Monday 28 February 2011

Festuca ovina - Sheep's Fescue

Festuca ovina on traffic island
at north end of Settle Bypass in September
Grass of the Month for February

Why Festuca ovina for February?
Because it is  (with experience)  an easy grass to identify when it does not have flowers. For winter I am sticking to grasses that are easy to identify vegetatively - to the grasses which have needle-like leaves.

Red Fescue ( Festuca rubra ) (January's grass) and Sheep's fescue (Festuca ovina) (this month's grass) have no, or virtually no, ligule.

This distinguishes them for other needle-like grasses - Mat grass and Wavy hair-grass,( and for those people who live in the south west, Bristle Bent) which all have ligules. (There is another grass Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue with no ligule, but that is relatively uncommon so I'll leave that for now)

So how do we distinguish Red and Sheep's Fescue?

1. Habitat
Sheep's Fescue grows in very stressful situations- nutrient poor situations where other species cannot grow.  I had wanted to include here a photo from a romantic place like a limestone pavement (basic rock) or a slate quarry (acid rock) or a peat bog or heathery heath (very acid soil). But I find the only good photo I have is of the dry traffic island at the north end of Settle Bypass, where I go to look for Compressed Meadow-grass. Here the sheep's Fescue has grown into a big tuft on the limestone pebbles and cement.

In comparison, Red Fescue grows in slightly stressful to average places with slightly low nutrients.

2. Leaf-blade just below flowerhead - Is it flat or needlelike? 
In Sheep's Fescue all the blades are needle-like, including the one just below the flower-head. Whereas in Red Fescue the blades under the flower-head are wider and can be flattened.

3. Tufted or spreading?
Sheep's Fescue is always tufted; Red Fescue usually has rhizomes and is spreading, /
though some tufted subspecies do exist.

Festuca ovina Always tufted
Festua rubra: Tufted or a plant with spreading rhizome

4. Sheaths overlapping or tubular?
Festuca ovina sheaths are Open and Overlapping - whereas Festuca rubra sheaths are tubular- they may Rip

Festuca ovina sheaths are
Overlapping or Open -
they are thus wider
than Festuca rubra
Festuca rubra sheaths are Tubular
(pronounced tooboola to rhyme with rubra),
they are thus narrower than Festuca ovina

Festuca ovina sheaths can open so there is enough space for new shoot to grow inside the leaf. (Called intravaginal branching)  In Festuca rubra there is not enough space,so the shoot makes a hole in the leaf sheath and grows through it. (Extravaginal branching) (Vagina is Latin for sheath or scabbard)
Festuca ovina sheaths can open
so there is enough space for
the new shoot to grow inside the leaf.
 In Festuca rubra there is not enough space,
so the shoot makes a hole
 in the leaf sheath and grows through it.

Weardale Mountain Pansies (Viola lutea), Pleurozium schreberi on slightly acid soil,
nutrient poor soil and a little Festuca ovina in May

Gentiana verna on Limestone in the Burren and a little Festuca ovina in May

Friday 11 February 2011

Mosses of Giggleswick Churchyard

Syntrichia (Tortula) montanta 
(formerly intermedia)
The Intermediate Screw-moss
on the churchyard limestone wall
(with the tower seen inside)

On 12th March 2011 Mike Canaway and I will be running a morning with Craven Conservation Group introducing people to the mosses of Giggleswick Churchyard.

Do come!. All are invited. If coming by car please meet at Settle Swimming Pool CarPark, BD23 0BU at 10am and we will walk to the church.

(It would be helpful - from the point of view of handouts - if you let me know beforehand if you hope to come ) We will finish by late lunchtime - but do bring elevenses and warm clothes.

Nigel Mussett has done much work recording the wildflowers and two years ago we had a lichens day (see earlier in this blog).

Now it is the turn of the mosses.

Here are some of the mosses you might see. I took these pictures on Sat 10 Feb

Within the distance of 20 yards we can see woodland mosses, wall mosses and lawn mosses.

First two woodland mosses.
Then a garden soil moss
Then two dry wall-top mosses.
Then a lawn moss
And finally the country stone-wall moss (which is also seen above right)

On Saturday we'll see these and (if you wish) a dozen more.

First the two woodland mosses:-

Atrichum undulatum. The capsule caps (not seen here) have no hairs - hence the name  A(without) trichum (hairs). and the leaves are wavy - hence the species name undulatum.
I sometimes find it in woods or damp banks.  It is nice and big and easy to recognise - by its big yellow green leaves with strong midribs -and the leaves are undulate when moist. It can be up to 7cm tall.
 The English name is "Common Smoothcap". But bryologists always use the scientific name.
It is growing on the tree stump below..

