A very rare fern found in Co. Kerry, Ireland

A very rare fern found in Co. Kerry, Ireland

A very rare and small “cloud-forest” fern that has never before been seen in Europe – has been discovered in the Kingdom (Co Kerry, Ireland).  It has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic – more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic.  Rory Hodd, an Ireland-based botanist, working as part of a National Survey of Upland Habitats in a secluded part of the Killarney National Park in County Kerry,  Southwest Ireland collected and pressed a specimen and sent it to Dr Fred Rumsey a senior curator at the Natural History Museum in London. He was working with American colleagues who are experts on these plants, and they confirmed the identity of the tiny fern as Stenogrammitis myosuroides, part of a distinctive group of ferns known as the Grammitids.

Killarney National Park is one of Europe’s few remaining fragments of temperate rainforest. Rory said “It’s rare to discover a new native plant species in Britain and Ireland – one that we think arrived ‘under its own steam’, not imported by humans – but it’s frankly amazing to discover a genus that’s completely new to Europe.”  It appears that the tiny fern has been in existence and overlooked for thousands of years while quietly living in the Killarney National Park in County Kerry.

Working with American colleagues who are experts on these plants, Rumsey identified the tiny fern as part of a distinctive group known as the Grammitids, a rare variety that usually grows on trees in the tropics. Their findings have been published in British and Irish Botany, the journal of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland It is unlikely the tiny fern was brought to Ireland by people because Grammitid ferns have proved impossible to cultivate and this fern grows on rocks rather than other plants, so would not be accidentally introduced on tropical garden plants.

The Kerry mousetail has been suggested as a common name for what is the rarest fern in Europe, although Hodd pointed out that the name did not quite capture one small fern’s apparently
miraculous ability to confound expectations and leap across oceans.  “Drs Hodd and Rumsey agree that it is extremely unlikely that this fern was introduced to Europe by humans, as Grammitid ferns have proved impossible to cultivate and this species grows on rocks rather than other plants, so would not be accidentally introduced on other imported species. Their current hypothesis is that S. myosuroides most likely arrived naturally in Ireland without human intervention. It may, they believe, have been lurking overlooked for thousands of years. The fern’s diminutive size could help to explain why it might have been overlooked until now.”

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