2020 County Report for Cardiganshire
Despite the negative impact of a questionably alive microbe on the permissible activities of an unquestionably problem primate the year produced a fair number of interesting plant finds. If the cloud of Covid-19 could be said to have had a silver lining then it prompted exploration of local footpaths and bridleways in the Rheidol valley area, shamefully unvisited before in over two decades of residency.
Steve Chambers (SPC) & Helen Clow (HFC), stopping off on a journey down the coast to New Quay on 16th February to see if the roadside Crassula tillaea (Mossy Stonecrop) at Llanrhystud was showing could find no trace at all of it, but on 23rd March several seedlings with stems barely 6-8 mm long were visible, the young greenish leaves making this usually, when mature, brightly coloured species strangely inconspicuous at this early developmental stage. Its seeds must presumably germinate between mid-February and mid-March.
Checking up on the Rheidol valley’s colonies of Stellaria neglecta (Greater Chickweed) SPC found the one east of Rhiwarthen-uchaf had disappeared on account of it being swamped by Brambles in a now fenced-off wood from which grazing had been removed under agri-environment scheme prescription, one was extant and a third new population was found at SN665783 close to the latter historical site. Investigating the varietal characters involved they seemed to have ‘switched over’ going by the information given in the species’ account in Flora of Cardiganshire (Chater 2010; p.521). This would have been as inexplicable as interesting from a genetic perspective, until it was realised the characters in that flora are inadvertently given the wrong way round, thus explaining the apparent reversal. Sell & Murrell Vol. I (p. 444) have them the right way, i.e. glandular-hairy pedicels and sepals in var. neglecta.
Also in the Rheidol valley, SPC spent time in May exploring the Atlantic rainforest around the Nant y Fawnog side-ravine in Coed Rheidol NNR, acquiring updated records for various vice-county-notables first recorded there in the 1970s. These included Drymochloa sylvatica (Wood Fescue), Geum rivale (Wood Avens), Gymnocarpium robertianum (Oak Fern), Papaver cambricum (Welsh Poppy) and Tilia cordata (Small-leaved Lime), and in the process he found a new colony of Circaea x intermedia (Upland Enchanter’s-nightshade). The atmosphere of these western Oakwoods in springtime is special and there is perhaps no better habitat to experience at that time of year.
In May, Arthur Chater (AOC) received photos of an Anthriscus sent by Ewan Parry growing at the edge of his garden near Llanafan in 2019. This was identified as A.caucalis (Bur Chervil), only the second certain vice-county record and the first for fifteen years. The plant appeared by a place where chickens were fed wheat-seed and the Chervil seed was almost certainly in the feed. Although of explained origin and garden context, the occurrence of unusual species like this outside the countryside are difficult for recorders to treat and equally to ignore, since they reflect cultural behaviours no different in many respects from those causing plants to appear in semi-natural habitats from intentionally sown ‘wildflower seed’.
Following Justin Lyons’ (JPL) tremendous discovery of Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Irish Lady’s-tresses) on the Dyfi NNR the previous year, he initiated a scientific monitoring programme for the plant in 2020. Its leaves and young inflorescences were already visible by late-March in what is remarkably early development for such a relatively late-flowering orchid.
JPL was also busy elsewhere on the Dyfi NNR through the summer and reported updates for several stonewort taxa not surveyed since 1996/7. This included Tolypella glomerata (Clustered Stonewort), practically all of the vice-county notable plants on the NNR and also around four plants of Drosera x obovata (Obovate Sundew) (D.rotundifolia x anglica) on a part of Cors Fochno where it had not been seen before. He also found two plants of Serratula tinctoria (Saw-wort) in one of the NNR compartments, a species never before recorded from the Dyfi estuary area in the vice-county, and a new hectad record for SN69. Good places just keep on giving and the Dyfi NNR is no exception.
In the south of the county, Howard Williams provided detailed size, count and 10-figure grid reference population updates for all the roadside verge colonies of Ranunculus auricomus (Goldilocks Buttercup) in the Llechryd area.
One of the year’s objectives was to accept the ‘Molinia challenge’ of the uplands around Llyn Gwngu above Cwmystwyth in order to update records for vice-county scarce plants in that area. Thanks to the modern technological miracle of GPS it was mission accomplished, with successful relocations of the small populations of Carex dioica (Dioecious Sedge), C.lasiocarpa (Slender Sedge) & Galium uliginosum (Fen Bedstraw). The real miracle, however, was how such tiny, remote populations, some literally floating on the sea of Molinia, were found in the first place and I was left with a feeling of admiration for those who had gone before and made the finds initially. Wearily creaking back down, cryptically half-camouflaged from the waist down by a coat of peaty sludge, for one cannot avoid all the moor-grass traps, the Cardi in my head asked, why do people pay for gym subscriptions when the Cambrian Mountains are available for free? Gyms do not even provide challenging vegetation as part of the package.
