A cormous perennial herb of short, open turf on freely-draining sandy ground and cliff-slopes near the sea. Reproduction is mostly by seed, with division of the corm apparently much less significant. Lowland.
There is no indication of change in the distribution of R. columnae since the 1962 Atlas, and its populations are stable in the Channel Islands (where it is common in suitable habitats) and at its sole British locality at Dawlish Warren (S. Devon). It was last reported from Cornwall in 1881.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 2
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 14
RDB Species Accounts
Romulea columnae Seb. & Mauri (Iridaceae)
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
In Britain, this species is restricted to Dawlish Warren, where it was first recorded in 1834. It grows on well-drained, leached, sandy or gravelly soils in established sand-dune grassland. Most of the population lies within a links golf course, where it grows best in shortly grazed or mown turf. Associated herbs in the sometimes rich sward include Aphanes arvensis, Montia fontana, Myosotis ramosissima, Ornithopus perpusillus, Plantago coronopus, Rumex acetosella, Sedum acre and Veronica arvensis together with the less common Moenchia erecta, Poa infirma and Teesdalia nudicaulis. It may be able to hold its own for a while in taller vegetation up to 10 cm high, but seedlings do not establish readily and plants will eventually be crowded out.
It is a perennial species of about 5-6 years' longevity. The leaves emerge in autumn and remain green in winter. Flowers appear between late March and early May, the larger plants producing three or more flowers. By early summer the leaves have shrivelled and only the seed-pods remain. Seed is produced in quantity and is set before the soil becomes desiccated during the summer months. Reproduction from seed appears to be much more important than by division of the corm, and open soil is required for seedlings to become established.
At Dawlish, there are many colonies scattered over an area of about 30 hectares of golf course (De Lemos 1992), where it benefits from frequent mowing and rabbit-grazing which keep the vegetation short. However, fertilisers and irrigation may be detrimental where they encourage the vigorous growth of grass. In 1981, sections of turf containing corms of R. columnae were successfully transplanted from an area earmarked for a car park, and the new colony continues to thrive. It can occur at high densities, up to 500 plants per square metre. R. columnae was reported from Cornwall in 1879 and 1881 (Davey 1909), but not since. It is still frequent on some cliff tops in the Channel Islands.
R. columnae is a Mediterranean-Atlantic species which extends from England to the Azores and eastwards to Turkey. Throughout its range it occurs mainly near the coast. The British plant is ssp. columnae which occurs throughout the range of the species. Many varieties have been named, and our plant has been referred to var. occidentale (Sell & Murrell 1996).
N. F. Stewart
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.