Friday 31 August 2018

Autumn treats for botanists

Whether you'll be in the UK or in Ireland this autumn, we have two lovely indoor meetings for you!

Rory and some of the gang at the
2017 Irish Autumn Meeting
Image: M. Long
For botanists who will be in Ireland on 22nd September, the BSBI Ireland Autumn Meeting 2018 (including Irish AGM) is taking place at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Irish Officer Maria Long tells me that "the plan for the day includes a talk by Úna FitzPatrick on the pilot ‘Rare plant monitoring scheme’ run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, a report back on the Charophyte Workshops run earlier this year, a session by Paul Green entitled ‘Atriplex around the Irish coast’, and lots more". 

The event is aimed at everyone who wants to know more about wild flowers in Ireland, regardless of whether they're a botanical expert or a BSBI member. It runs from 10am to 5pm, it's free and booking is not required, so head over to the new Irish Autumn Meeting webpage to find out more. 

Vegetative ID session with John Poland
at the 2016 BSBI Recorders' Conference
Image: R. Mabbutt
For botanists who will be in Britain between 12th and 14th October, the 2018 BSBI Recorders' Conference is taking place at FSC Preston Montford. This event is residential (so not free, sorry!) and it's aimed at active recorders (whether advanced botanists or just starting out with recording). 

There’s a selection of 13 different workshops or drop-in sessions to choose from on subjects such as recording docks, brambles, oraches and firs, and there are sessions on dandelion and grass ID for beginners; there are 11 talks, ranging from Tim Rich & Andy McVeigh on new Gentianaceae taxa to Geoffrey Hall on ‘citizen science and the recorder’ to Pete Stroh on 'Atlas 2020: the final countdown'. 

There’s a field trip on the final day with John Poland to road-test his new Twig Key, and of course there will be Summerfield Books’ pop-up shop to browse and lots of networking opportunities. To find out more and to book your space, head to the Recorders Conference page

We like to think that we offer botanists a range of indoor and outdoor meetings to suit all tastes, wherever you live across Britain and Ireland. But if you're sitting at home thinking "Why oh why do they never have meetings in my area to help me ID my favourite group of plants" - email us and we'll see what we can do! BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee meets next month to plan next year's programme so we're keen to hear your suggestions.  

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Flora of Great Britain and Ireland: special offer for BSBI members

We were delighted to receive this note from Philip Oswald:

"The last of the five volumes of Peter Sell’s and his long-term colleague Gina Murrell’s Flora of Great Britain and Ireland was published by Cambridge University Press on 12 April this year, the culmination of over 30 years of dedicated labour based on the Cambridge University Herbarium (CGE), where Peter was employed from 1944 till 1997 and continued to work after his retirement; when he died in 2013 a small team of his friends undertook to see the last two volumes through the press.

"This definitive Flora provides detailed accounts of the native species, naturalised species, frequent garden escapes and casuals found in Britain and Ireland, including some newly described ones. 

Gina Murrell delivers her address at this year's
event celebrating the publication of the
final volume of Sell & Murrell's Flora.
Image: P. H. Oswald
"Full keys and descriptions enable the user to name all plants occurring in the wild and some ornamental trees and shrubs. For the first time, accounts of all the large apomictic genera are included. 

"Each species entry begins with the accepted Latin name, synonyms and English name. A detailed description follows, with the flowering period and chromosome number. Separate descriptions are provided for infraspecific taxa and many hybrids. 

"The status, ecology and distribution (including worldwide distribution) of the taxa are also given. 

Martin (son of Max) Walters &
BSBI Membership Secretary Gwynn
Ellis, who was the indexer of all five

volumes of  'Sell & Murrell',
 at the celebratory event,
Cambridge, June 2018
Image: P. H. Oswald
"Black and white line drawings illustrate an extensive glossary and illuminate the diagnostic features in several genera. 

"Volume 1 includes historical and taxonomic introductions to the whole project and a combined index of accepted names and selected synonyms of families and genera in all five volumes. 

"Katrina Halliday of Cambridge University Press and Lauren Gardiner of the Cambridge University Herbarium organised a celebration of the publication of the final volume of the Flora of Great Britain and Ireland on 28 June 2018, at which Gina thanked all those responsible and outlined the history of the project. 

"The text of her address has been added to the tributes to Peter delivered at the event to celebrate his life on 18 July 2014, which are on the BSBI website's Obituaries page.

"With the approval of Cambridge University Press, Gina Murrell and Peter Sell’s son Tim Sell, Peter’s fascinating discussion of variation on pages xxxiv–liii of Volume 1, with many examples from his unique first-hand experience over many years, is available as a downloadable pdf from the BSBI website: click on Variation in Sell & Murrell’s Flora

Gina Murrell and Peter Sell in
the Herbarium, Cambridge, 2011
Image: P. H. Oswald
"Publication dates are as follows: Volume 1 – 12 April 2018; Volume 2 – 18 December 2014; Volume 3 – 12 February 2009; Volume 4 – 6 April 2006; Volume 5 – 10 April 1997.

"BSBI Members can receive 20% off all five volumes of Sell & Murrell’s Flora. When ordering go to and enter FLORA at the checkout".

Many thanks to Philip for this note and for arranging the 20% discount for BSBI members.

Monday 27 August 2018

Scots Pine: in history and in Byron's Gin

Scots Pine
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Ancient pollen deposits suggest that Scots Pine is native to north-west Scotland (north of the Highland Boundary Fault) and forests of this beautiful tree once covered much of the Highlands.

Flora Celtica tells us that "the deteriorating climate, from the Mesolithic era onwards, did much to favour the development of bogs at the expense of pine forests from around 9000BC". The next impact on the forests occurred from the C17th onwards, as human populations increased and pines were increasingly felled for timber and transported southwards. Huge numbers of logs could be floated down rivers such as the Dee and the Spey when they were in winter spate. Once the timber reached the Central Belt, it was used to make cladding for houses, for furniture and for naval uses (oars, masts, spars and bowsprits).

Other parts of the pine trees were also used: split roots were used as tapers (candles) in poorer homes and to make creels (for lobsters, or for carrying seaweed up from the beach to spread on the fields). 

Scots Pine: female flower
Image courtesy of John
 Crellin/ Floral Images
Resin from the bark was also used as a medicine, mixed with beeswax and hog's lard to make poultices for sores. Pine oil is still used as an antiseptic today, for example in aromatherapy.

Today, native pinewoods cover only around 17,000 hectares in Scotland - this is believed to be only around 1% of the area originally covered. The tree is however widely planted in areas outwith its native range, and now extends from southern Spain northwards to Scandinavia, and from Scotland eastwards to Siberia. This BSBI distribution map shows where our members have recorded Scots Pine across Britain and Ireland.

Scots Pine has also been used since the 18th century to flavour beers and now small amounts of it are used in the award-winning Byron's Gin: Melancholy Thistle, along with other botanicals, such as Sweet vernal-grass, Rowan, Aspen, Downy Birch and Juniper, which grow in the grounds of Speyside Distillery and environs. 

If you want to identify Scots Pine when you are out walking: all pines have needle-like leaves grouped together in clusters of 2, 3 or 5. On Scots pine there are just 2 leaves in a cluster and they don't exceed 10cm (longer than that and you probably have Corsican Pine rather than Scots Pine). The bark on Scots Pine can also have a distinctive pinkish tinge to it which should help you identify it. 

And once you get home from your walk, you can enjoy a glass of Byron's Gin happy in the knowledge that for every bottle sold, a contribution is made by Speyside Distillery towards BSBI's training programme so that we can help more people learn to identify wild flowers, including aquatics, grasses and Scottish orchidsferns and trees. 

Thursday 23 August 2018

Oxfordshire's Threatened Plants

Today's guest blogpost is by David Morris, the County Recorder for Oxfordshire, about a rather important book launch he attended last month. 

