Saturday, 13 October 2018

Holiday Bryophytes - lots of leskeas

Alpine habitat, La Tofane

We were in the Dolomites in July this year, our third visit to this fabulous mountain range in Northern Italy. Most of our attention was paid to the spectacular alpine flowering plants but we did note a few bryophytes.
 The subalpine forests have an extraordinary abundance of Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus and Hylocomium splendens (and lots of orchids, including Lady's Slipper) in stark contrast to our local, acidic Sitka forests with their abundant carpets of Rhytidiadelphus loreus

Rhytidiadephus triquetrus and Hylocomium splendens in spruce forest near Cortina

The geology is predominantly limestone and lots of typical calcicole bryophytes are represented plus some really nice mountain species that are rare in Britain. In the province of Belluno, between Cortina D'Ampezzo and the Falzarego Pass, some excellent trails took us above tree-line into alpine tundra where there were wallcreeper.  In the rocky tundra below La Tofane Ptychodium plicatum (Plaited Leskea) was growing with Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage) on some sheltered limestone boulders. 

Ptychodium plicatum and Saxifraga oppositifolia, la Tofane

H and Mark on Wallcreeper twitch above Falzarego Pass

On a hike to the Rifugio Locatelli from the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo we encountered small parties of snow finches flitting about rocks covered with Pseudoleskea incurvata.  Later, in the mountains above Selva in the Val Gardena we found some Pseudoleskea patens (Patent Leskea) which gave us a good opportunity to compare these very similar species. In the end we had to bring samples home to examine the shape of the mid-leaf cells to confirm their identities.

Pseudoleskea incurvata with Salix herbacea (Dwarf Willow) near Rifugio Lavaredo

Pseudoleskea patens, Selva

The short walk to Baita Monzoni in the Val San Nicolo near Pozza di Fassa follows a forest road through a moist, mossy subalpine forest. Bartramia halleriana (Haller's Apple-moss) and Campyllophyllum halleri (Haller's Feather-mosswere on the base rich rocks here - the latter is a Red DataBook moss in the UK. Nearby on a large limestone boulder at the side of the road we noted a large, striking mat of Pterigynandrum filiforme (Capillary Wing-moss). From Monzoni the trail climbs up, eventually, to the Pas de la Sele and allows access to an outstanding alpine flora which includes lots of saxifrages (e.g. the endemic Saxifraga depressa) and other nice things like Papaver rhaeticum (Alpine Poppy), Phyteuma sieberi (Sieber's Rampion), Primula glutinosa (Sticky Primrose) and Ranunculus glacialis (Glacier Crowfoot).

Bartramia halleriana near Baita Monzoni

Bartramia halleriana with capsules

Campylophyllum halleri near Baita Monzoni

Pterigynandrum filiforme on a boulder near Baita Monzoni

Pterigynandrum filiforme Baita Monzoni

On a trip to Sottogudo we walked along a narrow road through a spectacular gorge where  Orthothecium rufescens (Red Leskea) was hanging from dripping limestone outcrops. There were some nice clumps of Selaginella helvetica here too. 

Orthothecium rufescens, Sottogudo Gorge
Orthothecium rufescens, Sottogudo Gorge

Selaginella helvetica, Sottogudo Gorge

Although the landscape of the Dolomites is dominated by limestone there are some extensive cliffs and outcrops of more acidic igneous rock which support a different flora, e.g. on and around Forcia Neigra near Alba. Our attention was stolen by some nice cushions of Eritrichium nanum (King-or-the-Alps) but we also noticed some conspicuous dark cushions of Grimmia montana (Sun Grimmia).

Grimmia montana, Forcia Neigra

Friday, 13 July 2018

Interesting Thamnobryum on Ramsey Island

During a boat trip round the island as a birthday treat for Sandra yesterday, we were taken into a small sea cave at the north of the island called Ogof Penclawdd, which had some dripping cliffs supporting a substantial growth of bryophytes. The cave must be drippy all year round I suspect given the prolonged drought we've had? Martin, the skipper surprisingly, but very kindly agreed to take up my request to see if there was any chance of grabbing a sample and with our guide Nia at the bow, they expertly procured a small sample to satisfy my curiosity.
Even without a lens to hand I could see it wasn't what I was very optimistically hoping it might be, Cyclodictyon laetevirens. Nevertheless it didn't look that familiar either, the complanate leaf arrangement being reminiscent of Platyhypnidium riparioides, so it was packaged in some cheese pasty wrapping generously donated by a group of teenagers.
Today under the miscroscope, the leaves were clearly Thamnobryum-like and being so complanate, maderense was foremost in my mind. Th. maderense is said to have 4-ranked rather than 8-ranked leaves, but the character isn't always that well defined according to some of the scant information I;ve managed to find online. Certainly some leaves look four-ranked and the plants bear little resemblance to the tree-like plants of typical alopecurum, the shoots being short and closely appressed to the substrate, so any comments/thoughts welcome as always.
A final word of thanks to Martin and Nia of Thousand Islands Expeditions for a great trip and for humouring me. Riding 'The Bitches' in Ramsey Sound was my highlight; even in calm conditions it was quite an experience, so I can't imagine what it must be like with a big tide and in a big sea?

