A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Somerset has a mild climate, damper than that of counties situated further east, but drier and more bracing than that of Devon and Cornwall. The surface is for the most part hilly, but only Dunkery Beacon exceeds by a very little 1,700 feet, so that we look in vain for any trace of a distinctively mountain flora. Great levels, hardly above sea level, border the rivers Brue and Parrett, and stretch from the Bristol Channel to the base of Mendip. Of its area of 1,042,487 acres, about 65,000 acres are uncultivated, about 45,000 consist of mountain and heath land used for pasture, 45,000 of woods and plantations, while the remainder is under cultivation.
So far as present knowledge extends the phanerogamic flora of Somerset includes 1,042 species. Ferns and fern allies number 41, and 7 species of Characeæ have been recorded. It is believed that a very few out of this number have become extinct during the past half century or thereabouts. These are Vicia lutea, V. hybrida, Parnassia palustris, Aster Linosyris, Cyperus longus, Cladium jamaicense, Carex dioica, C. Davalliana. Some few others have been recorded on perhaps insufficient grounds, but it is hoped that most of them may yet be confirmed.
As is only natural, the flora of Somerset consists mainly of plants having a wide distribution in the British Isles, but no less than 43 species belong to Watson's 'Atlantic' group, which consists of plants having a markedly western range in Great Britain, while only 15 can be assigned to his Scottish or Highland groups, and 5 belong to his 'Germanic' group.
Among the more noticeable plants of the 'Atlantic' group which occur may be mentioned the following: Meconopsis cambrica, Arabis stricta, Helianthemum polifolium, Dianthus cæsius, Vicia bithynica, Sedum rupestre, Trinia vulgaris, Aster Linosyris, Inula crithmoides, Wahlenbergia hederacea, Lithospermum purpureo-cæruleum, Sibthorpia europæa, Pinguicula lusitanica, Melittis Melissophyllum, Euphorbia Paralias, Cyperus longus (extinct), Scirpus numidianus, S. Holoschænus, Rhynchospora fusca; and among ferns Hymenophyllum tunbridgense, Asplenium lanceolatum, and Lastræa æmula.
'Scottish' and 'Highland' species may be recognized in Alsine verna, Vicia Orobus, Rubus saxatilis, Drosera anglica, Saxifraga hypnoides, Hieracium Schmidtii, Andromeda polifolia, Empetrum nigrum, Listera cordata, and a few others besides the following ferns: Cryptogramme crispa, Asplenium septentrionale, Polypodium Phegopteris; and a clubmoss, Lycopodium alpinum.
Cyperus fuscus, always rare, has been found only in Surrey, Hants, Dorset and Somerset. (fn. 1)
SUMMARY OF ORDERS
The ten districts (fn. 2) into which the county is divided are founded on the river basins, and are consequently of very unequal size. They are (1) Dulverton; (2) Minehead; (3) Taunton; (4) Ilminster and Yeovil; (5) Somerton; (6) Axe; (7) Wincanton; (8) Glastonbury; (9) Mendip; (10) Bath and Bristol.
This district occupies the extreme south-west of the county, and is in length about twenty-one miles, while the breadth varies from three to eleven. It is extremely hilly, the northern boundary following the line of the watershed between the Bristol and English Channels, and attaining at Dunkery Beacon a height of 1,700 feet above the sea. It is drained by the rivers Exe and Barle, which unite a little to the south of Dulverton station close to the county boundary. The geological formation is Devonian, and the surface except for the narrow river valleys almost entirely moorland. Consequently the flora is comparatively poor in species, only a little over 400 having been as yet detected. Among these it is curious to find a foreign valerian (Valeriana pyrenaica), which the writer found in 1883 abundantly in a plantation near Higher Combe farm above Dulverton. In 1891 it formed a marked feature in the vegetation in the valley of the Barle for at least two or three miles.
This comprises a narrow strip of country reaching from the Devon border on the west to Stert Point at the mouth of the Parrett on the east, and is bounded on the north by the shores of the Bristol Channel. The extreme length is about thirty-four miles, but the greatest breadth does not exceed six. It is watered by a number of small streams which descend from Exmoor and the Brendon Hills. Dunkery Beacon reaches 1,707 feet; Lucott Hill, 1,512; Elworthy Barrow, 1,290; and North Hill near Minehead, 1,011. Many of the valleys are well wooded and of great beauty. The coast line affords very little of interest from a botanical point of view, being for the most part shingly, backed by low cliffs. Westward of Minehead the cliffs rise to a much greater height, but very few rock plants are to be found upon them. Minehead Warren is an extensive sandy flat which affords shelter to some interesting plants; among others the rare catchfly (Silene conica), which was discovered in 1894 by Miss May, and the fenugreek (Trigonella ornithopodioides). Towards Stert Point the coast becomes very low and sandy. The geological formations are the Devonian, which constitutes the uplands of Exmoor and the Brendon and Quantock Hills; the Trias in the valleys stretching from Porlock between the Brendon and Quantock Hills; and the Rhætic exposed on the coast at Watchet.
This district comprises the country drained by the river Tone and by the small streams which, having their sources among the Blackdown Hills, empty themselves into the Parrett below Langport. The chief hills are the south-eastern Quantocks to the north-west, which attain a height of 1,262 feet at Will's Neck, and the Blackdowns on the south (Wellington Monument, 900 feet; Staple Hill, 1,035 feet).
