The enigmatic Mr Henry Spare
Shropshire Botanical Society Newsletter 6 - Spring 2002 - page 11, 14-16
Alex Lockton & Sarah Whild
Following on from "The Uncertain Legacy" (Autumn 2000) and "In Defence of Mary McGhie" (Spring 2001), it might be worthwhile to explore some more of the "interesting" records for Shropshire. Remember, we don't delete records or change them irrevocably, instead we mark things "unconfirmed" so that automatic analyses by computer reflect as accurately as possibly what we believe to be a correct account of the county's natural history.
Mark Lawley's article has not persuaded us to restore any of Mary McGhie's dubious records. The only one that seems controversial is the Juniper. This shrub would certainly have been common enough in Shropshire at some point after the last ice age. The question is, did it persist long enough for Miss McGhie to spot it? The balance of evidence seems to suggest not, and we certainly hope that there is no conservation plan to reintroduce it. Philip Oswald emailed to point out that there is another unlikely-sounding record in the list, that was missed:-
P.H. Oswald, 11th November 2001
Cynoglossum germanicum, Green Hound's-tongue, is a Red Data Book species in Britain, with only four dots on the national distribution map. It is a woodland plant that occurs on chalk and limestone. The Shropshire dot - Mary McGhie's - is somewhat isolated from the rest, being out to the north-west, but not so far that it could be eliminated purely on grounds of geographical range. As for ecology, it is unfortunately listed as occurring as a casual on roadsides, so we cannot strike it off for that reason alone. The only justification I can put forward for rejecting it is that it has always been so rare, and so important, that if any botanist with the skill to recognise it had found it in a new county, they would surely have collected voucher specimens and submitted them to referees. I think this is no more than a simple error for Cynoglossum officinale, Common Hound's-tongue, which does indeed occur in the neighbourhood of Ludlow.
The main subject of this article, however, is Henry Spare (1793-1864), also from the Ludlow area. Philip Oswald devotes several column inches to him in Sinker's Flora (pp. 27-28), and suggests that he may have been a farmer or a gardener at Oakly Park. He questions the records of Ophrys sphegodes, Sesleria caerulea and Salvia pratensis, and points out that there isn't a single sedge in Spare's list - often the least favourite group of plants for an untrained botanist. There are other records of Spare's that could be questioned. Take, for instance, his record of Pyrola rotundifolia, Round-leaved Wintergreen, at Whitcliffe. The Common Wintergreen, P. minor, was seen there by Thomas Salwey, Andrew Bloxam (both ca. 1841), William Beckwith (ca. 1880), George Claridge Druce (1892), and more recently by J. Vaycey (1962 & 1965)and S.R. Turner (1971). Intermediate Wintergreen, P. intermedia, was recorded by Frederick Westcott (1842) and William Phillips (1889, conf. Arthur Bennett). But Henry Spare got neither of these, just the much rarer P. rotundifolia.
Spare's records of Dianthus plumarius around Ludlow can be accounted for and almost excused. Virtually every prominent botanist in Britain for 300 years made this mistake until Eric Clement pointed out that it was actually Silene schafta (BSBI News 85 (2000) pp. 46-47). We do not believe his Wood Bitter-vetch, Vicia orobus, which seems likely to be an error for Vicia sylvatica. His Melampyrum sylvaticum is undoubtedly M. pratense. One that is particularly troubling is Shining Pondweed, Potamogeton lucens, at Oakly Park. This has been recorded in Shropshire several times, but only one record is accepted, and that is probably from a canal, which tells us nothing about the native flora of ponds and rivers. On balance, it seems best to consider Spare's record to be wrong, but this issue is worth studying further.
It seems unlikely that anyone could misidentify Cladium mariscus, but equally unlikely that it could have occurred as a native species at Oakly Park. Henry Spare might not have been averse to recording plants that were introduced - Oxalis corniculata, Lonicera caprifolium - and it is altogether possible that C. mariscus could have been planted around ornamental lakes. Anchusa officinalis, Alkanet, is sometimes grown in gardens, but has never been recorded in the wild in Britain, according to Stace (1997). Spare's is the only record for it in Shropshire: a mistake for Evergreen Alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens, perhaps?
Philip Oswald points out that Spare's Picris echioides, Bristly Oxtongue, record would be a first for the county. The only other person, historically, to have recorded it was Griffith Griffiths (1870), who is definitely a suitable subject for a future article of this sort. In 1975 Henry Hand made the first proper record for this species, and it has been found in a number of places since then, usually in very disturbed and industrial areas. If it is reasonable to reject anything by Henry Spare that is not actually likely, then the Cerastium arvense, Apera spica-venti, Phalaris canariensis, Thalictrum flavum, Oxalis corniculata, Sanguisorba officinalis, Hordeum secalinum, Alopecurus myosuroides and Vicia lathyroides should perhaps all go, as well.
A complete list of Henry Spare's records is given below, for readers to consider and comment on if they so choose. Records we have marked unconfirmed are enclosed in square brackets.
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