Ever since first reading about Diapensia lapponica in Scotland I was interested in going to find it. The more you learn about it the more fascinating its story becomes. My first trip searching for it didn’t go very well and I was too late to see it flowering. After further research and speaking with other enthusiasts it was time to try again. This time I took reinforcements!

What is Diapensia lapponica?

Diapensia lapponica is a small arctic-alpine flowering plant that grows in exposed and inhospitable places. It has beautiful solitary white flowers above cushions of evergreen leaves. Because it only flowers late May to early June there is only a short window to find this rare plant. In Scotland it only grows in one location up a hill on the Glenfinnan Estate. Due to it first being recorded here in 1951 and nowhere else nearby it has proved slightly puzzling. Especially since it’s found at higher altitudes and further north in the Arctic with more hostile conditions. There was a theory that had seeds arriving on the boots of Norwegian commandos training here during World War II. This has since been dropped due to the number and age of the plants growing here, but there are other theories as to why it’s just found here.

Sgùrr nan Utha

I was guiding Jimmy a regular client over the years and also a keen botanist. We arranged to do some walking that would specifically include looking for rare wildflowers in the mountains. Our first botanical adventure was to go looking for Diapensia lapponica in Scotland.

We set off planning to climb the Corbett Sgùrr nan Utha and traverse its outlying top Fraoch-bheinn. This is the area we would be focussing our search for Diapensia lapponica. On our way up Jimmy asked if we could go and look at a crag and see what was growing there. It was then that it struck us we were out looking at flowers and the hill was just a bonus!

There were lots of wildflowers to look at while we were walking and once on the ridge we spotted plenty of Trailing or Mountain Azalea. This is most commonly pink, but can be crimson or white. It’s the white Azalea variety that can be confusing with the Diapensia so we were checking them carefully. We went to the top of Sgùrr na Utha for lunch before exploring the full ridge. As we were reaching an area of quartz rich and bare rocky ridge we found what we were looking for: the home of Diapensia lapponica in Scotland. Never has the phrase “nationally rare, but locally abundant” been more accurate. There were lots of flowering plants and all looking wonderful. After spending much of the afternoon exploring the area we walked back down. It had been a fun and very successful day botanising!

Do you find wildflowers interesting? If you want to head out in the hills to look for something particular please get in touch. I’m not a professional Botanist, but I am a keen enthusiast and always happy learning more!

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