Clump to small mat-forming perennial, spreading by short rhizomes. Rather variable in height, from 5-20cm tall, occasionally more. Leaves oblonglanceolate to spathulate, sometimes more variable, stalked or sessile, usually more or less hairy. Flowers bright to deep blue, up to 9mm in diameter, the calyx densely hairy, spring to summer. Europe, in the mountains, from Scotland to northern Spain eastwards to Bulgaria and the Carpathians, in open stony places, grassland and open forest up to 3000m. Not only is M. alpestris variable but there are several closely related species scarcely different, at least from a horticultural point of view; e.g. M. gallica (France), M. ambigens (Apennines), M. stenophylla, narrow-leaved (central and eastern Europe), M. asiatica which is always low-growing (Arctic and subarctic Russia). M. alpina, syn. M. pyrenaica is rather more distinct in being densely mat-forming and rarely above 10cm tall. Large-growing and nearer to M. sylvatica are M. corsicana (alpine Corsica), M. suaveolens (Balkan peninsula) and M. lithospermifolia, densely hairy, (Crimea, Caucasus and Turkey). Several cultivars grown for spring bedding are often listed under M. alpestris but all seem to be referable to M. sylvestris or hybrids with it. [Pl.283].