Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Monday, 10 December 2007

Carry on Chara-ing!

I am partial to a pond dip, and have been known to skinny dip, but most dipping recently has been to find charophytes (or stoneworts, a type of green algae). These are super plants, very beautiful under a microscope, excellent bio-indicators for good water quality, and often the first macrophytes to colonise newly created water bodies. The Elder Pliny in the 1st century AD called these plants 'stinking water horsetail', as they resemble the fern-like genus Equisetum (and they can stink!). The smell may be alleopathic, inhibiting pytoplankton growth, but we still don't really know. We do know from genetic studies that charophytes are the missing evolutionary link between water plants and the first land plants.

Chara vulgaris var papillata
photo: Chris Carter
The orange footballs are the male antheridia

I've just had 9 specimens back from Nick Stewart, BSBI Charophyte referee, and got 7/9 right, which is OK but not spectacular. Part of why I like botany is the challenge - it's not supposed to be easy!! Charophytes are particularly tricky due to their plasticity and range of developmental forms. The batch included Chara aspera ... the first record for the NE since ... ever. Which is weird, as it came from Broomlee Lough, on Hadrian's Wall, which has been surveyed intensively in the past as it's a SAC, NNR and SSSI, primarily designated for its aquatic macrophtyes. We are Mapmating all our records for 2007, which will appear on the Flora of the North East website soon. These will include v.c. 67 records for Nitella flexilis agg. and Chara virgata of specimens collected by Chris Irvine. Chris sent me plants found on the Northumbria Natural History Society mid-week botany field meetings. I would really welcome specimens from anyone - fresh in a sealed plastic bag if you post the same day, otherwise press lightly between baking parchment (or the plant sticks to the towel) and a paper towel (address on my website

Chara aspera beds in Scottish Loch

Chara aspera in a tub, pending my MSc AFLP molecular analysis!

I've finally got my first scientific peer-reviewed paper published this month in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. This is a milestone, as I am still scheming to get into academia without doing a PhD, although I've got a part-time doctorate lined up with funding. I have to admit that the 6 year slog is off-putting. I also have a famously low boredom threshold, so may not stick it out; conversely, I am inquisitive and obsessive, so it would be fun to do some more science. Of course, I've forgotten the traumatic gestation and birth of the MSc thesis...(I did swear I would not set foot in a lab again)!




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