Friday 27th – Petit Bôt, St. Peter Port and Fort Hommet
Flights from Manchester, Gatwick, Southampton and Jersey arrived in Guernsey on Friday 27th March without a hitch and by 11:00 our minibus was on its way to Petit Bôt ( Bôt to rhyme with low) on Guernsey’s south coast. A granite wall with many Asplenium marinum (Sea Spleenwort) plants growing on it was right next to the spot where the minibus was parked. Nearby a Polypody was the subject of much discussion, but it was decided that it was Polypodium interjectum (Western Polypody) as are most of the Channel Island Polypodys.
A short walk up the nearby road yielded many ferns including a special discovery by Andrew of a single plant of Asplenium x microdon (Guernsey Fern) growing at the side of the road. An exciting find so early on in the trip. Also along the roadside were Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken), Asplenium obovatum subsp. lanceolatum (Lanceolate Spleenwort), Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (Black Spleenwort) and Dryopteris affinis subsp. affinis (Golden-scaled Male-fern). Alison saw the bright green fronds of a newly emerging Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern) just visible among the grass. The rain which had been threatening to fall all morning then poured down and the group sought refuge in the Martello Tower next to the beach to eat lunch. We were joined by George Garnett who lives on Guernsey and despite being only sixteen and currently doing his GCSE’s is a knowledgeable botanist and has a keen interest in ferns.
A short trip then took us into the narrow streets of St. Peter Port where we found Asplenium trichomanes subsp. quadrivalens (Maidenhair Spleenwort) and Asplenium ceterach (Rustyback) growing on the walls. Adiantum capillus-veneris (Maidenhair Fern) is not found growing in the wild in Guernsey however it has naturalised probably from spores from cultivated plants on walls near Candie Gardens where the group found many small plants. Another Asplenium also growing on the walls was Asplenium ruta-muraria (Wall Rue).
Our final location for the day was Fort Hommet where we were able to find two of Guernsey’s rarest plants. Near a rocky outcrop we found many leaves of the tiny fern Ophioglossum lusitanicum (Least Adder’s-tongue) and after much searching a few spikes still remaining from their winter fruiting. After a short walk towards a heath area we easily found Isoetes histrix (Land Quillwort) confirmed by the presence of two marking pins left by Fred Rumsey who had visited the site earlier. It was necessary to get down on hands and knees to distinguish the Quillwort from the newly emerging leaves of Buckshorn Plantain (Plantago coronopus).
Saturday 28th – St Saviour, Portelet & Torteval areas
It was rather misty and still coolish as we headed the minibus northwest towards St Saviour with a couple of short stops on the way. Our first port of call near Les Provosts Road was a quiet narrow lane with typical Guernsey tall, but well managed, hedgebanks, topped with gorse and well clothed with a mass of herbaceous vegetation, such as navelwort, campion, fumitory and scurvy grass, to name but a few. Polypodium interjectum, Asplenium obovatum (throughout Guernsey as subsp. lanceolatum) and A. adiantum-nigrum were common, but looking closer towards road level underneath the main overhang of vegetation we were delighted to find a few clumps of the delicate annual Anogramma leptophylla. We gathered that it is restricted solely to this area of Guernsey, although slightly more common on Jersey, but is at its northernmost range in the Channel Islands and absent from the rest of Britain.
At our next stop at the Grantez Mill viewpoint looking out to Vazon Bay we were introduced to another Guernsey speciality, Asplenium x microdon, the rather unusual looking but attractive hybrid between A. scolopendrium and A. obovatum subsp. lanceolatum, and known as the Guernsey Fern. It is rather robust in form, well lobed and probably most similar in appearance to A. marinum. We stopped again by Les Clos au Compte to see another one by the roadside, growing with its parent species, and the house owner came out showing interest in this rare fern growing on his ‘doorstep’. We in turn admired his magnificent Washingtonia palms grown from seed, now ten years old.
We parked up by St Saviour church for a longer walk, meeting up with Fred and Sue Rumsey who coincidentally were on holiday in Guernsey. Thus armed with prior knowledge from Andrew’s and Fred’s previous visits and our local member George we were able to find quite a few more ‘microdons’ as we meandered along paths and lanes around the church and towards the reservoir.
