Page:Whymper - Scrambles amongst the Alps.djvu/140

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106
chap. v.
SCRAMBLES AMONGST THE ALPS.

him except his own, he must needs take note even of small things, for he cannot afford to throw away a chance; and so it came to pass, upon my solitary scramble, when above the snow-line, and beyond the ordinary limits of flowering plants, when peering about noting angles and landmarks, that my eyes fell upon the tiny straggling plants—oftentimes a single flower on a single stalk—pioneers of vegetation, atoms of life in a world of desolation, which had found their way up—who can tell how?—from far below, and were obtaining bare sustenance from the scanty soil in protected nooks; and it gave a new interest to the well-known rocks to see what a gallant fight the survivors made (for many must have perished in the attempt) to ascend the great mountain. The Gentian, as one might have expected, was there, but it was run close by Saxifrages, and by Linaria alpina, and was beaten by Thlaspi rotundifolium, which latter plant was the highest I was able to secure, although it too was overtopped by a little white flower which I knew not, and was unable to reach.[1]

  1. Those which I collected were as follow:—Myosotis alpestris, Gin.; Veronica alpina, L.; Linaria alpina, M.; Gentiana Bavarica, L.; Thlaspi rotundifolium, Gaud.; Silenc acaulis L. (?); Potentilla sp.; Saxifraga sp; Saxifraga muscoides, Wulf. I am indebted for these names to Mr. William Carruthers of the British Museum. The plants ranged from about 10,500 to a little below 13,000 feet, and are the highest which I have seen anywhere in the Alps. Three times this number of species might be collected, I have no doubt, within these limits. I was not endeavouring to make a flora of the Matterhorn, but to obtain those plants which attained the greatest height. Very few lichens are seen on the higher parts of this mountain; their rarity is due, doubtless, to the constant disintegration of the rocks, and the consequent exposure of fresh surfaces. Silenc acaulis was the highest plant found by De Saussure on his travels in the Alps. He mentions (§ 2018) that he found a tuft "near the place where I slept on my return (from the ascent of Mont Blanc), about 1780 toises (11,388 feet) above the level of the sea."

    Mr. William Mathews and Mr. Charles Packe, who have botanised respectively for many years in the Alps and Pyrenees, have favoured me with the names of the highest plants that they have obtained upon their excursions. Their lists, although not extensive, are interesting as showing the extreme limits attained by some of the hardiest of Alpine plants. Those mentioned by Mr. Mathews are—Campanula cenisia (on the Grivola, 12,047 feet); Saxifraga bryoides and Androsace glacialis (on the summits of Mont Emilius, 11,677, and the Ruitor, 11,480); Ranunculus