Over to David:

"This summer saw the publication of over ten years work on the Rare Plant Register for Oxfordshire, adding one more to the ever increasing collection of these invaluable documents. 

"Published by Pisces Press, Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants departs from some other county Rare Plant Registers in covering the modern administrative county, i.e. the vice county of Oxfordshire (VC 23), the Vale of White Horse (known locally as Occupied Berkshire, VC 22) and tiny areas of some other neighbouring vice counties.

Parnassia palustris, lost from
several fens in the county
Image: D. Morris
"The book charts the fortunes of 274 studied species, around a third of the county’s natives. 

"Based on records of nationally or locally rare and scarce species gathered up to around 2012 when field work for the project ended, the book describes the ravages of the twentieth century on our indigenous flora. 

"While a small number of species studied are not doing so badly as first thought, most have fared rather less well, with more than fifty considered to have become extinct, around ten per decade between the 1970s and ‘90s.

"Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants goes beyond a mere list of plants, however, providing some ecological analysis of the carnage. 

Another loser: the formerly rich
flora of Oxon's waterways, hanging
on at places such as Otmoor
Image: D. Morris
"Unsurprisingly, the losses are concentrated among stress-tolerating species, such as many arable plants and those of low-nutrient habitats such as fens. 

"Many also demand suitable grazing or other management, which it is increasingly difficult to provide except by dedicated volunteer work. These trends are lucidly described and illustrated in the book.

"All is not gloomy, however. Fortunately, a small number of the plants listed in the book as having lost out in modernity’s race to the bottom have been rediscovered in Oxon recently. 

"These brilliant records, such as Potamogeton nodosus (Loddon pondweed), are described on my blog with much fanfare. 

"The book also highlights the critical work of the Oxfordshire Flora Group and Wychwood Flora Group in staving off extinction of our most important and threatened plants, several of which grow almost nowhere else in these islands.

Apium repens
Image: J. A. Webb 
"As a final thought, if the efforts of Oxon’s plant conservationists come to nothing and in fifty years the situation in the county is even more dire, then at least there is now a colourful and boldly worded document out there in the public domain to say ‘we told you so and tried to do something about it’. 

"Please buy a copy and support this work".

Many thanks to David for telling us about this new publication and about the threatened plants in his county. See also Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland by Kevin Walker, Pete Stroh and Bob Ellis, published late last year and recently reprinted due to popular demand.

Monday 20 August 2018

BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018: Day 4

Eoin admiring the Irish lady's-tresses
Image: L. Marsh
On the final day of this year's BSBI Mayo Recording Event I was fortunate to be in Robert Northridge's team. Robert is a bit of a legend - a superb botanist, Chair of BSBI's Committee for Ireland, County Recorder for Fermanagh and Co Cavan; Robert also picked up an MBE last year for his years of voluntary work, including  bringing communities together in the aftermath of the Eniskillen tragedy.

The previous day, Robert's team had refound the rare and beautiful Irish lady's-tresses Spiranthes romanzoffiana in the same site where they had discovered it several decades earlier, and they were telling us all about it over dinner. 

They soon realised by our 'oohs and 'aahs' that this was a plant which I and Russell Parry, one of the County Recorders from VC55 who had travelled over with me, had never seen. But the next morning, Robert and his wife Hannah picked me and Russell up ready for our day's recording and told us "First, we have a little treat planned for you..."

Parnassia palustris
Image: L. Marsh
You guessed it - they took a detour and drove us up to see the Irish lady's-tresses! The lake shore where the orchids grew also had more Parnassia palustris than I've ever seen in my life, along with just about every other wet meadow species you can think of! 

Little treat? It was one of the nicest places I've ever visited! Apologies that my pathetic phone photos don't do it justice. 

It was hard to tear ourselves away but there was recording to be done and we were keen to help where we could and learn from the master. Over the course of the day we visited a range of habitats in the hectad M29 to try and notch up as may species as possible. 