It wasn’t long before we encountered another fern rarity, Asplenium x sarniense, the Guernsey Spleenwort – a hybrid of A. obovatum subsp. lanceolatum and A. adiantum-nigrum, which is not that uncommon in SW Guernsey, but very rare elsewhere in Britain. There was a confirmed plant close to the church and its characters were explained to us by Fred, mainly that its triangular shaped frond is similar to ‘ad-nig’, but with mucro-tipped pinnules like ‘obovatum’. In practice it is closer in appearance to ‘ad-nig’ which itself is quite variable on Guernsey, so not that easy to pick out without confirmation by spore infertility.
We totted up at least four ‘microdons’ and several ‘sarnienses’ as we explored the attractive countryside near St Saviour Reservoir. Ruette Tranquille is the name given to the narrow quiet lanes, with pedestrian priority over cars, much appreciated due to their narrowness and steep sided banks. Other ferns noted along the way included Athyrium filix-femina, Dryopteris filix-mas, D. dilatata and dead fronds of Pteridium aquilinum. It came on to rain so we headed back to the bus for lunch.
Brighter again in the afternoon we moved to the coast at Portelet Bay. A narrow winding path climbing up from the coastal road proved to be an absolute ferny paradise with many young plants of the parent Aspleniums and some more of their two hybrids. With the bank cutting regime keeping the vegetation low, it seems likely that hybrids can reform regularly and we saw quite young specimens of ‘microdons’ and ‘sarnienses’. Here Fred has recorded the extremely rare A. x jacksonii (A. scolopendrium x A. adiantum-nigrum) in the past, but unfortunately none were still present or new ones found on our current visit. There was time for a final hour on the lanes around Torteval church to find a few more plants, the highlight being a ‘microdon’ with the biggest fronds seen so far, nearly a foot long.
After a brief stop at the hotel on the way back, we carried on into St Peter Port for a guided tour of the Herbarium kept by La Societe Guernesiaise. George showed us some of the botanical collections including the isotype specimen for Asplenium x sarniense from Guernsey, described by Dr Anne Sleep in 1972, and from much longer ago, A. adiantum-nigrum and some other ferns from Joshua Gosselin’s Guernsey collection of 1799.
Sunday 29th March – Fermain Valley, Rue de Piquarelle, Petit Bôt, and St. Pierre du Bois
Sunday, and the clocks had gone forward, so we were allowed an extra hour and set off at 10 a.m. to the Fermain Valley. We parked below the empty Chalet Hotel, and walked down through the garden, noting the patches of naturalised Selaginella kraussiana. After examining a plant of Dryopteris affinis subsp. affinis in some detail, we walked on towards the sea, noting Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, A. obovatum subsp. lanceolatum and A. scolopendrium as well as Athyrium filix-femina, Dryopteris filix-mas, D. dilatata, Polypodium interjectum, and Pteridium aquilinum. We searched the rocks around the beach but didn’t find any sea-spleenwort. Walking back towards the hotel, we admired the flowering bushes of Brugmansia sanguinea, and a large stand of Zantedeschia aethiopica. We added Polystichum setiferum and Dryopteris borreri to our fern list, then around the side of the hotel we looked down on to the canopies of three large Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns. Some people scrambled down the steep, muddy, brambly slope for a closer look – the more cautious amongst us found a stairway down, although there were still brambles to contend with. Underneath the tree ferns was a ‘garden’ Polystichum, probably Polystichum polyblepharum, and lower down the hillside were some self-sown Dicksonias. A large plant of Dryopteris affinis agg. by the side of the stream was thought to be a candidate for D. x complexa, so it would be interesting to see if it has good or abortive spores later in the year. There was a further stand of scaly male ferns on the far bank of the stream that we decided was D. borreri after some deliberation.
Our second site was in the north of the island, in the parish of St. Sampsons. We parked on Rue Piquarelle and walked a little way to see a colony of Microsorum pustulatum (syn. Phymatosorus diversifolius) appearing through the gaps in a stone garden wall. We could see that there was an extensive colony in the garden, and we were welcomed into the garden by the owners, who brought out a spade and asked us to take as much as we wanted. They also thoughtfully provided us with carrier bags!