An amble down the road to St David’s church in Capel Bangor on 2 July produced the only, as yet confirmed, first Vice-county Record for the year in the stately form of a sky-scraping yellow-flowered Verbascum (Mullein) growing by the corner of a burial plot in the northern-part of the graveyard, SN655801. A break to the mowing regime caused by the viral pandemic meant the grassland in the yard had not been cut and the Mullein had responded magnificently. Looking thapsus-like but somehow different with enormous basal leaves (to 75 x 28 cm, length x breadth) and a multi-branched stem (at least ten around the main stem) a close-up inspection of the styles revealed the spathulate-decurrent stigmas of V.densiflorum (Dense-flowered Mullein), later confirmed AOC and John Poland (JPP) by emailed close-up digital photographs. The plant survived to set seed, so hopefully the species will persist. V.thapsus has capitate stigmas but the best character as rated by JPP to distinguish the two species is the branched inflorescence stem of V.densiflorum.
Since 2017, when it was first noticed inland in the vice-county only 0.5 km from the sea on the edge of the A487(T) between Llanrhystud and Llan-non (SPC), and 2018, when it was spotted by the Morrisons’ roundabout outside Aberystwyth 1.5 km inland by Chloe Griffiths (CG), Spergularia marina (Lesser Sea-spurrey) has crept progressively farther away from maritime places, in 2019 being found 5.25 km inland by the Lovesgrove roundabout on the A44(T) east of Aberystwyth by Matt Sutton (MDS). In 2020 it was found 3.75 km inland on the eastern verge of the A4159 near Plas Gogerddan, SN626837 (AOC), 7.25 km inland on the south-side of the A44(T), Penllwyn (SPC & HFC) and c. 8.25 km inland also on the A44(T) a little farther east, up the road near the Maes-bangor pub in Capel Bangor (SPC & HFC). It was also noticed in Penrhyn-coch at 8 km inland (SPC) on the edge of the road by the garage where it was growing with Rorippa palustris (March Yellow-cress). In recent years during cold snaps the edges of the A44(T) in particular have been noticeably encrusted in liberally applied thick layers of rock salt. So perhaps heavier salting, i.e. in increased quantities where it is carried out, is responsible even though the frequency of applications is probably less nowadays due to winters becoming generally milder. Whatever the driver(s) pushing it away from the coast, there is an ecological case for emending the common name of S.marina to Lesser Salt-spurrey.
Another interesting record of an inland halophyte was Plantago coronopus (Buck’s-horn Plantain), some c. 100+ plants of which were found (SPC & HFC) brightening up the concrete edges of the roadbridge over the Afon Rheidol near the Vale-of-Rheidol Capel Bangor railway station, SN649798, in December. This was only the second time and place this Plantain has been found well away from the coast in the vice-county.
A highlight second vice-county record was Chaenostoma cordatum (Bacopa) [syn. Sutera cordata] found by AOC self-sown on a pavement in Aberystwyth, SN586817, on 5 December 2020. Interestingly the first vice-county record was also an early winter find on an Aberystwyth street on 29 November 2011.
Another second vice-county record was a single plant of Erigeron (Conyza) sumatrensis (Guernsey Fleabane) found by SPC in a mix of ruderals on rough ground near the old barns and glasshouses in the middle of Aberystwyth University’s Frongoch farm, SN605826, on 17 September 2020, only the 3rd plant of the species for the vice-county.
Other noteworthy finds included:
- Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower). AOC found scattered plants in a very weedy Avena (Oat) field near Llanilar, SN621753, where it was clearly derived from old seedbank, i.e. not from a wildflower seed mix. The first such occurrence since 2011 when it appeared in a Tir Gofal arable field near Monachty.
- Cortaderia selloana (Pampas-grass). SPC & HFC found one plant on a scrubby, rough slope c. 0.75 km west-southwest of Chancery, SN572765. The third vice-county record.
- Dryopteris aemula (Hay-scented Buckler-fern). Gillian and Peter Foulkes found one plant on a roadside bank at the east end of Cwm Llyfnant, SN7397. The first vice-county record from the valley for 44 years.
- Elatine hexandra (6-stamened Waterwort). Found by MDS on the margin of a well-established artificial pond near Tynreithin, SN651613.
- Equisetum x litorale (Shore Horsetail). SPC & HFC found on a bank of the Afon Rheidol below the Rheidol falls, SN708790. The seventh vice-county site.
- Lycopus europaeus (Gypsywort). Found by David Hawkins in crevices of stonework of the inner harbour wall at Aberaeron. New for the hectad and an interesting mural-coastal habitat as it also grows on the harbour wall in the Gap at Aberystwyth.