Helena, Fred, Hannah, "Big Boss" Robert & Eoin
Image: L. Marsh
We tramped over bits of bog, squinted from bridges into the water below, and peered into hedges, road verges and even a cemetery in pursuit of  more species that we could tick off  on our recording card

Towards the end of the day and all (apart from the indefatigable Robert) starting to droop a bit, an unusual pondweed was spotted in the River Moy. 

Robert thinks it might be Potamogeton x lanceolatus, a hybrid known only from the west of Ireland. He has pressed the specimen and sent it off to the BSBI's expert referee for pondweeds - exciting!

Russell and Robert peering at their pondweed
Image: L. Marsh
We recorded more than 220 taxa in M29 over the course of the day, bringing the all-time total to over 300. A fitting end to a wonderful recording event organised by the excellent Maria Long

Perhaps the best thing about the event was the mixture of attendees: young and old, male and female, from experts like Robert to beginner botanists who had never attended a BSBI event before. Check out this blogpost by "amateur botanist" Karina, who was out plant-hunting on Day 4 along the shores of Lough Carra with Rory, Mark and Maria; she says she had a "great day out" and "learnt so much". Karina took some great photos for her blogpost too! 

We all had a wonderful time and collected lots of records which will feed into Atlas 2020And at the risk of sounding unbearably smug: some of us were also lucky enough to see Irish lady's-tresses!  

Tuesday 14 August 2018

BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018: Days 2 & 3

Mark, Eoin, Clare & me (with my 
trusty copy of Poland!) 
in Ciara's woodland on Clare Island
Image: O. Duggan
Day 2: On our second day on Clare Island we split into three groups again.

I was in a group led by Rory Hodd, legendary leader of Ireland's Rough Crew. We visited the only bit of woodland on the island where we spotted plants typical of ancient woodland, such as Sanicula europaea and Oxalis acetosella. After yesterday's coastal heath I felt I was back on home territory, being based in the English midlands! 

To kick off the woodland visit we had a short talk by landowner Ciara about which species she had planted and which were there already. Mark, who is volunteering on Ciara's farm this summer, and part-time resident/local historian Malachi, both joined us for the day and we benefited greatly from their local knowledge and enthusiasm.

Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved sundew)
Image: F. O'Neill
After a few hours we emerged from the woodland into some bog with a fabulous view across the bay to a range of mountains and I knew I was definitely in the west of Ireland and not in Leicestershire! 

Rory was on superb form identifying spike-rushes without even bending down because he knows the plants and the habitat so well. He also managed to spot charophytes and Utricularia spp. in a bog pond (I would have trotted past and not even noticed them!) and took specimens of both to look at more closely later on.

After lunch we headed down to the saltmarsh and spotted Aster tripolium, Bolboschoenus maritimus, Tripleurospermum maritimum and lots of things I never see in Leicestershire. 

A purple patch: Pinguicula vulgaris
Image: L. Marsh
After a great day's botanising we just had time for an ice-cream and then we headed for the ferry back to the mainland. Most of us set off on the drive to Castlebar, our base for the next few days, while Rory and botanists Roisin and Kate Marie sailed off to Inishturk for a day's recording before rejoining us.

Day 3: Today on the mainland I joined a group led by Eamonn Delaney who recently took on the mantle of County Recorder for East Mayo. We managed to cover five monads to the southeast of Knock and notched up 227 taxa in all. Highlights of the day were Sparganium natans, Parnassia palustris, a gorgeous patch of Pinguicula vulgaris in flower, another mystery Utricularia, Galium uliginosum which we don't see much of in VC55... actually the whole day was one great big highlight!

Pale Butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica
Image: F. O'Neill 
Another group led by Maria Long were recording a little to the north of  Eamonn's group. Their first monad was so rich, with 115 taxa within 100m of the car! They moved on to a boggy area after lunch and found six carnivorous plants within a few meters of each other: both Drosera species and the hybrid between them; 2 Pinguicula spp. and a Utricularia!