The Quantocks are of Devonian age, and limestone beds are worked at Asholt and Stowey. The Tone valley from west of Wiveliscombe to Taunton and the country from Stowey to Bridgwater and Langport consist of rocks of Triassic age. Rhætic beds are found along the south-eastern border of the district, and the Blackdown Hills belong to the Upper Greensand.
IV.—Ilminster and Yeovil
This district is drained by the upper waters of the Parrett and its tributary the river Isle. The northern boundary is formed by the river Yeo, another tributary of the Parrett, from Trent, where it enters the county from Dorset, to Langport. From east to west the extreme length is twenty-one miles, while the breadth averages about ten. Except along the southern border this is a low-lying district. Chard, on the watershed of the English and Bristol Channels, is about 300 feet above sea level. The geological formations of the district differ altogether from those of the three preceding districts, being practically confined to the liassic and oolitic series. Roughly speaking a line drawn from Staple Fitzpaine to Trent would have the lias to the north and the oolite to the south.
The flora is but poor as compared with that of the Minehead and Taunton districts, hardly 620 species having been as yet detected. This is probably owing in a great degree to the barren nature of much of the soil towards the south, especially to the west of Yeovil where the 'Midford Sands' are largely developed. Three or four species however find their only Somerset stations in this district. These are the mousetail (Myosurus minimus), which has been twice found in the neighbourhood of Yeovil; Teesdalia nudicaulis (I know no English name for it), which was detected by the Rev. J. Sowerby near East Chinnock; a rare and very beautiful rose (Rosa leucochroa), which I found in a lane near Chard; and the star thistle (Centaurea Calcitrapa) below Ham Hill.
This district comprises all that part of the basin of the Parrett which lies to the north of the Parrett and the Yeo. In length it extends twenty-seven miles with an average width of about six miles. On the north the Polden Hills form for many miles a natural barrier separating this district from the valley of the Brue. Their southern slopes consist of beds of Rhætic age which also extend in a southerly direction by High Ham to Langport. Further to the east a broad band of 'blue lias' crosses the district, while still further east we meet with the Midford Sands and fuller's earth. The western end of the district is formed by Sedgemoor, a level tract of post-Pliocene age, once (it is said) a storehouse of rare plants, but now completely drained. Eastwards the country becomes more hilly, but the hills do not reach any very considerable elevation.
The flora is by no means a rich one, only about 540 species having been recorded from the district. Of these by far the most interesting is a very rare mallow (Althæa hirsuta) which was detected by Mr. J. G. Baker in 1875 in Butleigh Woods, and considered by him to be certainly native. With this opinion I quite coincide. In some years the plant is extremely abundant.
This consists partly of a narrow strip along the south-western border of the county which drains into the river Axe, and partly of a bit of country four or five miles long but only a few hundred yards wide, stretching along the ridge of the Blackdown Hills and draining into the Culm, a tributary of the Exe. A very small tract of land about Otterford drains into the river Otter. Staple Hill, where districts III., IV. and VI. meet is 1,035 feet high; at Chard the watershed between districts IV. and VI. falls to about 300 feet. The Blackdown Hills are of Upper Greensand age, and chalk occurs at Combe St. Nicholas, Chard, and Cricket S. Thomas.
Owing to its small area the flora is somewhat limited, but 417 species have already been detected. Chard Common is a particularly interesting piece of ground and is well worth visiting by the botanist. All the three British species of sundew (Drosera) grow there, besides several other plants of more or less rarity.
Like the last this is a very small district. It occupies the south-eastern corner of the county and is drained by the river Cale and the Bow brook (tributaries of the Stour) into the English Channel. The southern part consists of a level tract bounded on the west by a range of low hills belonging to the 'Cornbrash' (oolitic) series. In the valley of the Cale we meet the 'Oxford Clay' and a little to the north the 'Coral Rag.' In the north of the district the country becomes more picturesque and hilly, and the 'Upper Greensand' is again met with. The small detached portion to the north round Kilmington consists of chalk. Long Knoll rises to a height of 948 feet.
Though the area is so small the flora is of considerable interest, and close upon 600 species have been already detected within the limits. The chalk milkwort (Polygala calcarea) grows on Long Knoll, which is its only station in the county. A rare rose (Rosa pseudorusticana), which is however thought by Mr. Moyle Rogers to be a hybrid, occurs near Templecombe and rather plentifully in hedges below Henstridge; and the tiny bastard pimpernel (Centunculus minimus) may be found about Castle Orchard.
This district consists of the valley of the Brue and extends across the middle of the county from Wiltshire to the Bristol Channel. For the most part it is of very moderate elevation, the western part from Glastonbury to the sea being almost a dead level. The 'peat moor' reaches from Glastonbury to Burtle. On the north the boundary is formed by the watershed of Mendip, reaching a height of 979 feet at Maesbury.
'Old Red' sandstone is found in the extreme north of the district, and the Rhætic beds are exposed at Croscombe, Wells and Wedmore. A belt of 'lias' crosses the district in a southerly direction from Shepton Mallet, and further east oolitic rocks appear. The flat lands below Glastonbury are of post-Pliocene age.
This is one of the most interesting parts of the county to the botanist, and undoubtedly the richest portion consists of the 'peat moor.' Unfortunately some of the rarest species have already disappeared and the list of 'extinctions' continues steadily to increase, owing to the destruction of the old surface and the removal of the peat for a depth of several feet. Still however much remains. The grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) was found by Sole in 1782 in old pits of Burtle Moor. It has not been seen since. The cranberry (Vaccinium Oxycoccos) is another instance: it was last gathered many years ago (I believe by the Rev. J. G. Hickley), and I fear that yet another heathwort (Andromeda polifolia) is hardly likely to be seen again. I have not been able to find it since 1883.
