This rhizomatous perennial herb is often found in substantial, loose colonies in open woodland, in Ulex scrub on heaths, on rough grassy slopes (often in stream valleys), in Molinia grassland, and on shaded roadside banks. Reproduction is by seed, and the plant regenerates strongly after burning or clearance. Lowland.
Since the late 1970s the number of sites of P. cornubiense has fallen from nearly fifty to about twenty, and populations have also strongly declined. This may be attributed to factors rendering its habitats more densely shaded or destroying them altogether, including the lack of woodland management, afforestation, scrub clearance and the loss of grazing.
European Temperate element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 14
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.07
RDB Species Accounts
Physospermum cornubiense (L.) DC. (Apiaceae)
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
P. cornubiense occurs in a range of habitats, including open woodland, Ulex europaeus scrub on heaths, rough grassy slopes (often in stream valleys), scrubby Molinia heath and roadside banks where there is sheltering scrub or woodland. Nearly all of the early records were from woodland, the plant being most abundant where the canopy is open, or in clearings. It still occurs in this habitat, but not to the same extent as formerly. The largest populations currently occur in Molinia caerulea heath and on heathy or scrub-covered slopes. In those habitats, associated species include Agrostis curtisii, Calluna vulgaris, Chamerion angustifolium, Erica cinerea, Galium saxatile, Potentilla erecta, Pteridium aquilinum, Rubus fruticosus, Teucrium scorodonia, Ulex europaeus and sometimes U. gallii. Good populations occur in open birch and gorse scrub on some heaths.
P. cornubiense is a perennial producing leaves in May and flowering usually in July and August, though in some years the first flowers can appear as early as the end of June. Fruiting is correspondingly variable in timing, and the fruits may fall between early September and late October. It does well in open habitats but fails to flower in dense shade. Plants heavily overgrown with other vegetation may not even produce leaves, but the rootstock can be remarkably persistent and seed can remain viable in the soil for years. Thus, after burning or clearance, plants can appear in their hundreds.
During its maximum range, it was known in East Cornwall, South and North Devon and Buckinghamshire (Margetts & David 1981; Ivimey-Cook 1984). The old record for West Cornwall might have been in error, and it has not been seen in North Devon since 1858. It was last seen in South Devon in about 1977. Since the late 1970s, the number of sites in Cornwall has declined from nearly 50 to about 20, most of which are in the south-east of the county. Populations have also declined from thousands, to hundreds or merely tens of plants in many of its locations. For instance, populations in Silver Valley near Callington, which used to total more a thousand plants, dropped to a few hundreds by 1989, with a recent survey (Friesner 1994) revealing a further drop. A few plants are still be found in woods by the Fowey and in some by the Tamar. However, some heathland sites (for instance, on Pinsla Downs and near Cadsonbury) still hold populations of a thousand plants or more. The single colony in Buckinghamshire appears to be thriving, though it is restricted to a small area of about 30 x 50 metres. It seems unlikely to be native there, however. Druce (1926) considered it possible that the colony had originated from bird-sown seed from a nearby population planted in 1810 at Bulstrode Park.
Changes in woodland management, afforestation, scrub clearance, burning and the loss of grazing may all have contributed to the decline of P. cornubiense. However, conservation management has bolstered some populations as, for instance, in the Luckett Reserve by the Tamar, an oak woodland that is managed principally to maintain habitat for the nationally rare Heath Fritillary butterfly. Clearings are made in the wood on a five year cycle, and this management is also benefiting P. cornubiense.
P. cornubiense is a European-Temperate species of southern Europe extending northwards to southern England, and eastwards to Hungary and south-central Russia.
R. J. Murphy
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.