Saturday 8 October 2016

Beginners Fern Workshop in Staffordshire

A ferny bank
Image: M. Godfrey 
Hurrah! Martin Godfrey has managed to drag his attention briefly away from bryophytes and towards ferns - the bryologists' loss is the pteridologists' gain! Below is Martin's account of a beginners' workshop which he led recently at Froghall in his home county of Staffordshire. Over to Martin:

"Ferns are one of those groups that many field botanists shy away from so after a couple of workshops for the Shropshire Botanical Society I decided to take the plunge and do one for the BSBI. 

We assembled in the car park at Froghall on what proved to be a fine dry day after the heavy downpours in the previous 24 hours. The first thing that surprised me was how far folks were prepared to come to the meeting and the level of enthusiasm to sharpen up ID skills

A treat - Phegopteris connectilis
Image: M. Godfrey
"The site is primarily on limestone and quite heavily wooded with a cool shady stream valley running through the middle. It has a good cross section of the more common ferns, and a few of the pesky “Dryopteris affinis group", and just to confuse the ecologists big fertile Blechnum spicant on the base rich terrain – probably in pockets of rather more acid peat from slowly decomposing conifer debris.

"We started off with a chat on the structure of the fern frond and the features needed for ID then off to the woods to start putting things into practice. Once people know how pinnateness in fern fronds works and how sporangia are put together ID becomes a lot simpler – especially when you can discuss what you have in front of you rather than looking at book illustrations.

"A bit of a surprise for some was the idea of dimorphic fertile/infertile fronds and this caused some interesting discussion over lunch. The lunch stop also gave us the opportunity to talk about and see how Bracken produces spores (and how rare this is in practice).

"So that's where bracken spores come from!"
Image: M. Godfey
"After lunch a wonderfully soggy area produced fern gametophytes in profusion – new for many and an ideal opportunity to talk about growing ferns from spores. The treat of the day was a large stand of Phegopteris connectilis followed by the difficulty of sorting out the species in the “affinis” group – Dryopteris borreri was reasonably frequent with a couple of plants of D. affinis itself plus a couple of puzzlers to advertise the need for referees! 

"We finished off looking at wall species on an old lime kiln but, like all good BSBI folks, were distracted by a very odd looking flowering plant – a member of the Apiaceae which had been well chewed about.  Despite looking like a number of different things it turned out to be nothing more complicated than Angelica sylvestris".

Sounds like a great day - many thanks to Martin for telling us about it! Now if we can just keep him away from the bryophytes... 

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