Musings on Mycoheterotrophs

March 13, 2018

The recent rediscovery of a plant called Thismia neptunis (Fairy Lanterns) in western Sarawak, 151 years after its only previous record ( leads me to blog about “mycoheterotrophs”.

Thismia neptunis

Thismia neptunis            Image from M Sochor et al.

These are plants like T. neptunis that parasitise fungi and generally have no or very little chlorophyll and therefore cannot make their own food. Until quite recently these plants were commonly called saprophytes – though there was never any experimental evidence to support the myth that these plants derive their carbon directly from decaying plant material. Even the New Atlas of the British Flora (Preston et al., 2002) describes the four higher-plant species of mycoheterotroph in the UK (Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s-nest Orchid), Corallorhiza trifida (Coralroot Orchid), Epipogium aphyllum (Ghost Orchid) and Hypopitys monotropa (Yellow Bird’s-nest)) as ‘saprophytic perennial herbs of leaf litter’.

Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s-nest Orchid) is recorded from Skye and Raasay in a few locations – seen here near Fiskavaig in 2009:

Neot nid Skye 2009 2

The mycoheterotrophs comprise over 400 plant species in 87 genera that are parasitic upon fungi, and exploit them as their principle source of carbon. In addition, there are estimated to be over 30,000 species, comprising approximately 10% of the plant kingdom, that depend upon mycoheterotrophy for establishment from dust seeds or spores. (Jonathan R. Leake, Mycologist, Volume 19, Part 3 August 2005 p113-122.)

So ….. never call a vascular plant a saprophyte!

A Mixed Bag

March 11, 2018

It is still a bit early for much botany but here are a few other items. This noctuid moth larva was in the greenhouse. They are difficult and I didn’t get a photo of the key bits. By the time I went back for another go, it had gone.

moth larva 180307 (2)

Possible Barred Chestnut Larva

A curious, perhaps exotic piece of tree that arrived on the shore:


or perhaps just strangely weathered.  Nearby was this fossil showing a small scallop-like impression on top of the ammonite:


Fossils on the shore

The Shore

March 4, 2018

Yesterday Skye Nature Group went to Broadford Bay at low tide. We found lots of nice things such as the following – thanks to Seth Gibson for the images (see his blog of the event here):

and the Eelgrass (Zostera marina) was looking good:

Zostera marina LR

So today I went to Eyre on Raasay at low water to see if I could find the source of Zostera wash-ups there. I found a nice piece with root (apologies for image quality):


Unfortunately, it was not attached to the substrate. Today the tide was not as low as yesterday and there was quite a strong onshore wind driving the tide higher and making waves that beat wellies. I suspect that f I had gone yesterday and been able to wade a bit further out I would have found the source.

Anyway there were other things like several seven-armed starfish (Luidia ciliaris), something we didn’t see yesterday:

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March 4, 2018

My contribution to the March edition of the Raasay Newsletter concerns bluebells and is available via a link here.

Where Do Plants Belong?

February 16, 2018

I am giving a talk with this title to the Skye Gardening Society on Friday 23 February at Tigh na Sgire, Portree, starting at 1.30pm. All welcome. Contents Slide:

SGS Contents slide

(Liable to change – there is still a week to go!)

Mammals of Skye – Talk

February 6, 2018

Coming up:0001

Plantains and Review of Second Half 2017

February 5, 2018

My contribution to the February edition of the Raasay Newsletter concerns plantains and is available via a link here.

A report on the last six months of 2017 is on the VC104 page of the BSBI website. It adds little to what has been reported here. At the moment it is entitled “Plants in Vice-County 104: Annual Report 2017”. I am waiting for it to be changed to “Plants in Vice-County 104: A Review of June- December 2017” which is what it is…….  Later: Now corrected.

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt

January 1, 2018

Actually a New Year Flower Hunt, but anyway, a wander around Portree this morning produced a list of nine plants in flower:

Cardamine flexuosa Wavy Bitter-cress
Cerastium glomeratum Sticky Mouse-ear
Cytisus scoparius Broom
Erophila glabrescens Glabrous Whitlowgrass
Hedera helix Common Ivy
Poa annua Annual Meadow-grass
Senecio vulgaris Groundsel
Taraxacum agg. Dandelion
Ulex europaeus Gorse


Red Squirrel Talk

December 30, 2017

Coming soon…..

Squirrel talk

Christmas Day and Boxing Day

December 27, 2017

Before the snow came, late on Boxing Day, I spotted these. The moth and a spider that Hayley has confirmed as Segestria senoculata following Neil’s suggestion that it might be that, were on the outside of the garage.