Sunday 6 October 2013

YNU Bryophytes visit to Ponden on W Yorks /Lancs border - The mosses of Heathcliff and Catherine

Heathcliff and Catherine would have seen these very same mosses in their walks 160 years ago. (Atrichum crispum possibly excepted.)
When Catherine and Heathcliff were young  (Wuthering Heights Ch 6:) .. it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at.

Racomitrium aciculare growing
on a wall top next to the reservoir
Ponden Clough is "Border Country" - The border between Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The Lancashire Yorkshire border is actually a very long border: From Ponden it stretches 40miles NW as the crow flies. I am more used to the gentle agriculturally inproved drumlins south of Hellifield, or the heathery  Bowland Fells, between Clapham and Slaidburn; or the limestone wood at Low Bentham or the limestone and caves of Gragareth. But here 15 miles SW, between the former-mill towns of Colne and Keighley, I was surprised to find such wild country.
But in fact , we were walking two miles away from the Pennine Way, and two miles away from Withins Height which looks down onto Haworth of Bronte fame. In the Bronte's time there must have been air pollution from Keighley and Bradford, and some blowing across from Colne..(though maybe it had got much worse by the 1950s.. and now it is much cleaner with respect to SO2).  
I approached the site from Colne and Laneshaw Bridge in Lancashire, - following a minor road for 5km with no turnoffs, before dropping down to  our meeting place at the head of Ponden Reservoir.

We walked through rough pasture fields to approach Ponden Clough - these steep sided millstone grit valleys are called cloughs.

3/4 of the way up -

on the slippage slope beside the stream in the picture above
we found Flag-moss. Discelium nudum
This rarish  moss - has  90% of its British distribution  in the Pennines.

You can see the long setae (stems)  -2.5 cm , and the capsules are not yet fully developed.
The leaves at the base of the setae are minute.
The main photosynthetic organ for the plant is
the protonema which is a green slime on the soil.
Examining the Flag-moss

No walk I take nowadays would be complete without my saying "Oh, look at the Klebsormidium"
Klebsormidium crenulatum - I see this filamentous alga  on every walk now.

Tom did say that he had seen green algae on millstone grit walls of the Pennines  when he was young.. but was it the same filamentous alga?. We saw it on lots of walls and trees on the walk... It may even have been the alga that was colonising the new plastic stiles that have been built for the Millennium way -- though I would need to check the species more carefully.

Here is a good fruiting specimen of  Rhizomnium punctatum ( Dotted Thyme- moss) 
We saw six Sphagna:  fallax, fimbriatum, palustre, squarrosum, denticulatum and russowi
Here are the last two:-
Sphagnum denticulatum
Cow-horn Bog-moss
(The other members of the "Cow-horn" bog moss group all
grow in more basic conditions than
the acid conditions of the millstone grit)

Spagnum russowi - growing with heather on a north facing bank 
I call it "Rugby sock sphagnum" because the branches are striped red and green.

On the walls near the road, track and reservoir we found many mosses. I continue to try hard to learn the "Barbula-type" mosses -  tiny acrocarps with leaves up to 3m long, that here in fact were making quite big patches.

Didymodon rigidulus  This has very straight leaves when wet.
It has a subulate tip to the leaves

Didymodon insulanos - The leaves curve a little when wet.

Greater Pincushion -moss Ptychomitrium polyphyllum

And finally near the reservoir..

Atrichum crispum - (Fountain Smoothcap) 
distribution is mostly the Pennines and Wales.
It grows in acid places beside reservoirs and rivers.  
It was growing next to the reservoir with  .
???Pleuridium acuminatum
Taper-leaved Earth moss.....

The earliest British record of Atrichum crispum is from Rochdale, Lancashire,by John Nowell in 1848. It is an introduction from N America. All the plants in Britain are male plants. So there are no capsules and no spores here. All the plants could be a single clone, spread by fragments or gemmae. (Nowell worked in the cotton industry and lived all his life in Todmorden on the Yorkshire Lancashire Border. He discovered the first British record of Cynclidium stygium at Malham Tarn.) 

We identified 90 different species which is quite good for a millstone grit area... Tom Blockeel will be keying out a few extra ones.. will we reach 100?  He will write a report in the YNU Journal next year
A big thank you to Tom Blockeel and the YNU Mosses - Bryophytes Section for running the walk.

"Moss quotes" from Wuthering Heights on the internet:-. the only quote I could find just now is Nellie's report on visiting the graveyard:

Chapter 34 (“Imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth”)

I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton's only harmonised by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff's still bare.

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.


Like to learn about Churchyard mosses?.  Look out for the Ultra beginners Moss workshop I will be running at St Leonard's Churchyard, Ribblehead, N Yorkshire sometime in the next two months.

No comments: