This perennial herb grows in stony, calcareous, usually micaceous flushes (especially at the point of emergence of springs) and bogs, and rarely on wet mountain ledges and crags. It often grows on or amongst grassy tussocks. Formerly recorded below 600 m, it is currently known from five localities between 680 m (Ben Lawers, Mid Perth) and 1000 m (Beinn Heasgarnich, Mid Perth).
There has been little change in the distribution of this species since the 1962 Atlas. A record from Beinn an Dothaidh (Main Argyll) in 1976 has not been confirmed and is now regarded as dubious.
Circumpolar Arctic-montane element.
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Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 9
Reaction (Ellenberg): 7
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): -0.4
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.2
Annual Precipitation (mm): 1917
Height (cm): 35
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 5
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.11
RDB Species Accounts
Carex atrofusca Schkuhr (Cyperaceae)
Scorched alpine sedge, Seisg Ailpeach Dhòthach
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Near Threatened.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
C. atrofusca is a sedge of alpine calcareous, usually micaceous, flushes on Scottish mountains, ranging from 800 to 1100 metres in altitude, with one old record (1892) from below 600 metres. It typically occurs in open, stony flushes where plant cover is patchy and is frequently protected by a rock or tuft of Nardus stricta or Festuca ovina; its associates include Carex viridula ssp. oedocarpa, Eleocharis quinqueflora, Juncus triglumis, Pinguicula vulgaris, Saxifraga aizoides, Thalictrum alpinum, Tofieldia pusilla, Blindia acuta and Campylium stellatum. In particular sites it occurs with such rare and local species as Carex microglochin, Cerastium cerastoides, Cochlearia micacea, Equisetum hyemale, Juncus alpinoarticulatus, J. biglumis and J. castaneus (McVean & Ratcliffe 1962). It also grows in closed flushes with a range of sedges including Carex dioica and C. saxatilis. Specially favoured are sites where spring water first emerges on hillsides. It is not associated with, and so ought not to be confused with, Carex atrata, which is a plant of rock ledges, though the two species can be quite similar morphologically.
This shortly-rhizomatous perennial flowers in mid- to late summer, producing ripe fruit between July and September. It is readily recognised by its large rounded purple- or red-black nodding female spikes.
It is known in five localities: two in the Ben Lawers range, one each on Ben Heasgarnich and on Aonach Beag, and one in the Bridge of Orchy Hills, Argyll. A record from Rum is now discounted. There is no information on the Argyll locality since the original find in 1976. In the four other localities, colonies are scattered over large areas of ground with populations numbered in hundreds (and at two localities, thousands) of flowering plants. There are very likely more colonies and even localities to be found. For example, in 1994 a new colony with 300 plants was found 500 metres west of a previously known one. Like some other montane plants C. atrofusca has good years when it is more likely to be found. One monitored colony, for example, held five flowering plants in 1992, yet more than 900 in 1993.
Despite some collecting, some trampling and much grazing, the species does not appear to be under any immediate threat, and the total population is likely to have changed little over many years.
Outside Scotland it also occurs in Scandinavia, the Pyrenees and Alps, Greenland and arctic North America.
R. E. Thomas
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1982. Sedges of the British Isles. Botanical Society of the British Isles Handbook no. 1, edn 2.
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.