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Read in: EnglishCymraeg
Plantlife’s Vascular Officer Robbie Blackhall-Miles finds an exciting new plant species for Wales. Read more about the Hares Foot Clubmoss and its discovery in Eryri in his words.
New things are always exciting, right? The first time something in your garden flowers, a new patch of Bee Orchids in an unmown lawn, a new record of something rare on your NPMS patch? How about a whole new plant species for your country?
That’s exactly what happened to me in the summer of 2021 – but first, some background.
Clubmosses are a group of plants that really excite me. They are a group of plants that have been around in one form or another since the Silurian period (that’s over 430 million years ago). We have five species here in Eryri: Alpine, Marsh, Fir, Lesser and Stag’s Horn. We had another, Interrupted Clubmoss Lycopodium annotinum, until the late 1830’s when William Wilson last saw it above Llyn Y Cwn (The lake of the Dogs) high above Cwm Idwal. By 1894 J.E. Griffith had declared Interrupted Clubmoss extinct in Wales in his ‘Flora of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire’. I have hunted for Interrupted Clubmoss now for years to no avail – I won’t give up.
A good day out in the mountains for me is a ‘four clubmoss day’. A ‘five clubmoss day’ will take me past just a couple of very specific points where I would see Marsh Clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata as well, and would force me on to a longer and circuitous route to get to the places to see the other four.
When I botanise abroad, the Clubmosses feature as high points in my adventures and I was particularly pleased to find one of our own indigenous species, Stags Horn Clubmoss Lycopodium clavatum growing high in the mountains of South Africa when I was there in 2017.
Seeing these plants, that have remained little changed for such a long time that still exist in our anthropogenic world, really excites me. I always look out for them whether they be tiny plants of Lesser Clubmoss Selaginella selaginoides growing in Calcium rich seepages or fens, or huge sprawling mats of Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum that grow high on our most exposed sheep grazed mountain slopes.
And so it was that one day in 2021 whilst walking a path that I rarely use, I spotted a clubmoss that really stood out to me. This clubmoss bore a resemblance to Stags Horn Clubmoss, but its growth habit was remarkably upright and the majority of its cones being solitary at the end of its stems (peduncles) rather than in twos or threes on the end of short stems (pedicels) at the apex of the peduncles. In the back of my mind, I remembered another species of clubmoss that had quite recently been confirmed as being present in the UK. So, using the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Code of Conduct I collected a small sample and took lots and lots of photographs.
On returning home that day I contacted a friend, David Hill, to see what he thought of the find – we were both a little confused and unhappy to declare what we thought it may be. You see, Hares Foot Clubmoss Lycopodium lagopus hadn’t been found further south than Scotland in the UK, and was considered rare there. The confusion for us was that L. lagopus and L. clavatum are very closely related and share a lot of characteristics.
The conversation continued between us for almost a year before I was able to go back to the site and see the plants with fresh cones. This time I carefully collected another sample and even more photographs and took them with me to the BSBI Botanical Conference at the Natural History Museum in London, where I thought I would be guaranteed to bump into Dr. Fred Rumsey – the man who wrote ‘the paper’ on Hares Foot Clubmoss as a UK species.
Sure enough, Fred was happy to declare this to have all the characteristics of Lycopodium lagopus and thus a new member of the Welsh flora.
Seeing our Welsh Clubmosses is exciting, finding a brand spanking new one is REALLY exciting. I had bottled up my excitement at finding this ‘something new’ for an awfully long time. The specimens had sat on my desk for nearly two years before Dr Rumsey had managed to see them. So, I am really pleased to tell you about it now.
We have six species of Clubmoss in Wales again, but not with the one we thought we may rediscover. To see them all in one walk would be a very long walk indeed so a ‘four clubmoss day’ will remain a good day in the mountains, a ‘five clubmoss day’ is still exceptional and a ‘six clubmoss day’, I am afraid, is just exhausting. One day I may be able to have a ‘seven clubmoss day’- that Interrupted Clubmoss may yet still survive somewhere in the mountains of Eryri.
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