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Extinct plant rediscovered in the Peak District National Park

Wednesday 6th September 2017

Rhodri Thomas examines the Leek-coloured hawkweedRhodri Thomas examines the Leek-coloured hawkweed

A rare plant previously thought to be globally extinct has been rediscovered in the Peak District National Park.

Two small populations of the leek-coloured hawkweed, 62 plants in total, have been found flowering on the banks of the Monsal Trail, in Chee Dale.

Leek-coloured hawkweed flowers are yellow, similar to a dandelion but smaller. The plant gets its name because its leaves are the same chalky-green as the vegetable, leek.

The discovery of Hieracium subprasinifolium, to give the plant its botanical name, was made by Dr Tim Rich whilst collecting seeds for Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.
Dr Rich said: “Leek-coloured Hawkweed has not been seen in Derbyshire for over 60 years and is thought to have died out at its only other known world site in Staffordshire a few years ago, so I was very, very pleased to find these two small but healthy populations growing near the Monsal Trail.

“Hawkweeds are fascinating and unusual plants, we know of more than 400 species of hawkweed in Britain. Many are very uncommon or rare, and include British hawkweed, Dales hawkweed and Derby hawkweed, which are unique to the Peak District.”

But this is the first time leek-coloured hawkweed has been officially identified and recorded in the area since the 1950s. It is native to Britain but has only ever been recorded at four sites in the Peak District. It is not known anywhere else in the world.

Chee Dale is now the only known location in the world that the plant is found and the sites of the two groups of plants are owned by the Peak District National Park and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

Rhodri Thomas, Natural Environment & Rural Economy Team Manager for the Peak District National Park, said: “We are delighted with the discovery of Hieracium subprasinifolium close to the Monsal Trail – it’s one of the best indications we could ask for to show that the work we do to look after the trail side verges and the embankments is good for wildlife. Our trail rangers and volunteers regularly clear these areas of invasive hawthorn and young trees to allow wildflowers and plants to thrive.”

Julia Gow, Reserves Officer at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust who manage the Nature Reserve at Chee Dale said: “We were very excited to hear that leek-coloured hawkweed is thriving in our Reserve. The rarity and particular biological requirements of this plant shows just how vital Nature Reserves are for providing places for wildlife and nature conservation – in this case, the entire world population of a species!”

Leek-coloured hawkweed is a perennial plant and only grows in rocky limestone habitats. To help safeguard its future seed has been collected for long-term storage as part of Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seedbank Partnership, which has collected seed from more than 37,000 species from all over the world.
 

 

Notes to editors:

1. Leek-coloured hawkweed was first discovered in Great Rocks Dale in the Peak District Dales in 1898 by Rev. E. F. Linton www.natstand.org.uk/time/LintonEFtime.htm whose brother William Linton wrote the first Flora of Derbyshire.

2. In 1903, Linton recorded it at the original site, and also discovered it at Chee Dale.

3. It was not described as a species new to science until 1942.

4. It is a member of the “Compositae” (Dandelion and Daisy) family. Like Dandelions each “petal” is in fact an individual flower, with lots bunched together to form a single “flower-head”.

5. The reason for the large number of Hawkweed species is because they are “apomictic”, i.e. they largely reproduce asexually; so each seed is effectively a clone of the parent plant and every genetic line is therefore effectively a distinct species.

6. It’s thought that the huge variety of Hawkweed species may have arisen through a number of sexually reproducing species spreading north after the retreat of the ice sheets during the last ice age, hybridizing as they encountered each other which resulted in new lineages which were unable to reproduce sexually but could reproduce clonally. Further species may subsequently have arisen through mutation and, because they do not cross-breed, the differences were then maintained as distinct new species.

7. The derivation of the name Hawkweed is unclear, although in his “New Herball” (1551) William Turner speculated that “the downe that groweth in the toppe of this herbe after the flowers be gone, be good to be taken of the hawke to make him cast his gorge wyth it.” [i.e. hawks ate the downy seeds to help them bring up pellets].

8. Alternatively… Prior (“On the Popular Names of British Plants” etc., 1863) suggested that the name was “from a notion entertained by the ancients, that with this plant, hawks were in the habit of clearing their eyesight”. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/186444#page/136/mode/1up.