Wednesday, 18 January 2023

New Species of Grasses, Sedges, Rushes etc found in Cornwall in 2022

 This is my final blog relating to my finds of new species (for me) in Cornwall during 2022. It includes the more interesting plants in this section though I have omitted lots of sedges, which to the untrained eye all look very similar.

On a field trip to Harbour Cove sand dunes, a new sub species of False Oat Grass was pointed out to me by the County Recorder, but this was different to the thousands of specimens of that grass that I usually see just about everywhere. This is a subsecies that grows bulbs or corms below ground. Unfortunately, you have to almost pull up the grass to determine this, but on the plus side it is a common grass so no harm is done by checking a few plants to find it. You can even buy this plant online for your garden, though most gardeners would weed out wild grasses like this.

This was found in numerous bronze and iron age burial mounds, but it is unclear whether they were used for a ritual purpose or for food.

False Oat-grass - Arrhenatherum elatius subsp bulbosum

On the same field trip I was also introduced to the most deadly rush I've ever seen. Just looking at it like in the photo below, it just looks like a stout rush  growing in sand dunes. However, the inflorescences are borne upon very stiff leaves which sit bolt upright tipped by a stiff, sharp spine. These stems are rigid and do not bend from above. If you bent over near to one, it could stab out an eyeball or penetrate your skin, perhaps up to an inch deep.

Click here to see its UK distribution map. 

Sharp Rush - Juncus acutus

After being suitably warned by the field trip leader, I walked on and saw a small Trifolium. As I bent over to look at it, I very nearly came into contact with one of those spines to my face, so I'm obviously a bit of a slow learner! In the photo below you can see the sharp tip of these stems. Be careful around this impressive but dangerous plant.

On a May field trip to The Lizard we saw many amazing wildflowers and a mini fern called Pillwort (see my last blog). However, another miniature plant from this field trip was this Dwarf Rush below, a very rare plant indeed. It's related to the Sharp Rush above and in the same genus, but couldn't be more different. Only a couple of inches tall and so easily missed as one walks by.

If you click here, it will show you the UK distribution for it. I'm quite lucky being in Cornwall to have it grow here in the wild. 

Dwarf Rush - Juncus capitatus

Below is a small sedge called the Flea Sedge as it supposedly looks like fleas gathered on a stem. I'd never come across it in Kent, but in Cornwall it is common on the acidic moors, bogs and heaths. When I've photographed other plants, I've noticed small Flea Sedges in the flora around the target plant. This little plant is easy to recognise too. It's a shame they don't have jumping seeds! It is quite common in the West and North of England, but absent from Kent entirely.

Flea Sedge - Carex pulicaris

Another Carex I frequently found here was the Star Sedge. Again, I'd never seen one before and when I first came across it, I thought it was False Fox Sedge, which is similar but the florets are more compact in the inflorescence. I've seen Star Sedge with a single "star" of seeds around the stem too, not all have multiple groups of "stars" like the one shown below. This one likes damp or wet acidic ground.

Star Sedge - Carex echinata

Below is an Umbrella Plant, one of several species of Cyperus that have escaped from gardens into the wild. I've found them in a few places, though none were anywhere near a garden! One location was an arable field edge not even near a road, another was in a disused quarry and one on the edge of a nature reserve. It gets about, I suspect birds might spread it. Although it is an attractive plant, it tends to form large clumps crowding out other species, so you wouldn't want it suddenly appearing on a sensitive site.

Pale Sedge - Cyperus eragrostis

An odd type of sedge I found was White-Beak Sedge which is sufficiently different to have its own family and not be included in Carex. I had heard of it but never seen it until 2022. I was on Retire Common near Bodmin admiring Heath Spotted Orchids and other flora when I came across an area that looked like it had snowflakes scattered about it. It was of course, the white coloured seedheads of this species which had formed a large colony in the bog area. A lovely plant to find. This species has a similar distribution to Fleaa Sedge, though is more common in western areas.

White Beak Sedge - Rhynchospora alba

"Snow" on the ground in June.


One of the more interesting grasses I found was Dune Fescue. It's not very common here and of course, I'd never seen it before. I found it in dunes on both sides of the River Camel, at Rock and Harbour Cove, growing with Sand Sedge and Marram Grass. It has orange-brown, almost rust coloured spikelets on a rhizome. So you often see these growing in a line as plants arise from the rhizome at regular intervals..

Dune Fescue - Vulpia fasciculata

This sedge below was shown to me on a field trip too. I was familar with Remote Sedge which has a long bract above a small, compact inflorescence, but this coastal species had an exceptionally long bract and much larger inflorescents than Remote Sedge. As such, it's an easy one to remember and identify for the future too.

Long-bracted Sedge - Carex extensa

My final find that I want to highlight was a rare sedge called Flat Sedge - because it's flat. Or at least it looks like it is in cross section. My first impression was that someone had tried to press it using a heavy book, but it just grows that way.

It only grows a few inches high in dune turf and is only found in Cornwall on MOD land at Penhale as far as I know. It's more common in East Anglia and the north of England.

Flat Sedge - Blymus compressus

So ends my new species found list for 2022. I have omitted a few, mostly where photos were disappointing, but there are still so many to find. The book, Flora of Cornwall published in 2020 has a huge species list and many of those are native plants too. As such, I should be kept busy for many years to come I hope. If you want to record or just see these plants, I would highly recommend buying a copy if you can find one. Here's a link to it.

 Many counties publish their own flora, so do some research and see what your own local area has to offer. Spring isn't far off now so there is much exploring to look forward to.

Take care



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