Monday 5 October 2020

Europe's newest, smallest, rarest fern becomes a media star!

The tiny fern on its rock
Image: R. Hodd

At the end of August we published a paper in our scientific journal British & Irish Botany about a very interesting discovery: Irish botanist Dr Rory Hodd was plant-hunting  in Killarney National Park in Co. Kerry when, on a rock, he spotted a tiny fern which he didn't recognise. 

Rory is one of Ireland's top botanists so if he doesn't recognise a plant, you know it's going to be something very unusual.

Rory sent a specimen to Dr Fred Rumsey of the Natural History Museum, London, who consulted with colleagues and confirmed it as Stenogrammitis myosuroides, a rare cloud-forest fern which had never been recorded before in Europe and whose nearest relatives are in the neotropics.

The sporangia on the underside
of a frond (a fern leaf):
they confirm the ID
Image: R. Hodd

We circulated a press release to our media contacts which gives the full story behind the discovery and since then, the little fern - and its discoverer - have spent the last few days in the glare of the media spotlight! 

First the story was picked up by Patrick Barkham in The Guardian, then it appeared on the RTE website and Rory was interviewed on Morning Ireland, the flagship news and current affairs programme for the Republic. Ryan Tubridy, arguably Ireland's top radio/ TV personality, also mentioned it on his show and the Irish Post covered the story here. 

As news services around the world picked up on the story (this one from India and this World News service) and the Botanical Society of America tweeted the news, Rory was keeping it local: he was in the studio giving an interview to Radio Kerry about their little fern that's hitting the headlines around the world.

Amidst all this excitement, there's a serious message here about nature conservation and the importance of habitats such as the temperate Atlantic forest found in the Killarney National Park, which as Rory says is "a habitat which is now mostly lost and highly degraded" but which can act as "a refuge for a wide range of species that would not survive without its protection". 

Sharp eyes (which Rory has!) were
essential to spot the tiny fern!
Image: R. Hodd

It's also a reminder that it's always worth keeping a look-out for plants that you don't recognise, recording what you find and alerting the botanical community to anything unusual. You could be the next person to discover a plant that nobody has ever recorded before on these islands! 

So now you've heard the reason why this little fern is in the spotlight, why not head over here and read the scientific paper all about it? And check out the other fabulous plants that appear in our journal, including - in the same issue - a new variety of Orobanche discovered in the carpark of a well-known purveyor of flat-pack furniture...  

1 comment:

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