- Lysichiton americanus (American Skunk-cabbage). SPC found one young plant on the Afon Rheidol in Oakwood north-west of Devil’s Bridge/Pontarfynach. Not seen on this length of the river before.
- Mentha arvensis (Corn Mint). In a field E of Llandysul, SN443411. Determined by AOC, hiding on a specimen of a rust fungus sent by J. Parish.
- Saxifraga tridactylites (Rue-leaved Saxifrage). Found by AOC on a railway platform at Aber-ffrwd station, Vale-of-Rheidol Railway, SN687787.
- Verbena officinalis (Vervain). Found by SPC and HFC on a wall in Melindwr Terrace, Capel Bangor, SN660800. The first hectad record since Salter had it as a garden weed in Llandre in 1904 and 1907 (Chater 2010).
- Veronica beccabunga (Brooklime). Found sprawling in a flowerbed in Aberystwyth by SPC. New for the hectad in what must be one of the most thoroughly and regularly botanised town in Wales, if not Britain.
The year was quirky for producing several new vice-county altitude-limit records, perhaps for no reason other than that people headed for the hills when they could. Examples included (new limit/previous limit):
- Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly Everlasting). Tim Rayner found a plant on edge of a forestry track in the Bryn-y-rhyd plantation, SN688519, 440m/410m.
- Danthonia decumbens (Heath-grass). Found by SPC on a heathy bank south of Pen Lluest-y-garn, SN800861, 630m/590m.
- Hypochaeris radicata (Cat’s-ear). Karen Heppingstall (KH) found 15 plants and c. 25-30 plants in two places respectively on the ridge west of Pumlumon Arwystli, SN811875, 690m/500m, almost a tectonic uplift!
- Solidago virgaurea minuta (Mountain Goldenrod). Found by SPC on a stony saddle north of the summit area of Pen Cerrig Tewion, SN799881, 670m/620m.
- Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan). Andy Jones (RAJ) and KH found four individuals south-west of Pumlumon Arwystli, SN801874 & SN805875, 700m & 720m/620m.
Chris Forster-Brown (CMFB) encountered an altitudinous colony of Geranium lucidum (Shining Crane’s-bill) growing in abundance at 400 m in the peculiar habitat of below and between the slats of a cattle grid on the minor road at the top of Cwm Ceulan, SN721908. As it turned out AOC had first spotted it precisely there in 2016! Why this species should be growing so vigorously and contentedly under a rain-soaked cattle grid in the uplands is quite mysterious.
A sour event, but one needing reporting for its dire impact on vice-county botany, was the severe fire, thought to be deliberately lit, that affected a large part of the Pencreigiau’r-llan SSSI in the uplands near Llyn Conach, north of the Angler’s Retreat area, on 17-18 May. Around 120 ha of land was incinerated, including moorland supporting one of the two vice-county populations of Neottia cordata (Lesser Twayblade). The vegetation and its special biodiversity now converted, alas, into carbon dioxide. Reports of the fire appeared in the 21 and 28 May 2020 editions of the Cambrian News.
Finally, I can report the exciting news that the county is the custodian of a novel British hybrid Hypericum (St. John’s-wort). H. x cereticae R.A. Jones, F.J. Rumsey & N. Robson is a cross between the widespread H.perforatum (Perforate St. John’s-wort) and the nationally scarce H.undulatum (Wavy St John’s-wort). The plant was first found by RAJ in 2015 and is mentioned on p.329 in Stace (2019) but has only just been named and formally described new to science in a paper (Jones & Rumsey, 2020) in British and Irish Botany. The paper is downloadable in pdf format from the BSBI website. So far it is known from just two sites, at Rhos Cross Inn SSSI and near Nanteos. The authors think it may have dispersed to the latter from the former. The epithet ‘cereticae’ is the phytogeographically encoded Latinate form of Ceredigion/Cardiganshire.
I extend my thanks to all the local and visiting (some by virtual means) plant folk who sent in, reported verbally, or verified records this year, namely Arthur Chater, Helen Clow, Chris Forster-Brown, Gillian & Peter Foulkes, Chloe Griffiths, David Hawkins, Karen Heppingstall, Andy Jones, Justin Lyons, J. Parish, Ewan Parry, John Poland, Tim Rayner, Matt Sutton and Howard Williams.
Chater, A.O. (2010). Flora of Cardiganshire. Privately published.
Jones, R.A. & Rumsey, F.J. (2020). A novel hybrid of Hypericum undulatum Wavy-leaved St. John’s-wort, Hypericaceae) and its subsequent dispersal. British & Irish Botany 2(3): 207-214.
Stace, C.A. (2019). New Flora of the British Isles. 4th edition. C&M Floristics.
[This article was published in BSBI Welsh Bulletin No. 108, July 2021]