Hurstpierpoint and William Mitten

BBS SE Group meeting 5 May 2019


A party of eleven met for the last (and hastily-arranged) BBS SE Group meeting of the season. We had intended to visit Hurstpierpoint back in September, but the weather wasn’t great, so this was a second attempt at our planned outing. In the mean time, Sue and I had visited and recorded in the western part of the village and surrounding area, so this time it made sense to plan something a bit different.

The village is interesting in the context of the history of bryology since it was where William Mitten (1819-1906) lived for most of his long life. Introduced to bryology by William Borrer in Henfield, a village only five miles to the west, he started work on a moss flora of Sussex, the first parts of which were published in 1851, but the work was never completed. His expertise soon brought him to the attention of William Jackson Hooker and thereafter bryophyte specimens from all over the world were turning up in packages in Hurstpierpoint, where Mitten steadily worked through them, describing and naming a huge number of plants for the first time.

Picture of Barbula sardoa

Barbula sardoa in Mitten’s garden

Given the historical interest in the house, we were very grateful to the current owners for allowing us to visit and record the bryophytes in the garden. There were no great surprises, but even so we added several species to the tetrad: Barbula sardoa, Campylopus introflexus, Didymodon sinuosus, Funaria hygrometrica, Marchantia polymorpha and Pohlia melanodon. The visit has certainly inspired me to continue my researches on Mitten, described by Alfred Russell Wallace (and Mitten’s son-in-law) as “the greatest British authority” on mosses.

Picture of Mitten's garden in Hurstpierpoint

The bryologists visit Mitten’s garden in Hurstpierpoint

Leaving the house we were detained by a nearby wall for a while looking at an interesting-looking Orchotrichum growing on its top. Initially thinking it was O. cupulatum, it turned out just to be O. affine since it had the superficial stomata on the capsule that differentiates that species.

Picture of stomata of Orthotrichum affine

Superficial stoma of Orthotrichum affine

We were delighted too that Simon Davey joined us for the meeting so that we could spend part of the day learning (or re-learning) about lichens (another of Mitten’s interests, which he picked up from Borrer). This naturally took us to the churchyard, only a couple of hundred yards from Mitten’s house, where Simon showed us a range of common species, such as Caloplaca flavescens, Verrucaria nigrescens and Protoblastenia rupestris, plus some less common ones, most notably Caloplaca lactea (aka marmorata). At the same time, we also added a few extra bryophytes to the tetrad: Bryum rubens, Leptobryum pyriforme and Pseudoscleopodium purum.

After lunch, a good portion of the party had to leave (it was a bank holiday weekend, after all), but four of us continued into Wilderness Wood, an interesting corner of the parish that has restricted access. Decidedly wet and muddy in places, we ended up compiling a vascular plant list as well. The bryophyte flora wasn’t overly rich, but the wettest part of the site had nice quantities of Metzgeria violacea, Orthotrichum lyellii, Ulota phyllantha, and Orthotrichum pulchellum on Ash and Willow, which was a reasonable collection.

Picture of Wilderness Wood, Hurstpierpoint

Wilderness Wood

All in all, the visit increased the tetrad total for TQ21T (the western part of Hurstpierpoint) to 66, and that of  TQ21Y up to 50. One day we will manage to gather Mitten’s records too; he certainly found many more bryophytes in the vicinity of his home.

2 thoughts on “Hurstpierpoint and William Mitten

  1. Pingback: Surrealism and Syntrichia | Sussex Bryophytes

  2. Pingback: The site of Bartramia stricta in Sussex | Sussex Bryophytes

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