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News and views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
Issue 7 Winter 2008

Nature notes - Adapt and Survive

One April, some years ago, I was walking along the sheer tops of Cader Idris in North Wales. I needed a rest but also shelter from the wind, rain and, at one time, the brightness of the sunlight. Conditions were not only harsh, but changed rapidly from one moment to the next.

I crept into a shallow depression. There, fitting snug in a hollow between boulders, was a small cluster of purple flowers emerging from a patch of snow. I had come across the rare and beautiful Purple Saxifrage.Purple Saxifrage Its small, rounded, scale-like leaves formed a tight, low mat that trailed between stones to reduce water loss, I later found out. Also, lying low, it is more easily protected by snow in winter and, after the thaw, is confined to the layer of relatively warm, still air at the ground surface.

This adaptation to the harsh conditions has worked. Purple Saxifrage reaches 3,000 metres altitude in the sub-arctic and has a range extending to a northern latitude of 83 15N in north Greenland, one of the most northerly plant localities in the world.

Though most of us would not wish suffering on anyone, least of all ourselves, we sometimes observe that those who have been through bad times adapt and are changed. There can also be a flowering, despite the harsh conditions previously like the Purple Saxifrage on Cader Idris or those carpeting the tundra, however briefly, in the arctic summer.

The power of love

We can do no great things;

We can do small things

with great love.