Monday, 28 May 2018

Miscellaneous bryophyte news

Although the last month has been a quiet period of recording for us, we managed to get into SN99N at last. We tried to get in there a few weeks ago but the Bwlch road from Abergwynfi to Treorchy was closed. This time, the road was open but the forest track above Cwm Parc was closed, which was where were intending to go. We were beginning to understand why this tetrad had no records in it. So we headed up to Treorchy Cemetry and gave the environs there a bashing, bringing the total for the tetrad to a very modest 45. I hesitate to use the word highlights but patches of Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus in the cemetry and Homalia trichomanoides in a nearby wood were probably the best of the day. When we eventually get up the forest road, I'm sure we'll get the total up to a more respectable number.

Neath Grazing Marsh

The river Neath is tidal as far up the valley as the Tonna weir and just south of that, between the A465 and the river, there is a large area of cattle-grazed marshy grassland which is washed by the highest tides. Much of it is dominated by Juncus effusus, with large areas of Phragmites australis, Glyceria maxima and Carex riparia and lots of Myosotis laxa, Senecio aquaticus and others.  We've not given the bryophytes there much attention but on Saturday some frequent patches of a Hygroamblystegium (Amblystegium) were noted. I thought it was H. varium when I first saw it but the leaves, which are quite widely spaced, have a narrow insertion and the nerve doesn't look long enough. It looks more like the H. humile that Barry found at Llanrhidian last year, but is not as robust nor abundant. Comments welcome.

Hygroamblystegium on Neath Grazing Marsh

While making a species list for one of Glyncorrwg Forest tracks yesterday, we came across a nice population of Equisetum variegatum, which I have never seen in a plantation before. Along a 1mile stretch of gravelled road we recorded 170 species of plants (vascular plants and bryophytes).

Equisetum variegatum along edge of gravelled forest road, Glyncorrwg

Sunday, 6 May 2018

A 2 Scleropodium day


My second day of tetrad recording this weekend took me to the area NE of Abergavenny, where I filled in 2.5 tetrads.  Each one held species of note, although it was hard work in general.  Highlight in the first, SO31P, was Scleropodium touretii on a S-facing lane bank (photo below).  There are only 8 known sites for this species in VC35, none of which are in this habitat.  Bryum donianum was also there, as was the inevitable Eurhynchium schleicheri.  The lanes were pretty good, but fields were rather improved and access to interesting habitats was very difficult, so my final tally was just 55 species.

The half tetrad was SO31X, where I had already recorded 30+ species in the early 2000s.  Scleropodium cespitans was abundant on silty Alders by the Trothy.  The final tetrad was SO31W, which was even duller than the first of the day, but likewise held some notable mosses on a lane bank.  Epipterygium tozeri seemed surprising, as there are only 30 county records, but checking my database revealed I saw it in the adjacent SO31V in 2006.  Bryum donianum was here too.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Cwm Celyn revisited - 27 years on

In July 1991 I went on my first ever BSBI walk - led by Trevor Evans to Cwm Celyn in NW VC35.  I have fond memories of the day, as I saw 10s of new plants from Equisetum sylvaticum and Carex laevigata to Carum verticillatum and Mimulus moschatus.  The cwm has been a big, bad blank on my bryophyte coverage map until today, because it was clearly a site deserving proper attention rather than a quick visit.  6 hours' searching racked up 105 species, including 2 new for VC35, so it was worth the wait!


I started in the adjacent tetrad, SO10Z, where the Rising Sun Industrial Estate added some 'grots' to the >50 upland species recorded a few years ago from further west in the square.  Surprise highlight was large Aneura sp. in marshy secondary woodland in the middle of the industrial estate.  Things started slowly in SO20E, although Leptodictyum riparium was present by the reservoir and Hyocomium armoricum was abundant by a rocky stream.

As I carried on upwards through a clearfelled conifer plantation I found the first new county record - Pohlia camptotrachela on a damp forestry track.  Unfortunately I didn't realised it was 'needed' and replanted the tuft I had checked, so that one awaits vouching.  A Pennant Sandstone quarry supported abundant Racomitrium lanuginosum and R. fasciculare, as well as a few tufts of Ptychomitrium polyphyllum.

After a quick march up to the head of the cwm, at 440m altitude, I set about exploring an area of flushes and a stream gully around SO209097-SO210098.  Polytrichum alpinum grew on the base of a stone wall, alongside Hyocomium armoricum, whilst the second new county record of the day came in the form of frequent Entosthodon attenuatus along the stream.  It seems rather apt that this western moss should turn up close to Monmouthshire's main site for the western plant Carum verticillatum.  A gorgeous patch of Bryum alpinum on a rock in the stream was unusual for VC35 as well.