This comprises the north-western portion of the county, and is drained by streams debouching into the Bristol Channel between the mouths of the Brue and the Avon. The chief rivers are the Axe and the Yeo (not to be confused with other streams similarly named which have been mentioned in connection with districts IV., V. and VI.). In outline the district is triangular, with the apex to the north. The length from north to south is about twenty-one miles, and from the extremity of Brean Down on the west to the point where districts VIII., IX. and X. meet is about nineteen.
'Old Red' sandstone occurs in many places on Mendip, as on the top of Blackdown, also in the north-west at Portishead Down. But the rock which gives so interesting a character to many places in the district is the mountain limestone. The south-west and west portions of Mendip belong to this formation, which extends also from Portishead to Clevedon and thence to Clifton. It forms also the promontories of Swallow Cliff, Worle Head and Brean Down, and the island of Steep Holm. The coal measures form two small basins in the north of the district. Triassic conglomerates are found locally along the flanks of Mendip. The marsh lands are of post-Pleistocene date.
The flora is exceedingly rich, nearly 850 species of phanerogams having been detected within the limits. This is due to the wonderful diversity of soil and situation: an extensive coast line, marshy lowlands, hills and promontories of limestone, boggy hollows on the sandstone, and heights ranging from sea level to 1,067 feet at the summit of Blackdown.
The Cheddar pink (Dianthus cæsius) finds here its only British station, and it is to be hoped that it will long continue to flourish in spite of the danger to which it is exposed at the hands of those who make a trade of selling the roots. Goldielocks (Aster Linosyris) used to grow on rocks near Weston-super-Mare, but has not been seen for many years. Two or three rare hawkweeds (Hieracium lima, Schmidtii and stenolepis) occur at Cheddar. Two rare umbellifers, honewort (Trinia vulgaris), which occurs in several places on the limestone, and an eryngo (Eryngium campestre), perhaps originally introduced at Worle Hill, merit notice. The snake's head (Fritillaria Meleagris) may be found in a meadow near Compton Martin. A small kind of galingale (Cyperus fuscus), till lately considered to be a very doubtful native of this country, was discovered in September, 1900, in considerable quantity below Weston-in-Gordano by Mr. Coley.
X.—Bath and Bristol
This, which is the largest of the ten districts, occupies the north-eastern corner of the county and comprises all that part of the valley of the Avon which lies within the county of Somerset. The principal tributary streams are the Frome, the Midford brook and the Chew. The surface is hilly, but none of the hills reach any very great height. The extreme length is thirty miles, the greatest breadth about nineteen. 'Old Red' sandstone occurs at Maesbury and on Downhead Common; 'mountain limestone' and 'millstone grit' near Clifton; while the 'coal measures' occupy a considerable area in the centre of the district. Further east 'Rhætic' beds are exposed in several places, while 'lias' is found round Dundry Hill and between Bath and the Mendips. The remainder of the area is occupied by rocks belonging to the oolitic series.
The flora is a rich one, more than 800 phanerogams having been detected within the limits. Two sedges (Carex dioica and C. Davalliana) which were formerly found near Bath have since become extinct. A very rare rockcress (Arabis stricta) grows on the limestone on both sides of the Avon near Clifton, this being its only British station. Two willow herbs (Epilobium lanceolatum and E. Lamyi) find their only Somerset habitat in a few spots between Bath and Bristol. The bastard toadflax (Thesium linophyllum) occurs on Claverton Down; and the rare spurge (Euphorbia pilosa) is also found near Bath (its only British station). Here it has been known for more than three hundred years, but it is possible that it may have been originally introduced by human agency.
THE BRAMBLES (Rubi)
Somerset may fairly claim to possess one of the richest bramble floras in Britain, though I know of no forms which are entirely confined to the county. No less than sixty-five 'species' have been already detected within our limits, and some twenty-four subordinate forms may be added, so that very nearly ninety varieties of this protean genus find a home in the county. Most of the botanical districts are fairly rich with the exception of those which I have named (IV.) Ilminster and Yeovil and (V.) Somerton. Speaking generally it may be said that very little of interest will be found when 'blue lias' comes to the surface. Perhaps some of the best bramble ground may be found along the ridge of Blackdown and near Chard (district VI.) and near Pen Selwood (district VII.); but the combes near Dulverton (district I.) and about Minehead and Dunster (district II.) will amply repay a careful search.
Among our most noteworthy forms must be first mentioned the stone bramble (R. saxatilis, L.), which though abundant further north is hardly known south of the Severn, except in the extreme south-west —Cornwall, Devon and Somerset—and with us only in two places, both in the north of the county. Other species interesting from their general rarity or for some other reason are R. suberectus, Anders.; R. opacus, Focke; R. Rogersii, Linton; R. cariensis, Rip. et Genev. ; R. imbricatus, Hort. ; R. dumnoniensis, Bab.; R. gratus, Focke; R. mollissimus, Rogers; R. micans, Gr. et Godr. ; R. Questierii, Lefv. et Muell. ; R. Borreri, Bell Salt. ; R. criniger, Linton; R. Drejeri, G. Jenson; R. rudis, Wh. et N. ; R. scaber, Wh. et N.; R. pallidus, Wh. et N. ; R. Lintoni, Focke; R. longithyrsiger, Bab.; R. rosaceus, Wh. et N., remarkable for its extraordinary abundance almost to the exclusion of other forms over several miles of country near Chard; R. acutifrons, Ley; not quite typical, but too near to be separated; R. hirtus, W. et K., var. rotundifolius, Bab.
