Fumaria purpurea Pugsley

Purple Ramping-fumitory

Status in Britain

Endemic to Britain and the Channel Isles Nationally Scarce (43 10km squares in Britain since 1970) Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species

Status in Shropshire

Possibly extinct

 

This species was originally described by H.W. Pugsley in 1902, but the first British record was made 176 years earlier, by J.J. Dillenius, when he collected a specimen "ad sepes prope Shrewsbury" (in hedges near Shrewsbury). The specimen is still in the herbarium at Oxford and, although it is small, it appears to be the genuine article. P.H. Oswald's comment in Sinker's Flora of Shropshire (p. 15), that it may be F. muralis, is therefore superceded.

The list of records for F. purpurea reads like a Who's Who of botany in Shropshire, with names such as W.A. Leighton, W.E. Beckwith, W.H. Painter, Augustin Ley, W. Moyle Rogers, and J.C. Melvill. Other records are by famous visitors, such as Bentham and Druce. All of these were skilled enough to recognise a difficult plant when they saw one, and careful enough to make a voucher specimen and lodge it in a reputable herbarium. The complete absence of less well-known botanists in the list suggests that it was rather under-recorded in the county, and indeed it may still be present, as the tradition of collecting specimens has declined in the 20th century.

The full list of records is as follows:-

Site Grid Collector Date Determiner Herbarium
Shrewsbury SJ41 J.J. Dillenius 1726 H.W. Pugsley OXF
Shrewsbury SJ41 W.A. Leighton 1839 H.W. Pugsley BM, DBN
Oswestry SJ22 W.A. Leighton 29 June 1840 P.D. Sell CGE
Acton Scott SO48 G. Bentham 6 August 1858 H.W. Pugsley K
Charlton Hill SJ50 W.E. Beckwith May 1882 H.W. Pugsley BM
Stokesay Castle SO48 G.C. Druce September 1892 H.W. Pugsley OXF
Bishops Castle SO38 W.H. Painter 10 June 1894 T.C.G. Rich BIRM
Little Stretton SO49 A. Ley 10 July 1909 T.C.G. Rich BIRM, BM
Shrewsbury SJ41 W.M. Rogers   H.W. Pugsley  
Meole Gravel Hole SJ41 J.C. Melvill 15 September 1912 H.W. Pugsley BM, NMW, OXF
Stokesay Castle SO48 N.D. Simpson 21 June 1923 H.W. Pugsley  

 

There has therefore been no record of it since 1923, except for one unconfirmed sighting in 1978 that is listed in Sinker's Flora. This is best treated with caution unless a voucher specimen turns up. That record is for a garden in Chruch Stretton, from where it had gone by the time of the 1986 rare plants resurvey. There is also a dot on the map in Sinker's Flora for the square SJ43H, attributed to the lost manuscript of Hamilton's Flora of 1913. There are, however, still several herbaria to be searched, so the details could yet emerge.

Fumaria purpurea is, like several other fumitories, a difficult plant to identify. According to Michael Daker, the BSBI referee for this taxon, it is sometimes impossible to determine a specimen without counting the chromosomes. Because the species in this genus are self-fertile, local varieties occur which appear intermediate between the various taxa. Herbarium specimens are therefore essential with all records, but even then identification cannot be assured.

In Britain, Fumaria purpurea occurs mostly in Cornwall and Orkney, where it is quite common. In between these points there are scattered sites for it, but inland it has declined drastically. There are no recent records for any of the counties neighbouring Shropshire. It is a plant of waste ground and arable fields, often - but not always - growing in hedges. Its most frequent associates are other species of fumitory, such as F. occidentalis and F. muralis ssp. boraei.

 

Alex Lockton, Shropshire Botanical Society, May 2000

With thanks to Dr Tim Rich and Dr Michael Daker

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