This tree stump just to the right of the main door into the church
provides an acid habitat for the two large mosses
Atrichum and Polytrichastrum seen above and below

Polytrichastrum formosum -both above and below.  It used to be called Polytrichum formosum

Poly means many, trich  means hairs.   - and this applies to the hairs on the cap of the capsule (again, not seen). The Greek suffix aster or astrum means an incomplete similarity - e.g.  a poetaster is an inferior poet.
Maybe I am a bryologistaster.
 Formosus is the latin for "finely formed, handsome, beautiful."  The English name is "Bank Haircap". 

Polytrichastrum formosum

The Garden-soil moss

Brachythecium rutabulum 
at Giggleswick Church
The next moss to show you is a very common, very non-descript moss which may well grow on stones and verges in your garden. It is a "carpet" moss - i.e. one whose shoots trail along the ground, rather than standing upright in "cushions".  It is called Brachythecium rutabulum meaning short (brachy) capsule (thecium) Theca means case or envelope in latin.

It is growing in the turf at the bottom of the wall beside the track.

It is recognisable by the glossy, often yellowish green shoots  and the stem and branch tips can be cuspidate - ie they tips look like a bud because of the overlapping concave leaves - as can be seen on the three shoots at the right of the picture. The leaves are erecto-patent (stick out) when both wet and dry.

Rutabulum means fire-shovel or fire-hoe

Brachythecium rutabulum

The seta (the stem of the capsule) has papillae (warts)  on it in B rutabulum - which you can see with imagination in the same picture enlarged below.
 Brachythecium rutabulum at Giggleswick Church

Two wall top mosses

The church wall looks very bare doesn't it? But if you peer closely at the ledge to the left of the door..

Here is the ledge I refer to.... peer even closer....

There are in fact two species of moss growing on this part of the ledge.
The green one  has a long capsule, and here the long pointed cap is just beginning to fall off. This is Tortula muralis . The English name here means the same as the Latin (for once!): Wall Screw-moss

The Screw-mosses curl up  when dry, and open out when wet, and can grow on some very dry places...
Wall screw-moss can also tolerate air pollution in cities

The near by cushions, whose leaves have very very long hair points so the cushion looks grey is Grimmia pulvinata and is called "Grey-cushioned Grimmia" in English. It grows on top of very dry walls.
Pulvinatus means cushion shaped, strongly convex.

Grimmia pulvinata
Grimmia pulvinata has fascinating capsules - the setae (capsule stalks) grow up and then they bend and put the capsule back inside the cushion.

Here is a better specimen of Tortula muralis - it is actually growing on the outside of the churchyard wall near to where I found the Brachythecium, but near the top of the wall.  It is growing on a ledge next to some Jelly lichen called Collema - The jelly lichen swells when wet and looks dark green (as in the picture). It dries a shrivelled black. The moss too, will curl up when dry. Here you can see the moss leaves are wide and then have a hair point - Click on the picture to get a larger version.

Tortula muralis

A lawn moss

The next pictures are all of  Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus -

Although I tend to call it Lawn Moss, I like the official English name - "Springy Turf-moss"
rhyti and rhytido means wrinkled or crumpled in Greek.. There is a moss called Rhytidium and Rhytidiadelphus meanes related to Rhytidium. (According to Smith)

It is a "carpet moss" its branches spreading along the ground, rather than vertical "in cushions"
It has red stems. It is very, very common.

is the majority of the
vegetation in
this part of the lawn

Close up of the picture on the left -
click on the picture to get and even closer view

Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus

Squarrose means that the leaves bend out at about 90 degrees .

You can see that in the close up. Viewed from above the tip of the shoot looks like a star. - the shoots have a dark green shaded centre - and look like polos (sweets with a hole in the middle).

We'll finish with the picture at the beginning of this posting -

The country wall moss

These large cushions on the churchyard wall (with the tower seen inside)
are Syntrichia (Tortula) montana (formely intermedia) 

Syntrichia (Tortula) montana . - Intermediate Hairy Screw-moss

The shoots open out like stars when moist and spiral up when wet.
The long hair at the tip of each leaf have micro hairs on them when viewed with a high power lens. 

And in comparison Wall Screw-moss is found in nearly every 10km square in Britain - See and Also

Why not explore a churchyard near you ?

You will find many of the same mosses there.


Tuesday 1 February 2011

Stocks Reservoir - CCG Birdwatching Trip

Look out - We're landing!
 A big thank you to Gerald Light who led the Craven Conservation Group trip to Stocks Reservoir on Saturday 29 January 2011

Click on the picture to see a larger version.

We saw Cormorant, Greylag Geese, Pintail, Goosander , Widgeon, Teal, Long-tailed tits, Siskin and more..

I am pleased with my Lumix TZ10 camera - It takes wide angles and telephoto and in close-up pictures it can focus on the object, not the background.

And here are some birds on feeders close to the hide

Bluetit on feeder near the hide

Long-tailed Tit

 But back to my favourite -these tree Canada geese flew in, and the two already lazing in the water had to scoot!

You can see a list of Craven Conservation Groups events at
Why not join us?