By Mark Lawley
"The mind is a moving picture, according to which we are ceaselessly painting. But it takes in at a glance what the painter's brush executes gradually, and to see an object, to decide that it is beautiful, to experience a sensation of pleasure, and to desire possession of that object are all parts of a single and instantaneous state of mind."
Botanists attest the truth of Diderot's sublime insight as they quarter the countryside for new plants: at the moment of pleasurable discovery they admire their forms, colours, scent, taste and texture, and also covet their quarry for herbaria or albums of photographs. Yet the Border Bryologists did not begin their year's programme in the field, but with a now-traditional January day at the microscopes in Ludlow Museum. Local bryologists set store by this annual opportunity to share and solve bryological problems - whether recalcitrant gatherings, or difficulties with a key or techniques for examination.
February fog cloaked the Wye valley as seven hardy souls set out to explore woodland on Capler Hill (SO 5932) south of Hereford. A shy sun eventually burnt off the vapours, daffodils in early bud made a cheerful portent of spring, and we lunched in pleasant sunshine on a south-facing bank in a pasture near the top of the hill. Both species of Pseudocrossidium and Ephemerum serratum var. minutissimum grew nearby.
Rather as we had found at Dinmore two years ago, the wooded upper parts of Capler Hill are acidic and bryologically rather tedious, but minerals draining from above endow the steep lower banks between the lane and river with a more varied and calcicolous flora. Masses of Hart's-tongue Fern spoke of base-rich conditions, and several old sandstone quarries carried Anomodon viticulosus, Homalia trichomanoides, Mnium stellare, Zygodon viridissimus var. stirtonii, Campylophyllum calcareum, Eurhynchium pumilum, and Rhynchostegiella tenella. Lorna Fraser found a patch of Taxiphyllum wissgrillii, and further searching would surely reveal many more plants of interest. Nearby, a few minutes inspecting the flood-zone of the River Wye at the end of the day brought Didymodon nicholsonii, Schistidium rivulare and Cinclidotus fontinaloides to notice. A high water-level probably hid more species from view.
After the floods of early winter, the pestilence arrived, and restrictions on access to the countryside brought about by the epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease caused us to shift our ground in March, April and May. On a bitterly cold day in March we bryologized in Ross-on-Wye (SO 52/62), where a car park near Wilton Bridge was growing Didymodon luridus in abundance around the margin of tarmac, with smaller quantities of Encalypta streptocarpa on a kerbstone, and the much less common Tortula protobryoides on gravelly soil. The Reverend Augustin Ley found this moss on a garden path at Pengethley in February 1888. One can imagine him pausing to gather it on his way to visit a parishioner. Pengethley is only two or three miles west of Ross, so it was good to discover that T. protobryoides remains in the district, and may be readmitted to Herefordshire's list.
Mortared walls across the road from the car park carried Pseudocrossidium revolutum and Schistidium crassipilum, the latter distinguished from S. apocarpum s.s. by elongated exothecial cells in the lower half of its capsules. It is beginning to look as though S. crassipilum is much the commoner of the two species in this part of the country. Alder trees by the river gave us Syntrichia latifolia, Orthotrichum sprucei and Leskea polycarpa.
After a bowl of life-saving soup at Les Smith's, we thawed out sufficiently to nose round his garden, finding Didymodon luridus and D. sinuosus, Dicranella staphylina, Orthotrichum affine, O. diaphanum, and Les was like a dog with two tails to wag when O. lyellii turned up on his lilac tree, with Didymodon nicholsonii on the tarmac drive.
April's meeting was conducted in ceaseless rain, so it was just as well that the epidemic of Foot and Mouth disease had obliged us to forsake exposed ground on the Long Mynd for the relative shelter of Bishop's Castle churchyard (SO 3288), which by the most fortuitous of circumstances lies directly opposite the Six Bells Inn. Mortared walls around the churchyard sprouted Bryum radiculosum and Didymodon sinuosus, and Scleropodium cespitans and Didymodon nicholsonii grew on the tarmac path to the church. After an hour in the rain we felt able to retreat without loss of face, substituting bucolic for botanic pleasures with some Cloud Nine in the Six Bells, in which happy circumstance the day passed into hazy remembrance.
Of our finds that day, Scleropodium cespitans and Didymodon nicholsonii have for long tolerated the scarifying action of particles of soil and other debris swept by water past riverbanks, but they can also withstand a similar attrition from feet and wheels on paths and driveways. One small consolatory benefit of the Foot and Mouth epidemic may be a rash of records of mosses from tarmac drives, pavements, building sites and other habitats in towns and villages. Indeed, in some districts D. nicholsonii seems to be a widespread and abundant suburban weed. Not a particularly charismatic cryptogam, it is probably overlooked, and may not merit its elevated status as "Nationally Scarce" for much longer.
Platygyrium repens is another moss which, like Didymodon nicholsonii, has recently turned up several times in Herefordshire and Shropshire, and also seems to like damp or humid conditions - on oak and ash by a pool in Lower Bolstone Wood (SO 53) south of Hereford, on an old apple tree by the River Teme in Downton Gorge (SO 47), in great quantity on alder, silver birch, crack willow and hazel in the damper parts of Incham Coppice (SO 57) near Ludlow (but not in the drier part of the wood), and on ash by the River Rea downstream from Cleobury Mortimer (SO 67).
