Hieracium Snowdoniense

PROBABLY THE WORLDS RAREST PLANT

The Snowdonia Hawkweed plant was first discovered in 1880 by Botanist John Griffith whilst he was out rambling in the Welsh valleys of Snowdonia.  He was preparing his book The Flora of Angelsey and Carnarvonshire  which was later published in 1895.

The Snowdonia Hawkweed - Hieracium Snowdoniense is thought to have only grown on seven small areas around Snowdonia, which means that it was rare even before it was discovered as this little plant does not grow anywhere else in all the entire world.

In 1955, seventy-five years after it was first discovered, the Snowdonia Hawkweed - Hieracium Snowdoniense was listed as a species of plant in its own right by  Worlds Hawkweed experts Peter Sell and Cyril West.

The plant was last seen in Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve in Wales, U.K in 1953 and has since been thought to be extinct until it was discovered again in 2002.  Therefore the Snowdonia Hawkweed had not been seen for forty-nine years and its interesting to note that over one hundred and twenty years have passed since it was first discovered.

The Snowdonia Hawkweed is a perennial plant that grows to about thirty centimeters tall, is quite a brightly colored plant similar to the common 'buttercup' with its golden yellow petals attached to a long thin  fragile stem that has a rosette of small leaves growing around the base.  The backs of the petals and their stalks also have a  distinguishing covering of tiny black glandular hairs.

The Snowdonia Hawkweed can be confused with a lot of other plants of the same species in the same area that look almost identical, the Mouse Ear Hawkweed being one of them. Below the photograph is just as rare as the Snowdonia Hawkweed as it hasn't been photographed since 1953!

Mr. Scott Hand of the Countryside Council for Wales had been on 'Safari' for the plant in the year 2000, searching the same location as it was last seen forty-nine years previously but sadly nothing had been found. 

He returned with Dr. Tim Rich and a small team of botanists from Cwm Idal National Nature Reserve to thoroughly scour the location one more time before declaring that the plant had in all probability gone forever into extinction.

The plant became almost extinct probably due to being eaten by all the grazing sheep in that area because where this rare plant grows the Sheep are in abundance, far more than they were when the plant was first discovered in 1880.

It has become apparent that the sheep find the Snowdonia Hawkweed to be an irresistible addition during their daily grazing.  It is now reasoned that every year that the plant tried to grow, the sheep came along and munched them and specifically so. The sheep must think that they taste pretty nice. 

In 2002 on the steep slopes of Bethesda the botanical team came across it...all alone, a single solitary plant in full bloom clinging on to life on a rocky grassy slope.

It was an extremely lucky and quite ironic find because records show that the exact place where it was discovered is the last place it was seen 49 years ago and had never been seen there since.

Dr. Tim Rich, head of vascular plants at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales who was in the team reported " We were literally capering about for joy on the mountain ledges like lunatics when we found it...I was worried that this species might have become extinct, a Welsh Dodo" 

Below is a photo taken by Dr. Tim Rich of the plant upon its discovery.  These guys must have had a very keen eye to find just one little tiny plant in all the vast space around Snowdonia.

Dr Tim Rich has spent lots of time being a botanical detective in tracking down endangered species of plants from his small collated list of them with the hope of collecting the seeds from any found to be taken to The National Botanic Garden of Wales and cultivated.

Amongst his list is a pink flowering bramble that was last seen in Gloucestershire more than thirty years ago.  The Snowdonia Hawkweed was the only true Welsh plant on his list and this find was perhaps the most exhilarating for him.

The plant was immediately sanctioned as a protected species and all grazing sheep in the area were served an eviction order and moved away to other areas.  Seeds of the plant were collected with the hope of cultivating and indeed preserving the plant just in case the existing one died, as it was the only one discovered growing there.

Below is an image of Mouse Ear  Hawkweed which is very similar to Snowdonia Hawkweed to give an illustration of what a bunch of these flowers would look like.

The plant could be the most rarest plant in the world and could set World Botanical history for its uniqueness and the fact that it was believed to have been extinct and is now back from the dead, a Hawkweed resurrected is quite amazing!

Dr Tim Rich  is Head of Vascular Plants Department of Biodiversity and Systematic Biology National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Cathay's Park, Cardiff.

 

                                            

Page created October 8th 2008.    Updated December 21st 2012.