Scientists from Ireland and Britain are scratching their heads over the recent discovery in Killarney, County Kerry, of a tiny cloud-forest fern which had never been recorded before in Europe and whose nearest relatives are in the neotropics.
Irish-based botanist Dr Rory Hodd, who spotted the new fern in a remote upland valley, far from the nearest road, 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! This new fern, which doesn’t even have an English name yet, is the only representative of its sub-family and the nearest other populations we know about are on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean - and in a different bioclimatic region.”
Dr Hodd was plant-hunting in a remote part of the Killarney National Park in County Kerry, Southwest Ireland - one of Europe’s few remaining fragments of temperate rainforest – when he discovered a few specimens of the fern growing on humid rocks. He collected and pressed a specimen and sent it to Dr. Fred Rumsey at the Natural History Museum, London, who, working with American colleagues who are experts on these plants, identified the tiny fern as Stenogrammitis myosuroides, part of a distinctive group of ferns known as the Grammitids, rare ferns that usually grow on trees in the tropics.
Dr Rumsey said “The nearest occurrences we have for these Grammitid ferns is mid-Atlantic, in the Azores, where there are two exceedingly rare species which have recently been listed as Critically Endangered. Prior to Dr Hodd’s discovery, S. myosuroides was only known to occur in the montane cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic”.