The stream was fed by a mire in which 10 species of Sphagnum were present, including S. cuspidatum, S. papillosum and S. tenellum.  One spring held large patches of Dicranella palustris and Scorpidium revolvens, as well as Warnstorfia exannulata and Aulacomnium palustre.  The final surprise of the day was an 8x1m strip of Ranunculus omiophyllus - Montia fontana Rill (NVC M35), which has few if any previous records from south Wales.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Puncheston Common

Following our weekend twitch to see the Green Heron in the garden pond of Simon Hart MP, we headed up to Goodwick to look for the Black Guillemots. On the way I managed to convince the gang that Puncheston Common would be a good place to stop and decant our flasks and have a 15-20 minute break, hopefully this giving me enough time to relocate one of Sam's Hamatocaulis vernicosus sites. We stopped by the Waldo Williams plaque and after wandering around for 10 minutes I finally found some healthy patches of Hamatocaulis in very soggy ground surrounding the willows shown centre-right in the above photo. Capsules were reasonably frequent in one patch, which may be of note given the text books all state capsules are rare. The richer orange hues and thicker stems made plants stand out in comparison to Sarmentypnum exannulatum, which was much more frequent at the site. Now it's on my radar, I'd love to find this in Gower.

An unexpected bonus was a small but healthy population of Sphagnum platyphyllum at the same locality (photos below), though with warnings of how denticulatum can appear almost identical I'd welcome comments on my id. The texts I have indicate the double layer of cortical cells rule out this potential confusion with denticulatum, plus all the other key characters fit perfectly. The centre of the colony had rather well grown material (the darker of the images below), which looked quite different to the straggly big-budded smaller shoots, but microscopically they were identical. If correct this would represent a westwards extension to the population.

Other species noted at this wonderfully rich site included Anagallis tenella, Breutelia chrysocoma, Calliergon cordifolium, Drosera rotundifolia, Leucobryum glaucum, Menyanthes trifoliata, Narthecium ossifragum, Pedicularis sylvatica, Plagiothecium denticulatum var. denticulatum, Sphagnum squarrosum, S. tenellum, S. teres, Straminergon stramineum, Viola palustris and Wahlenbergia hederacea. This richness contrasts strongly with a lot superficially similar, but much poorer sites in Gower, which makes me wonder how much of an impact burning has on bryophytes, especially given how regular burning is carried out on the commons these days. I wonder if the Pembroskeshire commons are burned less frequently, or is the oceanic effect a bigger factor?

One final note on Leucobryum, it's worth pointing out that the first leaf section I looked at initially made me believe that the plants on the common were juniperoideum and it's only as I was expecting glaucum that I double checked. I'm sure you all do anyway, but do make sure that you cut leaf sections from the basal part of the leaf only. Both images below are from he same L. glaucum plant.

One of the more productive 15 mins in the field I've spent looking at bryophytes, although it was backed up by an hour or so of microscope work!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Scilly exotics

I've enjoyed other recent holiday reports on this blog so I hope you'll indulge me writing another one, from a bit closer to home...

It's a bit of a cliche to say that the Isles of Scilly feel like a world away from mainland Britain, despite being just 28 miles off the end of Cornwall. But after my first visit to the archipelago earlier this month I could hardly disagree with the sentiment. The flora in particular felt very exotic, with the bryophytes being no exception. Many species that are common in South Wales were scarce, as would be expected on a series of small, remote islands. The epiphyte flora in particular seemed impoverished, with most tree trunks being lichen-dominated instead - even Frullania dilatata was somewhat localised. This was adequately compensated for by the plethora of exotic species (liverworts mostly) which are scarce or absent on the mainland, some of which are imports from the Southern Hemisphere and some possibly from the Mediterranean.

The fun started at Lower Moors nature reserve on St Mary's, where I got excited by an extensive yellowy patch of Telaranea murphyae growing by a path to a bird hide (photos below). I thought this liverwort was restricted to Tresco but I later discovered that the population at Lower Moors had been found in 2003. It appears that the taxonomic position of T. murphyae remains somewhat uncertain; it has not been found as a native in the Southern Hemisphere and was described new to science from Tresco, though it may just be a form of T. tetradactyla. A potentially new population was found later in the week by a path near the lifeboat station at Hugh Town (lower photo).

The excitement really started on Tresco, where a flowerbed in the Abbey Gardens was dotted with the lovely rosettes of Riccia crystallina intermingled with numerous Sphaerocarpos plants (photos below). I collected three Sphaerocarpos samples and after a few days incubation each produced mature spores to enable species identification; pleasingly both species were represented with two samples being S. michelii (spore photo bottom left) and one S. texanus (bottom right).

Telaranea murphyae was seen in a few locations within the gardens, along with Lophocolea semiteres and L. bispinosa, but was much more abundant along Abbey Drive where extensive yellow sheets of it covered the ground wherever there was shade from trees (upper photos, below). Growing with it was Calyptrochaeta apiculata (lower photos) - in the Britain Isles this Southern Hemisphere species is known only from here and single sites in Sussex and Ireland.

Bulb fields on St Mary's revealed more Sphaerocarpos michelii, Riccia crystallina and a single rosette of Riccia subbifurca (unless it is R. crozalsii - but I don't think so).

Even the small garden of our cottage had a flowerbed with plenty of fruiting Anthoceros punctatus (photo) and a stone covered in Scorpiurium circinatum.

I'm already looking forward to making another visit sometime...