreciate their beauty and variety.

Over 30 nationally rare mosses and 5 nationally rare liverworts have been recorded at Ben Lawers NNR, which puts the importance of the site for bryophytes in perspective. Several mosses are found nowhere else in Britain, eg Hypnum revolutum. Many of these high-altitude specialists are easily overlooked owing to their diminutive size or by being confined to ledges by grazing sheep and deer. Some of the few plants that thrive in places where snow persists may be vulnerable to climate change.

Although many of the rarities occur at high altitude, there’s huge floral diversity even on the lower slopes. Our ranger service runs guided walks to help visitors appreciate more of what they see on a visit to this remarkable place. See our Events page for details. They also run plant identification workshops for those looking to improve their own skills.