We caught up with the third group for dinner. Leader Robert Northridge had led his team to a coastal square with a river flowing through. They recorded 183 taxa in their first monad, including three Droseras, both Triglochins, Hypericum humifussum, Lythrum portula, Utricularia minor and Radiola linoides. On the way back, they visited a stony lake shore which Robert and his wife Hannah had visited decades earlier and found Parnassia palustris and Spiranthes romanzoffiana. Would they refind the Spiranthes? Yes: botanist Fiona was in Robert's group and spotted several spikes.

From left: Rory, Russell, me, Eoin, Mark, Sunniva,
Mary-Kate, Peter, Hannah, Robert, Sinead & Val:
just a few of the 27 people who signed up for the
2018 BSBI Mayo Recording Event
Image: M. Long
Rory, Roisin and Kate Maria also joined us at dinner, fresh off the ferry from Inishturk. I asked Rory how he got on and he explained that he'd been out on Inishturk earlier this year so was really just going back to add a few more species. He's a modest chap so Maria, sitting next to him at dinner, explained this actually meant that 100+ species were added and Rory had found Euphorbia hyberna, a new record for the whole of Mayo, before 9am.   

So, another fabulous day with the delightful and incredibly modest Irish botanists!

Tomorrow is our last full day of recording. It will be hard to top the three amazing days we've already enjoyed - catch up with us here to find out how we got on. To find out more about the 2018 BSBI Mayo recording Event, check out this #BSBIMayo2018 hashtag.

Thursday 9 August 2018

BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018

Botany on the edge:
don't jump Eamon!
Image: M. Long
Today was the first day of the 2018 BSBI Mayo Recording Event and I was privileged to spend time in the field with one of the three recording groups. 

Our group, led by BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long, headed to the north of Clare Island to record as many species as we could for Atlas 2020. We covered four monads and collected a grand total of 321 records. Ok, some were duplicated from one monad to another, but we still felt very pleased with ourselves by the end of the day! Beginner botanist Kate was in our group and I asked her what her "plant of the day" was. She chose Triglochin palustris (Marsh arrowgrass) with its delicious scent - a mixture of coriander and carrots! 

Rory and the Rough Crew
Image: O. Duggan
While we were out recording, we ran into media celebrity Duncan Stewart who presents and produces the very popular Irish TV programme Eco Eye. Duncan said it was wonderful to see Maria Long again (they are old pals) and good to see us looking at native plant species (I tried to tell him about our Atlas recording but he already knew all about it!). Duncan also asked "What about the invasive species?" - we had a good chat about Gunnera tinctoria which is being spotted increasingly frequently and Duncan has some very interesting ideas on control - and "What about climate change?". Duncan is hoping to cover these important issues on forthcoming programmes, so we'll keep you all posted about this. 

Salix herbacea
Image: H. Crouch
We caught up with the other two groups in the evening to compare notes over dinner and a drink. BSBI national field meetings like this are social occasions as well as recording events, so we really like to enjoy ourselves after a day in the field!

Robert Northridge's group had covered three monads and made more than 300 records in the west of the island. I asked Robert what their "plant of the day" was and he couldn't decide between Empetrum nigrum, typical of the boggy/ acid grasslands found here, and Crithmum maritimum, spotted at the end of the day on a south-facing cliff. 

Rory Hodd took a Rough Crew group up to the top of Knockmore, the highest point of the island and they recorded two other monads as well, amassing a total of more than 300 records. Rory's "plant of the day" was Polystichum lonchitis Holly Fern, the first time this plant has been recorded here for more than 100 years! Southern English botanists Fred Rumsey and Helena Crouch were in Rory's group and were particularly pleased to see Salix herbacea - check out the BSBI distribution map to see why - and Irish botanist Rory said he'd never seen it growing at such a low altitude (unless you know differently?) or so high (a whopping 5+cm!) - again, if you've seen a bigger specimen we'd like to know!

Planning tomorrow's itinerary
Image: M. Long
A few more botanists arrived on today's ferry, swelling our numbers to 20, so we'll be splitting into four groups and trying to zap all the monads we didn't reach today. Will we succeed before we have to catch the evening ferry? Check this blog tomorrow to find out!  

