Rare fern found
8 September 2013
The marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris) has always been rare in Devon. In 1968 and 1969 it was found in Warleigh Wood near Plymouth but it has not been recorded since. However, using information from RAMM’s herbarium Roger Smith, a plant recorder with the Devonshire Association, found the marsh fern at Decoy near Newton Abbot in June of this year.
Found with a little help from Hiern
Pressed ferns collected by WP Hiern (1839-1925) are proof that the marsh fern was present between 1889 and 1909 at Swanpool Marsh near Braunton. Unfortunately this area has been drained and is no longer a suitable habitat. Hiern also found the fern at Decoy near Newton Abbot and Roger realised that the land here was unchanged since Hiern found his specimen 100 years ago in 1913. Together with fellow botanist Andy Byfield he conducted a search based on information Hiern had recorded.
Roger said: “Following the stream through the woodland we found it within half an hour! There are at least three patches comprising about 450 fronds in moist/wet ground amongst other plant species including sedges, marsh valerian, wild angelica, enchanter’s nightshade, hard-fern and bracken.”
Hiern’s specimens are usually very well labelled and include detailed location information – the detail is much better than most herbarium sheets from this period. The rediscovery of this fern using historical museum specimens shows just how important it is for collectors to record when, where and by whom a specimen was found.
Increasing access to RAMM’s collections is supported by Arts Council England using public funding.