Those of you who regularly read this waffle may recall that last week I found a patch of Fringecups in my local woods. I didn't recognise it as such but luckily the local BSBI Recorder did. Cool, new for the square and only the 5th hectad on Skye for this garden escape. If you missed it click here to read all about it.
Fast forward five days and the BSBI Recorder contacted me saying that it wasn't Fringecups at all, but a related species of Mitella. Fringecups is Tellima. I'm assuming someone took a close look at the family and turned it up on it's head (Tellima is an anagram of Mitella) just as has recently happened with the Tegenaria spiders (currently Erategina, literally a rearrangement of Tegenaria).
Here is the timeline of events, as I understand them -
18th April - I find the plants and post a pic as 'unidentified plant' on this blog.
That same evening I send two images to Stephen Bungard, BSBI Recorder for this area, who quickly informs me the plant is Fringecups Tellima grandiflora
20th April - Stephen updates his blog and shows two images of the Fringecups that I found
24th April - Stephen emails me with this: "It has been suggested to me that your plant is not Tellima grandiflora (Previously Mitella grandiflora) but rather Mitella ovalis and that certainly looks likely. The taxonomy of his group is not currently clear to me so I am going to get help. I intend to come and see it on Wednesday"
25th April (today) - I speak with my boss and wrangle Wednesday daytime (tomorrow) off work.
- Stephen emails again with this:
"I am now 100% convinced that you have Mitella (or Pectiantia) ovalis.I have asked for it to be included in the taxon list for the BSBI database as it not currently there.
I have also asked a chap in the USA to confirm the i.d. from your images as he has published various web pages on these plants.
I have also checked the Tellima on Raasay – and that is correct!" (Stephen lives on Raasay)
- we agree a time and place to meet up tomorrow morning
- I later receive a further email from Stephen stating:
"It has been confirmed by David Giblin, University of Washington Herbarium Collections Manager.
He says seeds are dispersed by ants – which would suggest a source not far away."
So there you have it, I've found a plant that has never been recorded in a wild state from anywhere in Britain. The seeds are available to buy in Britain, and clearly the plants I found are well-naturalised aliens rather than naturally occurring aliens (which are dubbed neo-natives I think?) I'm not sure this rates as highly as when I found the micro-moth Coleophora calycotomella new to Britain, which is what I managed to do in April 2004 (April is evidently a good month for me!) but it's pretty damn exciting all the same.
I went back to the site this afternoon for a bit of a recce ahead of Stephen's arrival tomorrow. The two clumps that I initially found are still there plus a third I hadn't noticed before, with a total of 15 flowering spikes still showing nicely. A little further down the brook I found another three clumps hiding beneath a tree overhang, these having about 40 flower spikes between them. At this point I didn't know that the seeds are supposed to be distributed about by ants - I assumed they would spread by means of floating seeds. Hence I checked upstream for the 'master plants'. Sure enough I discovered another two clumps with 15 flower spikes followed by a large patch at the top of the brook where it emerges from beneath the road, presumably the original plants.
Despite being next to the road, there are no gardens near this site, certainly none within ant wandering distance! This leaves fly-tipping of garden waste as an obvious explanation. Yet I don't see this as being the likely agent of arrival. There are, quite literally, acres upon acres of 'empty' land around here. Hardly any houses or residents to witness fly-tipping. Most folks here seem to either burn stuff, chuck it on the beach or just dump it at the edge of their property. Fly-tipping seems unlikely. But I very much doubt that the plants are birdsown either, they don't produce nice gaudy edible berries or fruits.
So it remains a mystery. Would somebody deliberately plant an obscure garden plant in a patch of woodland in the middle of nowhere? Up here? I doubt it. Thrown out with garden waste? No gardens nearby. Fly-tipped? Possibly, this seems the most obvious vector. But unlikely - it's on the (only) main road in the area and you'd have to heave the refuse over a wall. There are so many quiet back roads where a fly-tipper could just dump stuff without the risk of being seen. I dunno, maybe Stephen will have some theories.
Here's a pic of a flowering clump that I found today. For better images I suggest you tune in to Stephen's blog this time tomorrow!
It was about then that I posted onto the Pan-species Listers' Facebook Group, which was going quite well until a certain Bill Urwin joined the discussion (gotta love that man, he's just such a cool character)
Anyway. Watches synchronised, 1030hrs is the appointed hour. I shall be meeting Stephen Bungard for the very first time and he shall be meeting Mitella ovalis for the very first time. Then all we gotta do is figure out which Common Name we're going to give it and add it into the BSBI and NBN Gateway databases.