Cornwall Environmental Consultants Ltd

Ecologist finds very rare plant!

CEC’s ecologist John Sproull has discovered a very rare plant within a former china clay quarry on the edge of Bodmin moor.

Marsh clubmoss has always been extremely rare in Cornwall- it is known from only one other site in the county but has not been recorded since 2008. Outside the county its strongholds are in the New Forest and the heaths of Dorset; although formerly widespread in Britain it has undergone a catastrophic decline in the twentieth century and is now regarded as Nationally Scarce and Endangered.

Clubmoss close up (photo by John Sproull)

Clubmoss identified by CEC ecologist, John Sproull

Perhaps uninspiring to look at to the uninitiated, marsh clubmoss resembles a tiny conifer or fir tree growing to little more than a few centimetres high on bare mud within areas of boggy heathland. Botanically it is more like a fern than a moss and in evolutionary terms is a distant relative of the giant clubmosses which grew to a hundred feet or more during the Carboniferous period about 400 million years ago and make up the bulk of the coal deposits which we burn today.

John Sproull, one of CEC’s ecologists, got to the area where it grows at the end of a long day surveying and knew immediately that he had discovered something special. John contacted the botanical recorder for east Cornwall, Ian Bennallick, the following day for a second opinion. On visiting the site he agreed that John had found marsh clubmoss but to his amazement also found a population of stag’s-horn clubmoss a species previously considered extinct in the county!

John says:

“ I spend a lot of time in my job crawling around on my hands and knees looking for plants, but finding new populations of rare plants like this is not only really unusual and exciting but of some significance for the conservation of species countrywide.”  

The group of plants to which the clubmoss belongs, known to scientists as the family Lycopodiaceae, has a fascinating history of use. They do not bear seeds but, like ferns, produce millions of tiny spores. The peculiar characteristic of these spores has seen them used for everything ranging from coating medicinal pills, to creating on-stage pyrotechnics in magic acts. According to the old floras in Cornwall they were valued as a cure for eye disease. In the modern era clubmosses are regarded as a good indicator species for environmental quality as they show very little resistance to atmospheric pollution. The presence of marsh clubmoss in Cornwall is therefore something that we should be proud of and take steps to conserve.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 at 11:54 am and is filed under News.

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