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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
|Caithness Plant is new to Science (by
Dr Heather McHaffie, a research scientist from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh was surveying the west bank of St Johnís Loch in 2003 to see the extent and quality of the rare Narrow Smallreed Calamagrostis stricta which grows there in great quantity. She came across a slender horsetail which she did not recognise as a known species or hybrid. It was growing in several places close to the shoreline.
A specimen of the horsetail went to Dr Chris Page in Cornwall. He is an internationally acknowledged expert on the horsetails and he concluded that it was a hybrid between the Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile and the Shade Horsetail Equisetum pratense; no such hybrid had previously been described or recorded anywhere.
Dr Page named the new hybrid for Dr McHaffie as Equisetum x mchaffieae. With ecological data for the site provided by myself, the discovery was published in Spring of 2007 in the scientific journal Watsonia. The reference is given below.
The Water Horsetail is common in Caithness and there would be no difficulty in finding that parent in the locality. However the Shade Horsetail is not known in that area, for it is an uncommon plant. There is a substantial colony of Shade Horsetail on the bank of the Thurso River, just below the cemetery and there is an old record of it being found near to Castletown, so it is in the county. The hybrid must have been there for some time Ė perhaps even hundreds of years. It is not uncommon for a hybrid to persist when one or both parents dies out and that seems to be the case.
The new plant is a slender green shoot which does not draw attention to itself. As shown in the picture it has a central stem about 1 foot tall and many side branches. Horsetails are an ancient group of plants common 200 million years ago. They do not have flowers but reproduce by a spore-producing structure.