New plant for the south of Scotland found in Botanics

Hornwort plant

The recent discovery of a new plant previously unseen in the south of Scotland has caught the imagination of botanists at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) – who found the little hornwort, quite literally under their feet, at the organisation’s Edinburgh and Logan sites.

The sighting of a plant previously unknown in an area is not what you might expect to happen within a botanic garden. Such places have large managed collections of introduced plants that grow alongside smaller numbers of wild natives. Unlike their flowering cousins, the non-flowering “lower” plants are often small and may be tolerated, or actively removed if they are seen as weeds.

The discovery was made when Dr David Chamberlain, RBGE Research Associate, spotted a patch of green on the ground that was, to his well-trained eye, an unusual colour. Closer examination showed it to be a colony of smooth hornwort (Phaeoceros laevis), a species not previously recorded anywhere in the Lothians. Coincidentally, three species of hornwort were recorded at Logan Botanic Garden in Dumfries & Galloway, in the summer. All of them were new records for the local area.

Dr Max Coleman, Science Communicator at the RGBE, commented “Hornworts are part of a larger group of plants called bryophytes that are collectively the oldest group of land-living plants alive today. Scientists think that this group is the link between the first plants, that were restricted to living in water, and the so-called vascular plants that dominate the land today.

“Hornworts are small plants allied to mosses that are primarily found in tropical climates. Britain has four species that are native and they are easily overlooked as they are so small. Their small horn-shaped projections look rather like small blades of grass and as they release spores they look like small dying blades of grass having turned from green to brown.”

What this story shows is that new discoveries can be made in the most unlikely places and something unknown could be literally under your feet.

ENDS

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)