By Lorna Fraser
Hedwigia ciliata is illustrated in many of the bryophyte books and was reported as recently as 1994 in the Atlas of Bryophytes as being "common and locally frequent ......... on boulders in moorland .......". It had been found mainly in the North and West of Britain, but was nevertheless widespread and there was an old record for the Malverns area. It is robust, distinctive, and very attractive moss, easily identified in the field by its bushy, bristly appearance, hoary when dry and yellowish with red stems when wet. Using a hand lens just two features (hyaline leaf tips and lack of any midrib) are sufficient to identify it as H. ciliata using various identification keys. There is a very good photograph in the Collins field guide.
Nevertheless, as a beginner with bryophytes, Id never seen it before. It was therefore very pleasing, but not totally surprising, to come across it one foggy day last autumn on a wet boulder on the Malvern Hills. Checking a small tuft under the microscope revealed young rounded capsules buried in the shoot tips and papillae (small lumps) on the cells, which helped to confirm the species.
However, since 1994 (in Sweden) and 1995 (in Britain) it seems that the H. ciliata (originally described by Hedwigia in 1801) has been split into three taxa. In Britain the new Hedwigia stellata is the common species, while Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata is rare, and Hedwigia ciliata var. leucophaea is very rare. The differences between the taxa partly concern the nature of the papillae, but can also be seen in the field since Hedwigia stellata has recurved leaf tips when dry giving the stellate appearance.
I hadnt seen this recent literature, so I was puzzled by the new names in the recent Census Catalogue (1998) and sent the specimen to the BBS. (British Bryological Society) referee (Ron Porley) and recorder (Gordon Rothero) for checking and clarification. It was subsequently confirmed as Hedwigia ciliata var. ciliata, and hence considered rare as well as a new VC37 record. Well, whatever its name or rarity, lets hope it remains on the Malverns and doesnt get engulfed by the invading scrub.
This record shows the value of taking a (small) tuft of moss home to check under the microscope. And how relatively easy it is, even for a beginner like me, to stumble upon a new (or revised) record without really trying, especially in Worcestershire with its lack of recent bryophyte recording. Its encouraging to note the current surge of interest in bryophytes in the county - I hope it results in a lot more records of both old and new species and an additional trigger for habitat conservation.
|JAHNS, H M. 1980. Collins Guide to the Ferns Mosses and Lichens of Britain & North & Central Europe. Collins|
|WATSON, E V. 1981. British Mosses and Liverworts 3rd edition. CUP.|
|SMITH, A J E 1978. The Moss Flora of Britain and Ireland C.U.P.|
|BLOCKEEL, T L & LONG, D G 1998. A Checklist & Census Catalogue of British & Irish Bryophytes British Bryological Society.|
|HEDEN, LARS 1994. The Hedwigia ciliata complex in Sweden, with notes on the occurrence of the taxa in Fennoscandia. Journal of Bryology 18: 807-810|
|CRUNDWELL A C 1995. Hedwigia stellata and H. ciliata in
the British Isles. Journal of Bryology 18: 139-157 |