Flora and Fauna: A Flower You Would Associate with Heavy Metal – Country Life
Mountain Thought (yellow viola)
Most of us find it odd that this flower’s Latin name means yellow, while in the North Pennines it almost always has purple petals.
Yellow and cream forms exist, but are not common except in the Craven district of Yorkshire, but many have white, cream or blue as well as purple in their petals.
The name perhaps derives from the bright yellow base of the lowest petal found in all color shapes and giving the flower the appearance of a yellow center.
The solitary flower measures about 2-3 cm in diameter and has the typical pansy “face” with a broad lower petal, two lateral ones and two almost resembling rabbit ears erect at the top.
The lower three petals have darker veins, perhaps serving as nectar guides pointing towards the center. There are five green, narrow, pointed sepals behind the petals and a longer, colorful, blunt spur pointing upwards.
The leaves are oval and strongly toothed, becoming narrower along the flower stalk.
The petioles have a pair of conspicuous stipules with webbed lobes where they join the main stem. The entire plant is short and rather shrubby in appearance, reaching only about 10-20 cm depending on grazing pressure.
The plants are found in most of the highlands of Great Britain, but mostly in the Pennines, the Peak District, Wales and Scotland south of Great Glen, usually between 200m and 1000m in height altitude. They are also present in central Europe in similar habitats.
It is a plant of mountain meadows, pastures and stony soils and often grows in areas associated with the extraction of heavy metals like lead and zinc. It is often found on old slag heaps, for example, and being tolerant of heavy metals, it is known as a metallophyte or calamine species.
It can reproduce by seed, when the pollinating insects are usually bees, the resulting individual plants being quite isolated, but also vegetatively from thin underground stems or rhizomes when large patches of similar plants line the flatter areas of grassland. .
“Carpet” is an appropriate term and the color range of thoughts. Other plants, such as heather bedstraw, heather speedwell and tormentilla among the short grasses almost give the appearance of an expensive Persian carpet – surely one of the most beautiful places in our North Pennines.
Viola lutea can hybridize with certain other pansies if they are present in the region and have no doubt been used in breeding our familiar garden pansies, of which there are some 800 varieties.
If you are interested in learning more about botany, you are welcome to join the Upper Teesdale Botany Group. Contact Dr Margaret Bradshaw on [email protected] so that we can invite you to our field meetings.
Alison m donaldson