After a group photo by the garden wall, we set off back to Petit Bôt on the south coast to meet Rachel Raby, a notable Guernsey botanist who is working on the Guernsey Herbarium with George. Our first target plant was Polystichum x bicknellii, which Rachel had previously found in the vicinity. We walked up towards the coast path on the west side of Petit Bôt bay, noting a large polypody that we thought might be P. x mantoniae, and a large plant of Dryopteris affinis with crested pinnae. Ashley found a plant of Polystichum setiferum. When we arrived at the site of the hybrid polystichum, the tree that Rachel used as a landmark had fallen down the hillside. A search on either side of the tree proved fruitless, so George and Andrew managed to lift the tree high enough for us to look underneath, but there was no polystichum to be found. Presumably the plant had been out-competed by the brambles and lush undergrowth.
Rachel then gave us a diagram of the paths ahead with the locations of Polypodium x shivasiae and P. cambricum marked. After some debate about which was the correct path to take, we found a large colony of what looked like P. interjectum around the site where we thought the hybrid should be. Later examination of sample fronds from there showed good spores, so not the hybrid. We were more fortunate in finding a good colony of Polypodium cambricum on the cliff-top path, with its broader fronds and serrate pinnae. We then said goodbye to Rachel, and on her recommendation went to the Deerhound pub for lunch.
Warmed and re-fuelled, we parked near the church of St. Peter (St. Pierre du Bois) and set out in search of more hybrids. We soon found a plant of Asplenium x microdon, and then two plants of Asplenium x sarniense. Andrew took a group photo at a point in the lane where there is a bollard on either side of the road – markers for another plant of Asplenium x microdon, which was looking rather tatty. On our way back to the van we spotted Woodwardia radicans in a garden. We returned to the hotel, where ferny activities continued after dinner. George brought in his USB microscope, and the hotel provided us with a room with screen and projector, so we were able to examine the specimens of polypodiums we had collected, and view them on the screen. All had good spores, so no hybrids, but we were able to confirm the specimen of P. cambricum. Tim then gave us a slide show of Japanese ferns to round off another excellent day of ‘ferning’.
Monday 30th – St Pierre du Bois, Portelet & Talbot Valley
The brightest day so far with some actual sunshine in the morning. We returned to the area near St Peter’s Church [St Pierre du Bois] in search of another known Asplenium x microdon we had somehow missed on the earlier visit. Fred gave us more precise directions, and this time we found it.
Next we drove west and parked on the sea front at Portelet Harbour overlooking Fort Grey. From here we walked along the coast, stopping to investigate rocky outcrops on the way. No new ferns here, but we did find some nice specimens of Asplenium marinum, as well as A. obovatumsubsp. lanceolatum, A. adiantum-nigrum and Polypodium interjectum. We also recorded Athyrium filix-femina, Dryopteris dilatata and Pteridium aquilinum. Heading inland over the top of the headland we passed a rather dramatic WWII German lookout post, looking a bit like a hybrid between a multi-storey car-park and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, with spectacular views over the coastline. From here we followed a lane back in the direction of the harbour, finding on the way a particularly nice large candidate for Asplenium x sarniense as well as some very good-looking and photogenic clumps of A. obovatum subsp. lanceolatum, and also A. trichomanes. Halfway down we passed a garden pond part-covered with Azolla filiculoides. During lunch at the café overlooking the harbour, Ashley pointed out a colony of Asplenium ruta-muraria on the wall of the public convenience, by far the largest colony seen on the trip.
After lunch we drove north to the Talbot Valley, the largest valley in Guernsey, and spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the lanes and footpaths. Although most of the ferns were species we had already seen, highlights included at least one probable Asplenium x sarniense, and Polystichum setiferum, otherwise rarely encountered. The one new one for the day was a crop of early shoots of Equisetum x litorale poking through the grass at the entrance to a farmyard – too young to identify, but known to Fred from previous visits. Not far on from this Fred pointed out an unusual plant, probably native in the Channel Islands, Ficaria verna subsp. ficariiformis (formerly Ranunculus ficaria subsp. ficariiformis) – a large-flowered version of the familiar Lesser Celandine. Piling back into the mini-bus, we had a brief stop beside the road to view Adiantum capillus-veneris on a wall before some of the group had to be dropped off at the airport.
The remainder went on to pay a visit to the large Canary Islands Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) on a traffic island near the harbour at St Peter Port, which turned out to have three species of fern growing on its trunk: Athyrium filix-femina, Asplenium adiantum-nigrum and A. scolopendrium, followed by a brief visit to George’s garden before heading back to the airport. Unfortunately, the weather had begun to deteriorate by this time and a thick low-lying cloud layer grounded most of the flights, which meant many of us had an unexpected extra night on the island!