Thursday, 19 November 2020

Least Water-lily, Nuphar pumila - conservation by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the Millenium Seedbank, located in Sussex.  It is the world’s largest underground seed bank & conservation resource for global wild plant species.  For more info on the project check out the MSB webpage.

It seems a fitting day to provide an update of the project which started in 2016 to review the genetic status, ecology, and condition of Least Water-lily Nuphar pumila, at Cole Mere, Shropshire, the only population in England. 

Nuphar pumila Least Water-lily, by Dan Wrench

The partnership included SBS, Natural England, the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) UK Native Seed Hub, Conservation Genetics and nursery teams, Richard Lansdown (Chair IUCN Freshwater Plant Specialist Group), site managers Shropshire Council, and also volunteers from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Colemere Sailing Club.  The latter provided boat transport for a local Dive Club who were enlisted to count the number of petioles emerging from the rhizomes, not their usual dive remit but it was received enthusiastically after a little training.

The vulnerability of the species at Cole Mere was of concern and the project aimed to:

1. Provide a summary of the ecology of Nuphar pumila, management and monitoring recommendations

2. Carry out seed viability tests, and propagate seeds and rhizomes for ex-situ conservation and public display at Kew

3. Carry out DNA analysis to detect hybridisation with Yellow Water-lily Nuphar lutea, also present at Cole Mere.

4. Devise an in-situ conservation management plan.

Seed pods were carefully collected, making sure they were the right species.  The seed pod has a lobed stigmatic disk in contrast to Yellow Water-lily Nuphar lutea which is also present at Cole Mere.

Nuphar pumila with lobed stigmatic disk

The Nuphar pumila seeds were found to be 95% viable, which was great news.  BUT successful germination depended on very specific conditions, especially light levels and only 10 live seedlings  were obtained from 100’s of seed, which was very labour intensive.  Even worse news, all of these seedlings subsequently died.  The seedlings were watered with tap water and Kew had problems with algal growth.

So hopes are now pinned on the rhizomes which were collected during the same operation.  Each year many free floating rhizomes are found on the lake edges, possible uprooted by waterfowl, likely mute swans feeding on the submerged leaves.  Some of the less bruised ones were collected and taken for propogation, but the majority were too battered and died:

Nuphar pumila rhizomes pulled up by waterfowl

However, recent news from Kew is that from the remaining rhizomes with healthy shoots they have managed to divide these and have several healthy plants in the collection which they hope to divide again.  The best conditions appear to be a loam based compost and outside in ambient conditions rather than indoors in a controlled environment.  The mixed success of the propogation shows how important it is to ensure in-situ conservation measures at Cole Mere are as favourable as possible for the species and to continue to monitor the populations.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Zooming into the AGM and "What's in a Name"

We are feeling just a little pleased with ourselves that we held an enjoyable and successful virtual AGM at the weekend.  We swiftly dealt with the Committee business, electing Mags Cousins to Chair and Martin Godfrey to join the Committee; heard the annual report from outgoing chair John Handley, given by Sue Dancey; and the financial report also from Sue, which was all good in a nutshell.

John thanked committee members for their work, especially Hilary Wallace and Gordon Leel for the hardwork of producing the Newsletter, there is a snippet below from a previous edition.  Hilary is stepping down after the autumn edition, and Andrew Perry has agreed to become Editor.  We're always looking for more material and articles so if you have anything that you would like to submit, please email

After the AGM business was dealt with, we handed over to Mark Duffell of Arvensis Ecology, for an informative and entertaining talk with slides:

"What's in a Name"  A short romp through the science of naming the natural world. Through stories and quirky discoveries learn how plants (and animals) have been named and what their names mean, not all in Latin either!

It is remarkable how some old names given to plants have stood the test of time, whilst others were remarkably descriptive but rather long winded and have changed beyond recognition.   He tested us with this one, do you know this plant? Ignore the chat box, that won't help as Cowslips in cow pats were answers related to the previous slide - yes, he kept us on our toes:

Answer below:

Another quirky fact, a revelation to some in the audience was the penchant for naming plants after wives, friends and foes, and the use of anagrams.  Mitella (Bishop's caps) and Tellima (Fringecups), two different genera, anagrams of each other due to similarities in appearance:

One from the audience is what is behind the name Polypogon monspeliensis, Annual Beard-grass?

It turns out it used to be in the genus Alopecurus and monspeliensis is derived from Montpellier in France where it was discovered.  There were lots of other interesting stories behind plant names, far too many to mention here.  

Huge thanks to Mark for providing the evenings entertainment.  It was lovely to see everyone's little faces again, or just icons for those that were camera shy or simply didn't have enough band width!  Hopefully we will meet in person again before too long, but Zoom-ing together at least provided a chance to get together with fellow botanists and delve into botanical facts.  Thank you to everyone who joined us, including non member guests.


