A perennial herb of open woodlands, wood-borders, hedge banks and trackways on thin soils overlying calcareous rock. Lowland.
S. alpina was cultivated in Britain by 1597. Although it has long been considered to be native, this is extremely doubtful; Kay & John (1995) conclude that it is a relatively recent introduction. The Gloucestershire population may have spread shortly after its discovery in 1897, but is now apparently stable, albeit maintained artificially by sowing seed. It was found in Denbighshire in 1927, but colonies there are slowly declining; remaining plants are often re-introductions. It can reappear after disturbance, however, and buried seed may exist in former sites.
S. alpina has a European Temperate distribution.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 3
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
RDB Species Accounts
Stachys alpina L. (Lamiaceae)
Limestone woundwort, Briwlys y Calchfaen
Status in Britain: ENDANGERED. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
S. alpina is principally a plant of open woodland, glades, wood-borders, tracks and hedgebanks, growing on thin soils overlying calcareous rock, and usually in sunny and sheltered locations. A wide range of associated species include Arrhenatherum elatius, Bromopsis ramosa, Geum urbanum, Heracleum sphondylium, Mercurialis perennis, Silene dioica, Stachys sylvatica and Urtica dioica.
This species is a perennial, up to 1 m tall, flowering between June and August. The seed seems to be adapted to long periods of dormancy. It will not immediately germinate after dry storage but germination can be triggered in various ways including chilling, perforation of the seed integuments, and treatment with gibberellin (Pinfield, et al. 1972). It can be invasive under garden conditions (J.M.Brummitt, pers. comm.).
British records are from only three hectads, one in Gloucestershire and two in Denbighshire (Wilson 1927). Since 1980, S. alpina has occurred in small numbers in at least eight locations within a single 1 km square near Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire. One small population (30-40 flowering stems in 1993) occurs by a track at the edge of a conifer plantation, and others have occurred sporadically in nearby woods. At its most regular site, in a lane-side hedgebank, numbers have ranged from a few individuals to more than a hundred plants during the past twenty years. However, this population is artificially maintained by collecting seed annually and sowing it into specially created bare patches (Taylor 1990a). In Denbighshire, one site was lost in about 1960, probably because of road-widening, but two plants were discovered in 1975 at a second site near Cilygroeslwyd (Brummitt 1981). However, both plants have now apparently gone, and the only ones now present are those which were grown ex situ and transplanted. In 1990, two further sites were found close by the first at Cilygroeslwyd, one holding about fourteen plants in 1994, and the other only one individual. Natural populations of S. alpina seem to be in slow decline in Denbighshire, though with some recruitment (Evans & Ellis 1994a).
Plants usually appear following scrub or woodland clearance, or other disturbance, almost certainly from long-buried seed. It seems likely, therefore, that with appropriate management, colonies could be resurrected at historic sites. Plants may persist for several years, provided that competition for light and space is not too intense. Colonies could be lost through the cessation of management or by unwitting damage: for example, a colony in Denbighshire was adversely affected by herbicide targeted at nettles. Populations on Wildlife Trusts sites in both counties are currently being maintained by intensive management, including coppicing, herbicide treatment, rotavation, seed sowing and/or transplantation.
S. alpina occurs throughout western, central and southern Europe except the Mediterranean, northwards to Germany and Wales, and eastwards to the Caucasus.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.