Still in the throes of Foot and Mouth, we rearranged our meeting for May to Chaddesley Corbett (SO 8873) in north Worcestershire. There we looked over Mervyn and Rose Needham's commercial nursery garden, where the bryological weeds reminded us again how many species we pass by when ignoring disturbed habitats. The sandy ground was very dry, and Mervyn had been zealously protecting his livelihood with a spray-gun, but we rounded up the usual suspects from the soil and concrete kerbs, and added Campylopus pyriformis from peat in some of the pots. After demolishing Rose's wonderful buffet lunch, we ambled across the road to examine some sandstone exposed by a stream. Conditions there were sufficiently damp for a quite different suite of species, and here may be told the best finds of the day - Amblystegium fluviatile and A. varium, Fissidens crassipes and F. pusillus (the latter plant new to Worcestershire), with Hookeria lucens nearby.
Our October meeting took place at Featherknowl (SO 5170), a private house and grounds two miles south of Ludlow. This meeting combined al fresco exploration of the garden and orchard with the opulent ambience of a large drawing room for microscopic examination of our finds, a mixture which proved particularly popular for several children, and will be worth repeating should similar opportunities arise again in future. The advantages of promptly confirming the identities of plants found only a few minutes previously helped to fix in our minds the connections between habit and form as revealed to the naked eye or lens and microscopic details of the same plants once their leaves and capsules had been mounted beneath coverslips.
A gravel and brick drive by the house had a sward of Didymodon luridus and D. nicholsonii (both species superficially similar in form, but the former having unistratose margins to the leaves, while the latter has bistratose margins). Tiles on the roof sprouted Grimmia pulvinata, G. trichophylla and Racomitrium fasciculare, while in the orchard behind the house we noticed great differences between the epiphytic bryofloras of the various kinds of tree. The trunks of old cherry trees were entirely devoid of moss, with damson and pear hardly more rewarding, and much the best trees were apple. In addition to plentiful Hypnum cupressiforme, Brachythecium rutabulum, Amblystegium serpens, Dicranoweisia cirrata, Orthotrichum affine and O. diaphanum, a large colony of Syntrichia papillosa grew on one trunk, showing its characteristic combination of gemmae and inrolled leaf margins, while more modest quantities of Brachythecium salebrosum grew on another. This uncommon moss has sufficiently plicate leaves to have one suspecting a Homalothecium at first glance, but the dimensions of the basal cells of the leaves differ from the cells above. Bryologists have paid little attention to the still-numerous old orchards of Herefordshire and neighbouring counties, and our findings at Featherknowl left us wondering how important old apple orchards may be as refugia for uncommon epiphytes requiring adequate light and a neutral or basic bark - a bryological equivalent of the rich lichen-flora on tree trunks in old country parks in the region such as at Moccas and Brampton Bryan.
Worcestershire has been enjoying a bryological renaissance recently, and 16 people met up in the Wyre Forest (SO 7476) west of Bewdley for our last meeting of the year on a mild Sunday in November. Rosemary Winnall guided us to north-facing banks on the Worcestershire side of Dowles Brook, where damp ground and humid air suited the liverworts Riccardia multifida, Saccogyna viticulosa (this in considerable quantity) and Scapania nemorea, with the moss Hookeria lucens in attendance too. As so often happens in these affairs, the best ground was not reached until a few minutes before lunchtime, and would repay less hasty inspection. Nearby, concrete on the bridge over the brook held Didymodon rigidulus, D. sinuosus and D. tophaceus, with Amblystegium fluviatile and A. tenax growing on stones by the water.
After a picnic, we moved a quarter of a mile up to the forest's "Great Bog" , immediately south of a long-disused railway-line. Choice vascular plants once found there by George Jorden, Edwin Lees and others 150 years ago and reported in old issues of the Phytologist and Transactions of the Worcestershire Naturalists' Club include Summer Lady's Tresses Spiranthes aestivalis, Scented Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea and Marsh Helleborine Epipactis palustris, as well as Bog Pimpernel Anagallis tenella, Broad-leaved Cotton-grass Eriophorum latifolium and Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnu). But the place has suffered greatly from subsequent drainage, and is not the botanical hot-spot it once was. Nevertheless, a number of calcareous flushes remain, and local naturalists have recently cleared many trees and shrubs in an attempt to restore some of the former botanical character. We found the flushes to be full of Palustriella commutata var. commutata, with Campylium stellatum var. stellatum, Cratoneuron filicinum and Ctenidium molluscum for company round the edges of the water. A patch of Leucobryum juniperoideum grew on damp soil by one of the felled trees, and sufficient timber remained nearby for Dicranum montanum and D. tauricum to go on the list. Lorna Fraser found a colony of Trichocolea tomentella, and Sphagnum inundatum turned up in a drainage-ditch on the edge of the bog. Of these, the Leucobryum was new to Worcestershire, and the Trichocolea and Sphagnum had not been recorded in the county for over 50 years.
In these ways we added fresh details during 2001 to our pictures of nature in the Silurian (and Permo-Triassic) region, and derived much pleasure from tracking down, observing, and taking into possession the plants we found.
A Bryological Tour through Shropshire and An Annotated Check-list of the Bryophytes of Shropshire are now available on the British Bryological Society's web-site (www.rbge.org.uk/bbs/vc40list.htm and www.rbge.org.uk/bbs/vc40site.htm) and will be brought up to date annually. If you would like a copy of the Bryoflora but do not have access to the internet, I can supply it on soft disk or as an unbound paper copy. There is no charge for this, but please offer a donation payable to the British Bryological Society to cover the costs of copying, packing and postage.
The Border Bryologists' programme of meetings is also available on the BBS's web-page and on the Herefordshire Botanical Society's pages at ralph.cs.cf.ac.uk/HBS/Border.htm
Mark Lawley,12A Castleview Terrace, Ludlow, SY8 2NG
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