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Virtual AGM Sat. 26th Sept. 7pm

Members will have heard already we're going virtual for the AGM, next Sat. 26th 7pm, a first for the society. Most of us have had a fair bit of practice with video meetings this year so we're sure to have an enjoyable evening, especially since our very own Mark Duffell will be giving a talk:

"What's in a name - a short romp through the science of naming the natural world."  Through stories and quirky discoveries learn how plants (and animals) have been named and what their names mean, not all in Latin either!

If you are curious about the meaning of a particular plant's scientific name, for instance what does ‘galeobdolon’ mean and how does it relate to Yellow Archangel, then now is your chance to ask.  Mark will attempt to discover the meaning (etymology) behind your favourite plants name (native or non-native, hardy or not) so send your question to him in advance on:

At the end of the talk there will be a question and answer session when Mark will provide the answers.  If you don't send your question in advance then we will have to work it out together on the night!.

The Zoom meeting is open to non members so message us for a link, or email:    

You can probably guess this one Common Fleabane, Pulicaria dysenterica:

We're really looking forward to getting together again, may be even seeing you (virtually), but if you're feeling camera shy you don't have to have your own video on!

Sunday, 26 July 2020

More on Sedges... by John Handley

Just like everyone reading this post, being in lockdown, I’ve had to adjust my botanising over the recent months. In the first instance I was trying to sneak a look at plants whilst undertaking my hour of exercise – at one point trying to be inconspicuous whilst admiring the Convallaria majalis, Lily-of-the-Valley, that has naturalised within Bridgnorth Cemetery. 

Recently I’ve been able to enjoy botanising locally which has provided a respite for my family as much as me. One of the areas I’ve been exploring is Stanmore Country Park, an area that has developed from scrub after the RAF Bridgnorth Training Camp was closed in 1963. The vegetation would initially have been dominated by Salix caprea, Goat Willow, and Betula pendula, Silver Birch, and this process is still enclosing the few areas of open grassland that remain. It is an area that is commonly used by dog-walkers, including my family and I. It didn’t occur to me that the secondary woodland and grassland held much interest but encouraged by Ed Andrews, the Country Parks and Heritage Sites Manager, I decided to have a closer look. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a diversity of species and semi-natural habitats that are providing a great deal of benefit for local wildlife as well as a much valued space for local residents. Along with over twenty eight individual Epipactis purpurata, Violet Helleborine (is it a good year for them?) I also recorded Carex divulsa subsp. divulsa, Grey Sedge. This is regarded as a rare plant within Shropshire (Lockton & Whild, 2005). The Rare Plants of Shropshire remarks that "although this is a common species in the south of England and Ireland, Shropshire is just on the edge of its range, and it seems to occur here only as a casual.  Of the two subspecies, the only one to have been found in Shropshire is ssp. divulsa. It has been recorded on roadsides, ditch-banks, and along paths in gardens."

Carex divulsa subsp. divulsa, Grey Sedge

The other sedge that I recorded, occurring quite frequently in the better grassland on the acid, sandy soils that occur around Bridgnorth, was Carex muricata subsp. pairae, Small-fruited Prickly-sedge.  This is not to be confused with C. muricata subsp. muricata, Large-fruited Prickly-sedge, which is believed to be one of the rarest sedges in Britain, but occurs in Shropshire, discovered in 1999 by Dr Sarah Whild on limestone scree at Jones’s Rough (SJ2424).  

Grey Sedge and Small-fruited Prickly-sedge are in the subgenus Vignea where the inflorescence is more compound, and the spikes are small in comparison with those of many species in subgenus Carex.  Members are characterised by having bisexual, sessile spikes, where the female flowers have two stigmas each. As you can see from the images the two species differ markedly by the interrupted inflorescence and diamond shape of the utricles, narrowed from above and below in Small-fruited Prickly-sedge. 

Carex muricata subsp. pairae, Small-fruited Prickly-sedge

Exploring in the neighbouring monad, at a local reservoir with a boggy margin, I came across another couple of sedges.  Carex hirta, Hairy Sedge, is less discriminating than many sedges and often the first sedge to come to my attention because of its conspicuous hairiness.  In amongst the verdant vegetation of the water’s edge the swollen, golden utricles were conspicuous, although the grazing water-fowl appeared to prefer Carex disticha, Brown Sedge, which was spreading through extensive rhizomes. A single tuft of Carex pseudocyperus, Cyperus Sedge, with its pendant piano-wire peduncles and bristly inflorescence was great to see, although common in the centre and north of the county where there are more water bodies, it isn’t so common in the south of Shropshire. 

Carex hirta, Hairy Sedge showing the hairy golden utricles

Carex disticha, Brown Sedge                     Carex pseudocyperus, Cyperus Sedge

Searching within the surrounding grassland I recorded Carex pilulifera, Pill Sedge, a tufted sedge that can tolerate the drier soils in the south east of the county.  Here it was lacking the close-set male flowers which I think gives it a distinctive shape. 