CRYPTOGAMEÆ VASCULARES LYCOPODIACEÆ
Four species of clubmoss occur in Somerset. Of these the stag's horn moss (locally known as lady's knives and forks) (Lycopodium clavatum) is the least rare, having been found in five districts. The remaining three species are all exceedingly rare, though possibly the marsh clubmoss (L. inundatum) may have been overlooked in some places. The following is a list of the species:—
Seven species of horsetail are found in Somerset. Four of these are very common. Another, the wood horsetail (Equisetum silvaticum), is rare and local, having been as yet detected in only four districts; the remaining two, known as the Dutch rush (E. hyemale) and the variegated rough horsetail (E. variegatum), are known only from Westonsuper-Mare, where they were discovered in the year 1900 by Mr. H. Corder. I append a list of the species:—
Only one species of this order is known in Britain, and that is extremely rare, unless much overlooked, in Somerset, where it has only been noticed by Sole on Blackdown and by Dr. H. F. Parsons at Monckton Combe in district X.
As might be expected from its great diversity of surface and from the mildness and comparative dampness of the climate, Somerset gives a home to a considerable proportion of the British ferns, twenty-six out of thirty-eight species being found within our limits, and to this number may be added three 'sub-species.' The richest districts are (II.) Minehead and (IX.) Mendip; but several others, especially (VIII.) Glastonbury and (X.) Bath and Bristol, are not far behind. The poorest district is (V.) Somerton, where only ten species have been as yet detected.
The species which, from their greater rarity or from some other cause, are the most interesting to the county botanist are the parsley fern (Cryptogramme crispa), a mountain species, which has been found in one place in the extreme west of the county; two spleenworts (Asplenium lanceolatum and A. septentrionale); a filmy fern (Hymenophyllum tunbridgense)—all extremely rare and known only in the Minehead district; the bladder fern (Cystopteris fragilis), common on limestone on Mendip, but very rare in the west, where I have only found it on a wall at Dulverton; the marsh fern (Nephrodium Thelypteris), nearly or quite confined to the peatmoor below Glastonbury; the hay-scented fern (N. æmulum), a western species; the oak fern (Polypodium Dryopteris), one of our rarest species, occurring only on rocky ground by the river Barle; the beech fern (P. Phegopteris), also confined to one station on a hillside above Wells; the limestone polypody (P. calcareum), chiefly on limestone rocks in the Mendip district; the royal fern (Osmunda regalis), not uncommon on the peatmoor; while the adder's tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum) and the moonwort (Botrychium Lunaria), though by no means common, are fairly distributed through the county. The following is a list of the species :—
THE MOSSES (Musci)
The moss flora of Somerset is undoubtedly a rich one, and it is to be regretted that so little systematic work has been done amongst the mosses of the county. Such local records as the writer has been able to discover are meagre in the extreme. Parts of the county, including such interesting and promising districts as the Quantocks, the borders of Exmoor and the peat marshes near Glastonbury, would seem not to have been worked for mosses at all. Under these circumstances it would be futile at present to attempt anything like a list of the mosses of Somerset. It is proposed therefore merely to enumerate, with a few notes, the rarer and more interesting species which are known to occur in the county. The writer's qualification for even this slight work is a poor one, as he has resided in the county during one year only at Wells. The wealth of Somerset mosses may be judged by the fact that during his short residence at Wells he found, within an easy walk of the city, no less than 160 kinds of mosses; and it will be noticed that the species enumerated below were mostly found there. Other records, with one or two exceptions, are taken from Dr. Braithwaite's work on the British mosses now nearing completion. The nomenclature of the species here given is that adopted by Mr. Dixon in his Handbook of British Mosses, which is now in general use amongst students.
Fissidens tamarindifolius, Wils. Bare soil in hollows of grassy slope by path leading to Datchetts from Bristol Road, Wells, 1887. Several other species of the genus are found about Wells and in the county generally, but this is the only one that is at all rare, so far as the writer knows
— crispata, B. & S. Crevices of limestone rock, 1887. Common in many parts of England, but only recently distinguished from Weisia tortilis and W. viridula, with which it had doubtless been often confounded
Breutelia arcuata, Schp. This beautiful species occurs on Dulcote Hill, Wells, and on the Mendips near Cheddar, and probably also in other subalpine districts of the county. It is seen at its best by cascades in mountainous districts
Bryum pendulum, Schp. 'Walls near Bristol,' Thwaites, 1844. There is nothing to indicate whether this moss was found in Somerset, but it is included here as having been possibly found in the county. It should not be confounded with the far more common B. inclinatum, Bland.
— provinciale, Philib. A rare species found in 1887 at Cheddar and other places on the Mendips near Wells. Occasionally fertile on thin earth about limestone rocks. The sterile cushions of this moss are very large, and their dark colour makes it easy to know it from other species
Habrodon Notarisii, Schp. A small but good specimen found on a tree at Wells, 1887. This is a rare and local moss found more often in the north of England and Scotland, where it evinces a preference for the sycamore
Anomodon longifolius, Hartm. On shaded rocks at Ebbor Gorge near Wells, associated with A. viticulosus and other mosses. One of the few stations where this species has been found in the British Islands. 1886
The above list is short, but it will be observed that it contains the records of some of the rarest British mosses, two of them at the time when they were found being new to Britain. It is much to be hoped in the interests of British bryology that careful attention will be paid to further research amongst the Somerset mosses.
