Culag Woods and a moss with no name

June 30th 2020

Culag Woods and a moss with no name

Not true, we did put a name to it eventually!

The frustrating or rewarding thing, depending on your view, about being interested in the natural world is that it can often be difficult to simply ‘go for a walk’. In that context Culag Woods can sometimes feel a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop; which jar to dip into today?

Saturday 2 May 2020 was a Culag Woods wander day for myself and Avril while we waited on the 6pm hot food takeaway slot at An Cala. You just have to have chips now and then!

Leaving the Woodside carpark, it was tempting just to take ourselves and no binoculars or camera since we could hear lots of bird species singing and calling in the woods. Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Siskin, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Robin, and all before we opened the gate to enter the shop sorry, the woods.

No gear sounded like too risky a proposition so we took all the toys with us. After maybe five minutes I spied a mat of moss that looked intriguingly like a small tree plantation (photos 1 and 2); end of my wander. Avril went on to have her own adventure with Pond Skaters at the Curling Pond.

One photograph is never enough in these circumstances, and when you don’t know which ‘bits’ of a plant help with its identification the more the merrier. Turns out it wouldn’t have mattered how many I took, as a specimen of the actual plant would be required to ID it.

A second visit

So, under instruction from Ian, I returned on the Monday and took a couple of the ‘trees’ and put them in a food bag to aid the id process. Of course, it was also a chance to take a few more photos .  Very glad I did as I found one plant with a tiny fruiting body which I will now leave to Ian Evans to explain in more detail (photo 2).

The first step in identification was easy, patently a bog-moss Sphagnum sp.  However, since 26 of the 34 British species have been recorded from Assynt, the next step requires real expertise.  The habitat was only marginally helpful; although we associate bog-mosses with bogs, mires and flushes, there are at least five that can tolerate a modicum of shade and are found in our West Coast woodlands.  So David’s sample was sent off to Gordon Rothero who, after examining it under the microscope, confirmed it as five-ranked bog-moss Sphagnum quinquefarium.  In the Flora of Assynt (2002) he describes it as ‘widespread but nowhere frequent, occurring on steep banks in rocky woodland’, which fits.

The reddish-brown spore-bearing capsules, which look a bit like minute conkers, are only occasionally found in this species, so David was lucky to spot one.

 

David Haines and Ian Evans

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