If you’re thinking, what’s a charophyte?, well, you’re not the only one. This is the fancy botanical name for stoneworts, a type of alga which you might have seen growing on the bottom in clear lakes and ponds; they’re often most obvious in newly dug ponds as they are some of the first pioneer plants to arrive. Nobody knows why; some people say the spores come in on birds’ feet; others maintain that the spores are just there in the soil waiting to get going. Yes, spores, stoneworts have a special reproductive system which I won’t bore you with, suffice to say, it’s unique among the plant kingdom. Anyway, once you get them under the microscope, stoneworts are cool, with all sorts of funky spines and bumps and groovy-looking fruiting bits*. And I wanted to know more.
Luckily for me the magnificent people at the Field Studies Centre BioFell programme were already on the case and offered me the opportunity to go on a free one day workshop hosted by Cumbria Wildlife Trust; why thank you, don’t mind if I do ! Our tutor Nick Stewart brought along specimens of loads of different species and after an introductory presentation we got stuck in under the microscopes with a key he had put together himself especially for beginners. Honestly, this was brilliant, because although the BSBI Handbook is great for diagrams and descriptions of the plants, it’s very comprehensive, which means that the key includes all the really rare species as well, which non-specialists like myself will probably never see (sadly). I now feel so much more confident about keying out stoneworts and am even thinking about getting a microscope myself (oo-err…..).
Now all I have to do is find a stonewort that isn’t Chara vulgaris and it’ll be game on………
* They really are, do an online search for images of Chara vulgaris, our commonest species of stonewort, and you’ll see what I mean.