A leisure time project is to compile a collection of photographs of mountain flowers of Britain. This is nearly complete. The next stage is to add drawings and text as aids to identification.

These flowers are a beautiful addition to the pleasures of a day walking on uplands of Britain (and for me a relief from examining ugly parasites!). There are about a hundred species depending on definions of 'mountain flower' in this enviroment. Some of them are so small amongst the background that a close-up photograph is a fine way to reveal them for others to enjoy.

crowberry flower female  crowberry flower male  crowberry flowers drawing

crowberry fruit

An example is the Crowberry, Empetrum nigrum. As a low, evergreen undershrub it is easy enough to spot but the flowers are just several millimetres across and with minute petals. Complicating this is that the female and male flowers are found on different individual plants. The leaves, like pine needles, resist harsh conditions and the female flowers are pollinated by wind passing over the conspicuous stamens of the males. This plant needs no showy petals or sepals to attract insects by sight. Crowberry fruits are a shiny black drupe; edible but unexciting. Shrubs with these berries are common enough to be an attractive food for birds and rodents, thus spreading the seeds, 8 of them per berry. These plants grow well in Scandinavia where they are a valued wild crop for use as condiments and in beverages.

cowberry fruit flowers

It is easy to become confused by the vernacular names of plants similar to the crowberry, but when their fruits have developed their full ripe size and colour and are seen with the plant's leaves, they are clearly distinguishable.

The Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) fruit is bright red and tasty; the leaves are glossy dark green and paddle shaped. Thus distinctive in all but its English name from the crowberry.

bilberry fruit

The Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ) fruit is also red and the leaves of this plant are similar to those of cowberry. Comparing  the light pink flowers mid-springtime is an easy way to distinguish cowberry from bearberry. The former have flowers as open bells, the latter's flowers are globes with a constricted opening.

 

The fruit of the Bilberry  (Vaccinium myrtillus) is dark blue, almost black but with a whitish bloom that rubs off easily. These are delicious, and best eaten in a tart or as jam. The leaves are pointed ovals, bright green, and deciduous.