Is it a grass? Is it a plane?

I will admit it has been a while, but I’m back! Oh no! And I have tales of botanical adventure most shocking.

I’ve just started on a PhD in the department of Environment, Earth and Ecosystems at the Open University. I’m in the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group  group (who blog here) and will be looking at pollen-vegetation relationships in Ghana.

Due to the fact that I’m in what is at least partially a geology department, I get to join RocSoc and mix with real geologists. This meant that last weekend, I went on a trip to Wales to get to know this motley crew of volcanologists, environmental scientists and ecologists. There was geeking out over plants, there was geeking out over rocks and it was all marvellous.

This brings me to my main and most plant related point. We climbed Cadair Idris and on our way up stopped off at a lake, Llyn Cau.


This lake, in fact.

Whilst admiring it, we noticed that there was what looked like grass growing in the shallows. Being my usual pessimistic self I reasoned that it had likely just grown next to the lake during the dry summer and now found itself drowned in the rising autumnal waters. My friend Matt, however, was less pessimistic and investigated more closely (obviously the water was fairly shallow and the plant in question abundant, botany may be exciting, but it’s not worth hypothermia and you don’t want to go wantonly destroying populations).

He found this:

Isoetes lacustris

Isoetes lacustris

These fabulous little fellows are called Isoëtes and they are FAR more interesting than grass (sorry, Poaceae enthusiasts). Isoëtes is the closest remaining relative of the Lepidodendrons, the giant (up to 30m in height!) trees which populated the coal swamps of the Carboniferous, around 300 million years ago. If you dissect these little plants, you can actually see what looks like a tiny trunk, which is a characteristic it shares with its illustrious ancestor.

The Carboniferous coal swamps were incredibly important as they effectively stored away huge amounts of carbon, not only reducing atmospheric CO­­2, but also laying down much of the fossil fuel we use today. This makes this little Isoëtes an important reminder of how plants can control our atmosphere and leave impressive legacies for millions of years after their extinction.

So next time you see what looks like some grass, look a bit harder. You might be surprised.

Page on interesting habitats on Cadair Idris:


About adelecmj

I'm a PhD student at the Open University, where I study pollen-vegetation relationships in Ghana. I like plants, rocks, and science in general.
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One Response to Is it a grass? Is it a plane?

  1. Congratz on the PhD! … Botany is exciting!

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