SCALE MOSSES (Hepaticœ)
Comparatively few species of Hepaticœ have been recorded as occurring in the county. The following list, contributed by Dr. H. F. Parsons, includes chiefly common species collected in the north of the county and on the Upper Greensand in the east. The only exceptions are Porella lœvigata, Carr. et Pears; Trichocolea tomentella, Nees; and Reboulia hemisphœrica, Raddi, which are more characteristic of subalpine or hilly districts; and Gymnocolea affinis, Dum., which is a local species found on chalk or limestone.
The freshwater algæ of Somerset appear to have been very little investigated by botanists, although the numerous streams and the boggy moorland between Glastonbury and the sea should furnish a large number of species. The few hitherto recorded are chiefly the result of the investigations of the late Mr. C. E. Broome and Dr. G. H. K. Thwaites in the neighbourhood of Bath, and to those of Dr. H. Franklin Parsons in the neighbourhood of Frome in the east of the county.
In the above list the Characeæ follow the Chlorophyceæ, in which position they are placed by Engler in Die Naturlichen Pflanzenfamilien, although by some botanists they are considered to be more nearly allied to the mosses. The species given are taken from the Rev. R. P. Murray's Flora of Somerset, and the districts are those given in his work.
The shore of Somerset, owing apparently to the immense quantity of mud brought down from the rivers Severn and Parrett, are extremely poor in marine algæ, and consequently few algologists have investigated its marine flora. Miss Isabella Gifford, who was for many years a resident at Minehead, published in 1853, in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archæological and Natural History Society, pp. 116–23, an account of the marine flora of Somerset, and also in the same year, under the title of the Marine Botanist, brought out an illustrated work on the British seaweeds, but in the latter only the rarer species found in Somerset are mentioned, with their localities. Her exploration of the Somerset shore does not appear to have extended further than Porlock on the west and Blue Anchor on the east. Dr. H. F. Parsons, who visited Clevedon, reports only two species of Fucus from that locality. A visit by the writer to Minehead, Porlock and Blue Anchor convinced him that the algal flora within tide marks is exceedingly scanty, the majority of the weeds found in this district being evidently thrown up from deep water after storms. Nevertheless the list includes a few species worthy of notice. Ectocarpus Holmesii, Batt., which was discovered by Miss Gifford on wooden piles near the quay at Minehead and distributed under the name of E. crinitus, Carm., subsequently proved, on comparison with well fruited specimens found at Torquay by the writer, to be a new species; it is described by Mr. Batters in the Journ. Linn. Soc. xxiv. 450. Stenogramme interrupta, Mont., one of the rarest of British seaweeds, which is recorded elsewhere only from Plymouth and Penzance, was found by Miss Gifford in tetrasporic fructification in 1848; but this kind of fructification appears to have been unknown to Harvey when the Phycologica Britannica was published. Nitophyllum versicolor is another species which is exceedingly rare in this country, being only recorded from Ilfracombe and Orkney in Great Britain. Until quite lately the fructification of this species was unknown. Grateloupia filicina as found at Minehead differs from the typical pinnate form of the plant, and has the more or less forked character of the variety intermedia, Holmes and Batt.
The collection of Somerset algæ, including about fifty species, made by the late Miss I. Gifford, is now in the possession of the Taunton Castle Museum, and the writer having been courteously permitted to see these specimens the following species were detected unnamed among them, viz. (1) Ceramium transcurrens, Kütz., belonging to the subgenus Acanthoceras, which was found by Miss Gifford parasitic on Corallina in Porlock Bay in July 1888, and does not appear to have been previously noticed in Great Britain; it differs from C. echionotum in having spines on one side only, and from C. acanthonotum in having tetraspores only on the outer side; (2) Anabœna torulosa, Lagerh., parasitic on (3) Rhizoclonium riparium, Harv.; (4) Melobesia corticiformis, Kütz.; (5) M. farinosa, Lamour; (6) M. verrucata, Lamour; (7) Hapalidium roseolum, Kütz.; 4 to 7 were parasitic on Rhodymenia Palmetta, Grev.; the last apparently not having been previously detected as a British plant.
The neighbouring shores of north Devon from Lynton to Saunton are particularly rich in marine algæ, and it is therefore probable that dredging off the Somerset coast might prove it to be richer than is indicated by the muddy shores within tide marks.
The lichen flora of Somerset has only been investigated, more or less locally, by two residents in the county, viz. the late Mr. C. E. Broome of Batheaston and Dr. H. Franklin Parsons, formerly resident at Beckington. The late Mr. Joshua of Cirencester also collected many species in the Mendips.
It will be seen from the localities given in the following list that the oolite of Bath and its neighbourhood and the mountain limestone of the Mendips furnish by far the larger number of the species recorded. But there is no doubt that they by no means represent the large number that might be expected to occur on these strata. The rocks at the high elevation of Exmoor and the old red sandstone may be expected to yield many more species when they have been thoroughly explored. The genera Calicium, Cladonia, Parmelia, Physcia, Pertusaria, Opegrapha, Graphis and Verrucaria are as yet represented by very few species, although it is certain that many more should occur in the county. Hitherto a cryptogamic flora of the county does not appear to have been published, and the list of species is therefore given in detail from such records as are available, chiefly those in the British Museum, and a list of those in the herbarium of Dr. H. F. Parsons, which was kindly supplied by that gentleman.
