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Grass of Parnassus

This pretty flower, scented like honey, grows in rich wet moorland and marsh throughout Scotland, but is absent in the Western Isles.

Its range has been restricted in recent years by drainage and ‘land improvement’, and is becoming a rarer sight. Despite the name it is not at all grass-like. According to legend it grew on Mount Parnassus and was enjoyed by the cattle.

The stems are straight and upright though vertically ridged and sometimes twisted, with a tuft of long-stalked leaves growing from the base. These leaves are heart-shaped at the leaf-base and roundly pointed at the tip, 10 – 50mm in length, and with smooth edges.

They are bluish green underneath and with parallel veins running from base to tip. On the flowering stems there is often one sessile leaf hugging the stem near the base. Stems and leaves are both glabrous.

Flowers grow singly on one long stalk rising from the base of a single stem-leaf.  Each flower is cup-shaped with 5 white oval petals faintly veined with green. Each cup-shape is supported by 5 pointed green sepals.

Flowers are around 15 to 30mm in diameter. There are 5 laterally positioned stamens with white filaments and creamy anthers, and then 5 ‘false’ stamens, each divided into many thread-like filaments each ending with a glistening blob.

This is designed to attract insects with the false promise of nectar. The central ovary has 5 styles, and develops into an egg-shaped capsule containing many seeds so tiny they can be blown on the wind. 

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