Rediscovering the comb fern in the Falkland Islands
By: Pat Griggs - 27/01/2011
Find out how Kew botanists were able to confirm the identity of the comb fern, a tiny plant believed to be extinct in the Falkland Islands until it was spotted growing on the island of West Falkland more than 180 years after its only previous sighting there.
Comb fern (Image: Rebecca Upson, Falklands Conservation)
In 1820, the botanist Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupre discovered a tiny fern – the comb fern Schizaea fistulosa - growing near sand-dunes in the Falkland Islands. For over 180 years, he was the only person to have seen the comb fern on this UK Overseas Territory, a group of islands lying to the east of the southern tip of South America.
Botanists from Falklands Conservation spotted the comb fern growing in the Hornby Mountains (Image: Richard Lewis, Falklands Conservation and RBG Kew)
In December 2009, to their great excitement, a team of botanists from Falklands Conservation rediscovered the fern in the Hornby Mountains on West Falkland. This was quite an achievement because the fern grows to no more than a few centimetres tall, with wiry stems and tiny fronds and, at first sight, might be mistaken for a grass. When preserved specimens of the fern were sent back to Kew's Herbarium, one of our fern specialists was able to confirm its identity as the comb fern.
Herbarium specimen of comb fern (Image: RBG Kew)
Over the past five years, botanists from Falklands Conservation have worked alongside conservationists from Kew’s UK Overseas Territories Team on botanical surveys of the islands, designed to assess the richness of the islands’ plant life and to evaluate any threats it faces. During these surveys, they have rediscovered several plant species and identified others which had never previously been seen on the islands. Among these was Banks’ sedge (Carex banksii), which bears the name of Sir Joseph Banks, who acted as Kew’s first director at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
- Pat -
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
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