Euphrasia pseudokerneri is a Flintshire rarity. Or, it would be, if anyone could actually find it. The plant was last recorded in the county at Penyball Hill by Vera Gordon in 1962, but no-one has seen it since. Wendy McCarthy looked in the 1990s and, not wanting to give up on it, we thought we’d have another look. After all, a new eyebright handbook is in prep and it would be great to re-establish our knowledge of the distribution of this species in North Wales.
An array of adventurous botanists met at Calcoed Methodist Church to search for the plant and to record whatever else we found along the way in the 1km grid square where Vera Gordon found the Euphrasia pseudokerneri. Strangely, there were rather few post-2000 plant records for the square, despite much of it being included in Halkyn Common & Holywell Grasslands SSSI, so there was plenty to discover.
We fell upon the first eyebright immediately in short mown grassland on the edge of Holywell Golf Course. We think this one was Euphrasia nemorosa.
The next was in short sparse vegetation on lead spoil amongst spring sandwort Minuartia verna, known locally as leadwort – the Calaminarian grassland for which the Halkyn/Holywell area is famous. A very small plant with distinctive purple colouring, we think this was Euphrasia micrantha.
The third eyebright wasn’t Euphrasia pseudokerneri either. Also on the boundary of the golf course, this keyed out to Euphrasia arctica ssp borealis. But here we found pale toadflax Linaria repens, a late-flowering species which is often overlooked.
Finally, in species-rich tall grassland on the edge of a footpath we found a plant meeting the description for Euphrasia confusa.
So, no Euphrasia pseudokerneri, but at least we can say that we’ve looked. We took samples of all four types of eyebright we found (with permission from NRW) and have sent them off to the BSBI eyebright referee, Chris Metherell, for expert determination.
It was far from a wasted day out, though, with four species of eyebright amongst 163 plant species in total, including orange whitebeam Sorbus croceocarpa. Orange whitebeam is an introduced species, but our plant looked very much at home growing out of a disused quarry wall.