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Horticulture with Plantsmanship Specialist Project

Specialist Project Overview by Horticulture with Plantsmanship student Rebecca Cross

During the second year of Horticulture with Plantsmanship, students have the opportunity to carry out a specialist project and undertake original research in a subject of their choosing.

My project is comparing bryophyte diversity in Scottish woodlands; I have loved trees for as long as I can remember

Dean Woods

but have a limited knowledge of cryptogams. Mosses, liverworts and hornworts all fall under the bryophyte umbrella and I am keen to expand my understanding of them in particular.

Bryophytes have no intricate vascular system to transport water, thus limiting their size; despite this they have been around for more than 400 million years and are a major indicator of biodiversity. Although underappreciated and often dismissed as unsightly weeds in the horticultural world, they play a vital role in the health and functionality of our environment by controlling water and nutrient flow, providing shelter for microorganisms and contributing to soil development.

Epiphytic bryophytes are a familiar sight in many forests, hanging like curtains from tree branches and forming thick coverings on trunks. Scotland is a bryophyte hotspot and home to just under one thousand species, including unique communities which thrive along the Atlantic coast.

Western oceanic ecosystems can be found here, including Atlantic woodlands (also known as temperate rainforests); Taynish National Nature Reserve in Argyll is one of the largest and most intact Atlantic woodlands in the UK, and an exceedingly diverse SSSI site. Over 250 bryophyte species can be found here, as well as copious lichens and the rare filmy fern, Hymenophyllum wilsonii.

Due to lockdown restrictions I have been unable to start gathering data for my project; instead of visiting Taynish I have been walking in my local woods and practising bryophyte identification, before starting fieldwork when travel restrictions ease. Getting lost in the micro world beneath a hand lens is magical, with a green trunk erupting into a mesmerising mosaic of detailed, diminutive beings. I have been amazed at how bryophytes differ in shapes and sizes, and how they interact with the bark and branches of trees as if they are having a conservation with each other that has been ongoing for centuries; small is so very beautiful.

Even though I am only halfway through my project it’s already been fantastic exploring a specific aspect of

Polytrichum Commune

horticulture I am particularly passionate about as well as learning a huge deal in the process. It’s also a way of discovering more about plants or horticultural practices which may be appealing as an eventual career option; having an awareness and understanding of a subject before applying for jobs in a similar field is very advantageous. At the end of the course I may be converted to bryology or decide to pursue dendrology – time will tell. . .


Find out more about studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship t SRUC at

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