The following species are of especial interest as having been recorded only for the county of Somerset, so far as Great Britain is concerned: Pterygium centrifugum, Nyl.; Leptogium placodiellum, Nyl.; Lecanora granulosa, Nyl.; L. percænoides, Nyl.; Lecidea chondrodes, Mass.; Verrucaria linearis, Leight.; V. corniculata, Leight. All these occur on calcareous rocks. The rarer species in the list, but which are found also in other counties, are Collema chalazanum, Ach.; Collemopsis Schæreri, Nyl.; Placodium cirrochroum, Cromb.; Lecanora epixantha, Nyl.; L. teichophila, Nyl.; L. Bischoffii, Nyl.; L. Prevostii, Fr.; L. decipiens, Ehrh.; L. spilota, Fr., f. ochracea, Cromb.; L. candida, Web.; and Verrucaria Borreri, Leight. All these species are characteristic of the limestone districts. Of the other rare species, Solorina saccata, Ach., occurs on the carboniferous limestone; Lecidea pachycarpa, Nyl., occurs on very old trees; L. Flotovii, Nyl., usually on elms; and Arthonia spadicea, Leight., generally on hazel; Opegrapha bapaleoides, Nyl., is found near Clifton (on the Somerset side of the Avon), but elsewhere only at Doughruagh in Ireland.
Although a large part of Somerset is still practically unexplored as regards its fungus flora, it includes districts which have been searched as thoroughly as any in England, and may in fact be regarded as having been centres of mycological study for a considerable number of years. These districts have yielded a large number of species new to science, and a still larger number recorded for the first time as British, and amongst the workers who have contributed to this result the first place must be given to Christopher Edmund Broome, M.A., F.L.S. (1812– 86), who came to reside at Wraxall near Bristol in 1844. The frequent occurrence of the name of this place as a locality for fungi shows that Mr. Broome was then working industriously at this group of plants. In a short time he moved to Clifton, and in 1848 to Batheaston, where he resided until his death in 1886. He was indefatigable in searching for specimens and enthusiastic and conscientious in their study, and enriched the British lists with a large number of species both of the larger forms and of those requiring the microscope for their determination. He was for nearly forty years associated with the Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley, M.A., F.R.S. (1803–89), in a series of papers on Fungi, (fn. 3) and the initials 'B. & Br.' are known wherever these plants are studied throughout the world. The latter distinguished botanist, the 'prince of British mycologists,' was a frequent visitor at Batheaston, and as the plants described or recorded by Mr. Broome in the above-mentioned papers must have come under his notice, we may fairly claim him as a Somerset worker.
Mention must next be made of George Henry Kendrick Thwaites, F.R.S. (1811–82), who was intimate with Mr. Broome, and made excursions with him in search of fungi, especially of subterranean species. He was local secretary for Bristol of the Botanical Society of London, and in 1849 he was appointed superintendent of the Botanic Garden at Peradeniya, Ceylon, whence he sent 1,200 species of fungi to Messrs. Berkeley and Broome for description and publication. Dr. H. O. Stephens of Bristol and Mr. J. Aubrey Clark of Street were also workers in this branch of botany, and their names, as well as that of Dr. Thwaites, have been given to several species of fungi which they discovered in this county.
In the Bristol district, which comprises the parts of Gloucester and Somerset included in Sander's map of the Bristol coalfield, fourteen years' work has resulted in a list of 1,431 species, (fn. 4) more than half of which were found in Somerset, but many of the species recorded for Gloucester have also been noticed in the former county. For many rare species, principally from Clevedon and Yatton, the writer is indebted to Mr. Edmund Wheeler of Clifton, who has made a very large number of beautiful and accurate watercolour drawings of fungi, mostly from Somerset specimens. These drawings have been presented to the national collection at South Kensington, where they are now exhibited.
The Bath District
Mr. Broome published a series of papers on the fungi of this district, (fn. 5) which includes Bath, Batheaston, Bathampton, Bathford, Farleigh, etc.; and a supplementary list by Mr. G. Norman, F.R.S.A., has appeared of species found by Mr. R. Baker, principally at Claverton. Some of the most noteworthy are as follows: amongst the white-spored agarics the esculent fir-cone mushroom, A. (Amanita) strobiliformis, and the parasol mushroom, A. (Lepiota) procerus, 'one of the most delicate of fungusses' (Badham). A fine and rare purple-spored species, A. (Psalliota) augustus, allied to the common mushroom, has occurred at Claverton, and also a rare Paxillus, P. panæolus, first found by the writer at Blaize Castle Woods near Bristol (Glos.), and these are probably the only stations known in Britain. Other uncommon species from the same locality are Lenzites sepiaria; the fine but poisonous Boletus Satanas; Trametes suaveolens, smelling of aniseed; and the rare vaulted earth-star, Geaster fornicatus. The edible morel, Morchella esculenta, as well as the less common M. semilibera, have been found at Batheaston, and numerous species of truffle and other subterranean fungi, one of which, Melanogaster variegatus, has been sold in the Bath market under the name of 'red truffle.' Another species, Stephensia bombycina, was dedicated by Tulasne to Dr. H. O. Stephens, of whom in his great work on Hypogæous Fungi he speaks in the highest terms.
