Vice-county 37 (Worcestershire)37

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The bryological scene in Worcestershire before the BBS meeting in 2004

Mark Lawley

The British Bryological Society’s week-long meeting in Worcestershire in April 2004 presents a fine opportunity for local naturalists to develop their understanding of mosses and liverworts. Much remains to be discovered about Worcestershire’s bryoflora, which has been unjustly neglected since the days of J.B. Duncan in the first quarter of the 20th century.

In consequence, Team Worcestershire’s reconnoitring excursions during the last year or so to sites ear-marked for exploration by the BBS in 2004 have turned up a number of species not seen in the county for many years, as well as others which had never been vouchered for vc 37.

Last winter, calcareous rock and soil on the north scarp of Bredon Hill produced Didymodon ferrugineus, Microbryum rectum, Tortella tortuosa and Scapania aspera new to the county. From more acidic substrates on the Malvern Hills, Joy Ricketts found Buxbaumia aphylla – a strange and very scarce moss with no leaves, which can therefore only be found when its large, lop-sided capsules develop in winter. Lorna Fraser found the uncommon Hedwigia ciliata, only recently distinguished from the commoner H. stellata, and Schistostega pennata also turned up, an iridescent moss which lines the earthen walls of disused rabbit-burrows on the Malverns, just as it does on the Long Mynd in Shropshire. Grimmia laevigata keeps company with Pterogonium gracile on Hangman’s Hill, and Scleropodium tourettii adorns a disused quarry near Whiteleaved Oak. On Castlemorton Common Ann Hill collected Climacium dendroides from wet ground in a coppice. This distinctive moss has an unusually upright habit, just like a tree – hence its specific name. Nearby on the trunk of a hawthorn tree Rita Holmes discovered Microlejeunea ulicina, a minute liverwort with the delightful English name of Fairy Beads.

Several sites along the Teme Valley have attested bryodiversity. Thuidium philibertii grows among grass on Penny Hill, with Ditrichum gracile, Trichostomum crispulum and Weissia longifolia var. angustifolia in the disused quarry nearby. Crews Hill gave us Campylophyllum calcareum and Wissett’s Wood near Mamble has Platygyrium repens, an epiphytic moss which looks just like Hypnum resupinatum except for prominent spiky clusters of propagules at the tips of its shoots, as well as a minute epiphytic liverwort called Cololejeunea minutissima. Both these species appear to be spreading across southern England. Indeed, like the epiphytic moss Ulota phyllanthaCololejeunea minutissima was mainly coastal until a few years ago. The liverworts Lejeunea cavifolia and Nowellia curvifolia live in Hanley Dingle (the Nowellia is another species extending its distribution), and Eurhynchium schleicheri and Plagiochila britannica like the shallow soil enriched by underlying tufa at Southstone Rock.

Wyre Forest seldom disappoints, and recent visits revealed the mosses Leucobryum juniperoideum and Sphagnum inundatum, plus the liverworts Lejeunea lamacerina and Trichocolea tomentella.

Other sites in the county have also produced interesting records, most notably Harry Green’s discovery of the Red Data Book liverwort Sphaerocarpos texanus on sandy soil in a field of rhubarb near Holt Fleet. S. texanus forms a pale green blob which looks as if it might have recently touched down from outer space, and can only be distinguished from its slightly commoner congener S. michelii by examining the size and papillosity of alveoli on the surface of its spores. Fortunately Harry’s gathering was mature, and I understand he intends to dine out in bryological circles for some time to come on the back of this fine record.

With a recently revitalised local interest in bryology, and a deluge of further discoveries sure to materialise when the cream of cryptogamists visit the county next year, it seems regrettable that our changing perceptions of Worcestershire’s bryoflora cannot be incorporated in the planned Flora of Worcestershire. To be sure, we still have much to learn about the occurrences and distributions of bryophytes in the county, but all the best regional Floras now include cryptogams.

Moreover, evidence of large gaps in our understanding is a powerful reason for publishing what we do know about Worcestershire’s bryophytes rather than staying silent on the subject, for there can be no more certain stimulus to further exploration and discovery than a readily available summary of what has been found where.

(Mark originally appended a list of bracketed species for which modern vouchers were required, however this is now out of date and has been removed)