Montane Eyebright

Latin name: Euphrasia officinalis subsp. monticola

Family: Scrophulariaceae

Eyebrights are a group of wildflowers that are key to a suite of plant species found on upland hay meadow habitat. Many botanists shudder at the mention of Eyebright identification because the differences between the species are so subtle, so to identify sub-species takes something special. But there are a select few such as Alan Silverside and John O'Reilly who enjoy this challenge. The rest of us rely on specialists for these difficult groups.

It flowers on upland hay meadows amongst Globeflower, Devil's bit scabious, Marsh valerian, Meadowsweet, Water avens and Marsh hawk's-beard in late June and early July. It has unusually large flowers and paler grey-green leaves compared with most other eyebrights. It is very similar to Euphrasia officinalis subsp. rostkoviana but can be distinguished by the presence of long glandular hairs on the upper stem and leaves. These can be seen with a x20 hand lens or under the microscope.

Nationally it has been found on upland hay meadows in Northern England and Southern Scotland at altitudes of between 200-455m. Locally, there have been pre-1990 historic records for it in the Malhamdale, Langstrothdale, Garsdale and Sedbergh areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park but it was suspected that it may have been under recorded due to a shortage of specialist surveyors. So in 2012, YDNPA commissioned a comprehensive search for montane eyebright in upland hay meadows. It was found at five sites in Langstrothdale and Ribblesdale with scope for further sites, a training course was held for local botanists and recommendations have been made for its conservation management.

At risk?

Its status on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain (2005) is Vulnerable. It is a UKBAP priority species and is a Local BAP species in Nature in the Dales: 2020 Vision. Thought  to be in decline due to the loss of upland hay meadow habitat due to agricultural improvement.

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Still summer’s song beats in my blood Alan Hartley

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