At Street Mr. J. Aubrey Clark has found several agarics new to science or to Britain: A. (Tricholoma) pessundatus, A. (Clitocybe) membranaceus, several species of the genus Hygrophorus, and Hydnum nigrum.
The Bristol District
Crossing the Avon gorge, which here is the boundary between the two counties, by the Suspension Bridge, we arrive at the Leigh Woods, which have been the hunting ground for mycologists for sixty years, and which in a favourable season are prolific in gill-bearing and tube-bearing fungi (Agaricini and Polyporei), as well as in a large number of less conspicuous species which only careful search will reveal, and of hypogæous fungi, which can only be found by raking the soil. Here may be seen the handsome fly agaric, A. (Amanita) muscarius, with its vermilion whitewarted pileus, of which the juice is used in some countries as an intoxicant, with several others of the same subgenus; the beautiful but more sober coloured A. strangulatus; A. solitarius, lately found here for the first time in Britain; and the more common esculent A. rubescens. In one spot in 1882 quite a colony of small species of Lepiota appeared, including a new species, A. Bucknalli, with the odour of gas tar; a new variety, A. granulosus var. rufescens; A. citrophyllus, first found in Ceylon by Dr. Thwaites; and A. seminudus, the smallest member of the group. On dead twigs of gorse will be found a minute and delicate agaric, A. electicus, perhaps not yet known from any other station; and on dead bracken the rare and beautiful rose-coloured A. pterigenus has been found by a lady mycologist, Miss Dickson. The genus Hygrophorus is represented by a species smelling like the goat-moth, H. cossus; another like russian leather, H. russocoriaceus; and the rather uncommon H. arbustivus.
The milk-bearing agarics (Lactarius) abound, the most conspicuous being L. torminosus, with very acrid milk and a woolly-margined pileus. Another fine species with yellow milk (L. scrobiculatus) was found here for the first time in Britain. Species of Russula, some of brilliant and others of sober colours, are abundant, some being acrid and poisonous, others mild and esculent. Some rare species with an arachnoid veil and brown spores (Cortinarius) are to be found, including the magnificent C. triumphans, C. Riederi, C. largus, and one with brilliant red rooting fibres (mycelium), C. Bulliardi. Of the less fleshy species of the Agaricini, the rare Schizophyllum commune has been found on dead branches, and Boletus candicans is a fine representative of the fleshy tube-bearing fungi. Of the club-bearing fungi Clavaria Ardenia, which occurred abundantly in 1868 (C. E. Broome) and has since been found by Miss Dickson, is the most noteworthy. The Leigh Woods may be considered classical hunting ground for the subterranean fungi (Hypogœi and Tuberacei), it being here that Mr. Broome, who was an adept at their discovery, found many of the species recorded in our lists. Perhaps the first mention of his name in connection with fungi is by the Rev. J. M. Berkeley, who writes: 'I am indebted for the greater part of the hypogæous fungi, which I have now the pleasure of recording as British, to the unwearied research of C. E. Broome, Esq.' On the occasions on which the writer has had the pleasure of accompanying Mr. Broome on fungus hunting expeditions, the rake was generally in use with successful results. On one well remembered expedition in these woods Octaviana compacta, Hymenogaster vulgaris, H. tener, Hydnobolites cerebriformis and Elaphomyces granulatus were found. Hydnangeum carotœcolor, conspicuous from its bright colour on the surface of the soil, and Octaviana Stephensii, dedicated to Dr. Stephens by Tulasne, also occur, the latter only here and in a plantation on the same range of hills.
Many of the dead oak branches lying on the ground are stained dark green by the mycelium of one of the Pezizœ, Helotium œruginosum, the mature cups of which may often be seen growing on them. The wood thus stained is used in the manufacture of Tunbridge ware. A few years ago some other species of the same order grew on patches of burnt ground, Peziza melaloma, P. omphalodes and P. hinnulea, together with some agarics which habitually occur in a similar situation, A. atratus and A. carbonarius, and also A. maurus, A. hepaticus, A. cyathiformis and Polyporus perennis, all in the greatest luxuriance and profusion.
Many species of the Discomycetes and the Sphœriacei will be mentioned in the accompanying lists. A common species of the latter order, Hypoxylon concentricum, is conspicuous on old ash trunks, forming rusty-black nodular masses several inches in diameter. In a field at Abbots Leigh some interesting species have been found, one of which, A. (Amanita) ovoideus, has only once been met with in this country; the tall amanita, A. excelsus ; the poisonous stinking amanita, A. phalloides; Cortinarius laniger; and Russula Du Portii, smelling like fresh crabs. In the woods are A. (Lepiota) clavipes; A. (Inocybe) asterospora; Cortinarius flexipes; Russula Queletii; and amongst Sphagnum, in a small pond, Mitrula paludosa, a member of the Elvellacei, with a yellow head on a pale stem.
At Clevedon Mr. Wheeler found Agaricus (Annularia) lævis, almost simultaneously with its discovery at Kew by Mr. Massee, the only species of the sub-genus which has been recorded as British. It is characterized by its pink spores and ringed stem. Other interesting species from the same locality are A. (Pluteus) roseo-albus, Hygrophorus calyptrœformis and a new species belonging to the Pezizœ, Lachnella fragariastri. The beautiful but fœtid latticed stinkhorn, Clathrus cancellatus, has occurred in a hothouse. At Brockley Coombe the writer has found A. (Tricholoma) inodermius, Cortinarius brunneus, Russula cutefracta, Boletus pachypus, Tremella viscosa and the esculent gigantic morel, Morchella crassipes. The large and brilliant orange peziza, P. aurantia, has occurred at Nailsea, and Polyporus roseus at Yatton (Mr. Wheeler).