Carex pilulifera, Pill Sedge 

If anyone wants to share their own botanical experiences during the last few months, do email us on


Lockton, A. J. & Whild, S. J., 2005. Rare Plants of Shropshire. 3 ed. Shropshire: Shropshire Botanical Society.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

An abundance of sedges

Now that summer is in full swing we are turning our attention to sedges.  Fiona Gomersall is starting us off with her findings from a farm in south Shropshire where she found eight different species.  Sedges, always a good sign: 

"I visited a farm last winter in the Clun Valley when working as a farm advisor.  Knowing that I had an interest in botany the farmer had asked if I'd like to come back in the summer to have a look at a 'flower-rich patch' on the farm.  He wanted to know what was there and if the land qualified as a local wildlife site.  I returned a couple of weeks ago and surveyed the land as a volunteer and recorded 18 axiophytes which included the three following sedges of the damp areas:

Carex panicea, Carnation Sedge

Carex echinata, Star Sedge

Carex demissa,  Common Yellow-sedge

There were eight sedges altogether and other lovely plants like Scutellaria minor, Lesser Skullcap and Achillea ptarmica, Sneezewort. Yes, the site did qualify as a wildlife site and this would include an adjacent dingle which I hope to return to sometime."  

John Martin has also recently recorded an abundance of sedges, from Venus Pool (VP), the Shropshire Ornithological Society reserve.  There he found no less than 13 different sedge species, one of which was Carex pallescens, Pale Sedge, which has a slightly western and upland distribution.  This one was photographed from a meadow on the edge of Long Mynd.  It only grows on an upper slope of the meadow where there is slight seepage of shallow ground water from the Long Myndian shales.  It is certainly pale and note the crinkles at the base of the lowest bract:

Carex pallescens, Pale Sedge

Last week I came across the stately Carex otrubae, False Fox-sedge, in a damp woodland ride.  This year is was particularly abundant and widespread.  The photo does not do justice to this large, striking sedge:

Carex otrubae, False Fox-sedge

Back to the garden, Carex rostrata, Bottle Sedge is doing well in the pond.  The next nearest wild population to me is only a couple of miles away as the crow flies on the Long Mynd, at Wild Moor Pool where it becomes very abundant and is eaten by the ponies which wade into the pool to belly height to reach it:

Carex rostrata, Bottle Sedge

To a sedge with a totally different habit, Carex caryophyllea, Spring Sedge, a small species of short mesotrophic or acidic grassland.   This one was starting to die back already in the drought of a few weeks ago and is next to a rabbit dropping for scale:

Carex caryophyllea, Spring Sedge

Sedges are an interesting group, many being axiophytes - important indicator plants that reveal something about environmental conditions so are worthwhile investing a little time in getting to know.  Some are actually quite distinctive and easy to identify, so don't be put off.  There are resources available including the excellent BSBI Handbook No. 1 Sedges of the British Isles, by Jermy et al.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Botany Bubble anyone?

Those of you who were at the winter social meeting would have heard Harriet Carty from Caring for God’s Acre give an engaging talk on the Beautiful Burial Grounds project which aims to raise the profile of these wildlife rich spaces and encourage recording.  Members of the Botanical Society were invited to choose a churchyard or two (or as many as you like) in Shropshire and start recording plants.  

Liam Taylor, also from the project, followed up in the Spring newsletter with the list of churchyards and two maps showing where they all are.  Now that we are seeing lifting of restrictions, visiting churchyards near-ish to home and doing some peaceful recording (either on your own, with family members, as a botany bubble or with social distancing etc) is back on the cards.  It seems like a really nice way of easing back gently into botanising so we have reproduced the maps here.  Don't worry that they look small and ineligible, just click on them and they should open nicely.  There has to be a churchyard near everyone, surely.   

North Shropshire: 

South Shropshire:

Please continue to send your records following the usual protocol (see Recording Plants page of this website) to VC recorder Dr Sarah Whild.  Once they are all confirmed send a copy to Liam as well  If at all possible, please use 8-figure grid references with your records. 

This is just a suggestion so please only do what works for you, enabling you and others to stay safe and keep within current guidelines whilst getting out and seeing and recording a few plants.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Growing ferns from spores

You may remember Martin Godfrey's article in the Spring 2019 newsletter on how to grow wild ferns from spores.  Committee member Andrew Perry has done just that and has shared some of his experience here.

Andrew collected samples last autumn, just a few pinnae from each species with ripe sporangia underneath.  The spores look like brown dust which you collect after leaving the pinnae in a paper packet in a warm dry place overnight.

Andrew sprinkled some spores onto some damp compost in jam jars, with lids to keep them moist, and left them on a shady windowsill.

The spores germinated into prothalli, spreading across the compost.  The prothalli produce male and female organs resulting in the fertilized sporophyte stage, familiar to us as the ferns.

Andrew was excited to see that after several months the prothalli had started to produce tiny ferns, just as Martin described.  Athyrium filix-femina Lady Fern was the first to develop followed by Dryopteris borreri Borrer's Scaly Male Fern.  The young fronds were transplanted into some compost in a propagator on a north facing window sill to grow on and Andrew now has six species developing.

Very easy, just requiring a little a patience.  This would be an excellent project for later in the summer when the sporangia ripen.