Monday 6 August 2018

Fern identification in Wales

Cwm Idwal
Image: F. O'Neill
Fiona tells us about a fern identification course she attended recently:

"In mid-July I travelled from Cork, with my naturalist friend, to North Wales to attend a fern (and allies) identification course at the Field Studies Council (FSC) centre in Rhyd-y-creuau, near Betws-y-coed village. We arrived a few days before the course started to explore a little of North Wales, and really, you should go there, it’s fantastic, with walks galore and stunning scenery.

"On Friday evening, the course participants met at Rhyd-y-creuau for dinner followed by an overview of the next three days. 13 attended, with six taking the course for credits towards an MSc, and the remaining seven having a general interest in ferns. Our tutors were Chris and Hazel Metherell, Chris is the current BSBI President and Hazel is an artist and botanist with a particular interest in ferns.

Cryptogramma crispa
Image: F. O'Neill
"After dinner we kicked off with a video called Ferns: The Secret Life, looking at their unique sexual reproduction processes. The recommended text for the course was The Fern Guide by James Merryweather & Michael Hill (2007, originally published in 1995), valuable for its illustrations and descriptions. And during the evening, Chris and Hazel outlined the method they use to ID ferns—more of that in Fern ID tips at the end.

"On Saturday morning we crammed into the mini-bus, driven by Chris, and headed to a national nature reserve, Cwm Idwal, a spectacular glacial corrie in the Glyderau mountain range. There’s a popular walk around the lake, Llyn Idwal, and other paths branching off it that take you higher. The day turned misty and drizzly, which didn’t affect the ferns in the slightest just our views of the cwm and our ability to write on damp notepaper—the scene below was one I fortunately prepared earlier in the week on a recce.

Lycopodiella inundata
Image: F. O'Neill
"The first two ferns Chris stopped at and used to go through his identification method were the relatively common Dryopteris dilatata (Broad buckler fern) and Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort), the first is tripinnate and the second once-pinnate. Next, we encountered two upland ferns, Oreopteris limbosperma (Lemon-scented or Mountain fern) and the bushy Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley fern), the latter is plentiful here, but a rarity in Ireland.

"As we made our way higher, we paused often to look closely at ferns, clubmosses, and occasionally other plants found in alpine habitats, including Saxifraga nivalis (Alpine saxifrage), existing on just one remaining rock, an indication that alpine plants are really struggling here.

"Cwm Idwal is home to four clubmosses and we were fortunate to see all of them: Lycopodium clavatum (Stag’s horn clubmoss), Huperzia selago (Fir clubmoss), Diphasiastrum alpinum (Alpine clubmoss), and Selaginella selaginoides (Lesser clubmoss).

Fun times on Saturday night
Image: F. O'Neill
"Among other unfamiliar ferns I saw were Cystopteris fragilis (Brittle bladder fern) and Phegopteris connectilis (Beech fern), both rare in the southern half of Ireland. C. fragilis can resemble young ferns of other species, therefore care needs to be taken to confirm the ID. P. connectilis has a couple of unique attributes that are useful in identification, the pinnae nearest the stem are entirely attached to the stem, and the lowest pinnae point out and downwards.

"Throughout the day we listened, and took notes, as Chris and Hazel clearly and patiently imparted their knowledge; Hazel often went ahead to check out the next species and waited for us to catch up.
Asplenium septentrionale
Image: F. O'Neill
On the way back from Cwm Idwal, we pulled in to the side of the road and hopped over a stile with Hazel to locate the fifth clubmoss of the day, Lycopodiella inundata (Marsh clubmoss) by a farm track.

"That evening, we got a taste of a lively Saturday night outing for botanists, a trip to a lead mine spoil heap in Gwydyr Forest Park, looking at Asplenium septentrionale (Forked spleenwort). It likes to be alone and is into heavy metals.

"On this marathon day we looked at 20 ferns and five clubmosses. 