The following is a list of the species which were first discovered in Somerset, either as new to science or to the British flora. (fn. 6) A few of the species were met with almost simultaneously in other parts of England:—
Although these curious organisms are fairly common, and may often be found on decaying wood, bark, dead leaves, etc., they are little known except to the mycologist, who claims them as coming within his range of study, or to the biologist, who sees in them a possible connecting link between the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The older mycologists, both British and continental, gave figures of the Mycetozoa then known to them in their illustrated works on fungi, among the British authors Sowerby and Greville giving coloured figures of a considerable number of species.
The Swedish botanist, E. Fries, placed them next to the puff-ball order (Trichogastres) under the name of Myxogastres, and later Wallroth substituted the name Myxomycetes (slime-fungi). When the mode of germination of the spores became known, it was found that the affinity with fungi was not so close as had been supposed, and De Bary gave them the name of Mycetozoa, thus indicating an affinity with the animal kingdom.
The spores germinate in the presence of moisture and give rise to minute masses of protoplasm called swarm-cells. These acquiring flagella become motile, coalesce and form a jelly-like mass, the plasmodium, which creeps about on the surface or in the substance of dead wood, leaves, etc., enveloping and digesting bacteria and other food material, thus increasing in size, and in the case of some of the larger species sometimes forming a mass several inches in diameter. The plasmodium then becomes stationary, assumes various forms according to the species, dries up and produces receptacles or sporangia containing the spores, and generally a capillitium of flexible or rigid threads, which are either free or connected to the stem and sporangium-wall.
There are thus two distinct stages in the development of these organisms, in the first of which they bear a resemblance to some of the lower forms of animal life and in the second approach more nearly to the fungi. For further information the reader is referred to an excellent little work, The Mycetozoa, by the Right Hon. Sir Edward Fry and Miss Agnes Fry, in which the latest views on this interesting subject are clearly set forth; and for systematic description of the species to the works of Cooke, Massee and Lister.
The Bath District
As in the case of the fungi, C. E. Broome was one of the first workers in this county, and added many species to the British lists. Of the species which he met with in the neighbourhood of Bath may be mentioned Badhamia utricularis, whose greyish subglobose sporangia are borne on branched yellowish stalks, and contain dark spores and a capillitium of flat bands with granules of lime; Physarum leucopus, with sporangia on a white furrowed stalk, and capillitium consisting of delicate white threads connecting knots filled with lime; Stemonitis fusca, growing in fascicles of cylindrical sporangia whose walls are formed by a network of fibres springing from a central stem; several species of the genus Trichia, some of which are sessile and more or less globose like little yellow seeds, and others stalked and pear-shaped, and all containing spores and beautifully sculptured spiral threads of a brilliant golden yellow; Margarita metallica, with shining iridescent sporangia and an abundant capillitium of grey threads.
Amongst Mr. Broome's collection in the British Museum Mr. Lister has discovered a specimen of the rare Dianema Harveyi, probably collected at Batheaston, and which has only been recorded for one other locality in England and one in America. Another species of the same genus, D. depressum, has been found at Claverton by Mr. R. Baker, who also records Brefeldia maxima, one of the largest of the Mycetozoa, whose purplish-brown æthalia, filled with spores of the same colour, sometimes attain a breadth of 6 inches.
The Bristol District
In the Leigh Woods may be found Badhamia hyalina, with masses of balloon-shaped sporangia, which with the rigid capillitium are pure white when the dark spores have escaped; Craterium pedunculatum, like little yellow goblets with a chalky-white cover; Spumaria alba, forming confluent rugose masses of considerable size on leaves and living grasses; Cribaria argillacea, with lead-coloured plasmodium and net-like sporangia full of clay-coloured spores; Arcyria alba and A. incarnata, belonging to a genus containing several beautiful species of different colours, with generally ovate or elongated sporangia and a conspicuous capillitium consisting of threads marked with half rings, nodules, spines, etc.; Lycogala miniatum, with a pinkish plasmodium, and sporangia sometimes of the size and appearance of a small strawberry, afterwards becoming pinkisk-grey and shining, and full of spores of the same colour.
In the neighbourhood of Failand a large number of species has been collected by Miss Agnes Fry, to whom I am indebted for records of seventeen species and varieties as well as for additional localities. Amongst these may be mentioned: Physarum viride, belonging to a genus in which the sporangia, stems and limeknots are variously and brilliantly coloured—in the present species yellow, greenish or orange, the plasmodium being yellow; Fuligo septica, 'flowers of tan,' sometimes found on tan in conservatories, with sporangia coiled and anastomosing, and forming æthalia; Chondrioderma spumarioides, belonging to a genus in which the sporangium wall is double, the outer being calcareous and like an egg-shell, often separating from the inner membranous layer; Lamproderma irideum, an abundant and beautiful species with a brilliantly iridescent globose sporangium on a slender stem and capillitium of delicate threads radiating from the stem to the circumference; Dictydium umbilicatum, an elegant species in which the plasmodium is purple, and the sporangium wall is formed of ribs radiating from the top of the stem and connected by delicate transverse threads, the spores being pale red.