"On Day 3, we headed to Anglesea, where we dashed around to seven different sites on a botanical treasure hunt for ferns and horsetails. Down country lanes for the polypodies, Polystichum aculeatum (Hard shield fern), and Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (Black spleenwort). To the coast for some sea air and Asplenium marinum (Sea spleenwort). And wading through bracken and briars to Thelypteris palustris (Marsh fern) and Dryopteris carthusiana (Narrow buckler fern).

En route to Dryopteris carthusiana
Image: F. O'Neill
"In the morning Chris introduced us to horsetails, and over the day we identified Equisetum arvense (Field horsetail), the most common species, Equisetum palustre (Marsh horsetail), Equisetum fluviatile (Water horsetail), and finally Equisetum x meridionale, one clump of which was near an RSPB reserve and has possibly been there for decades.

"Chris's tip for E. arvense and E. palustre: remember the acronym ALPS (Arvense: Long, Palustre: Short). This means that when you compare the length of the first junction of a side branch to the length of the sheath, it’s E. arvense if it’s longer than the sheath, and E. palustre if shorter.

"Arriving at our final destination for the day, we crossed the Menai bridge to nearby Treborth Botanic Garden, to view two rarities, Polystichum lonchitis (Holly Fern) and Woodsia alpina (Alpine woodsia).

After dinner at Rhyd-y-creuau, work continued. We examined polypody spores under the microscope, and Hazel introduced plant genetics, hybrid vigour, and explained what diploid and triploid plants are. 
Blechnum spicant
Image: F. O'Neill

"Chris then spoke about the complex Dryopteris affinis group, which is likely to be split out into many microspecies within the next few years. We were very happy to just contend with these three:
Dryopteris affinis (Scaly male fern)
Dryopteris borreri (Borrer’s scaly male fern)
Dryopteris cambrensis (Narrow scaly male fern).

"On the final morning we travelled to Coed Felinrhyd, described as “Wales’ own rainforest”. The shady and humid oak woodland is home to a wealth of ferns and bryophytes, and is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for bats.

"The sheer number of fern species here gave us the chance to revise what we learned from the previous two days. We were given the challenge of IDing ferns in the D. affinis group, which, when you’re with the experts, actually seems possible. We found examples of all three, the very scaly D. affinis; D. borreri is a neater plant and the pinnules look as if they’ve been razored across the top; in D. cambrensis the lowest pinnule “steps up” from the next. Of course, some of these characteristics are variable.

Phegopteris connectilis in Coed Felinrhyd
Image: F. O'Neill
"A week later ferns, clubmosses, and horsetails are still on the brain. Chris and Hazel couldn’t have been more generous with their knowledge and time, we learned so much and felt very lucky to have them as our tutors.

"Some highlights for me over the weekend included the abundant clumps of Blechnum spicant (Hard fern) in Coed Felinrhyd, its distinctive fertile fronds emerging from the centre; a Saturday night out looking at the heavy metal tolerant A. septentrionale (Forked spleenwort), and finally, seeing the graceful little P. connectilis (Beech fern) for the first time on Cwm Idwal and in Coed Felinrhyd.

"Rather than use keys to identify fern species, Chris and Hazel ask three (sometimes four) questions to arrive at the answer. The first two questions are always the same, and sometimes are all that are needed; questions three and four vary, depending on the answer to the previous two.
Indusium*. Does it have one? What is it like? For example, is it linear (Asplenium), c-shaped (Dryopteris), or j-shaped (Athyrium)?
What is the pinnateness of the plant? From 0 to 4, simple to tripinnate.
Examples of question 3 are:
What shape is the frond? For example, does it taper or stop suddenly?
What are the scales like? For example, do they have a dark central stripe?
Are the pinnae stalked? Diagnostic for Asplenium.
The fourth question is only required for a small number of ferns to reach an ID, an example is:
What colour is the rachis**?
*Indusium: Protective membrane covering the sporangia.
**Mid-rib, excluding the stipe".

Many thanks to Fiona for telling us about the fern course she attended. I'm looking forward to meeting her on Wednesday, when we'll both be at the BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018 - any fern I see, I'll be asking Fiona to help me ID it! Watch this space ;-)