As is usually the case when I’m down in Plymouth, I spend a bit of time reading about plants that have a particularly western distribution that I don’t get to see in Sussex. Invariably, that encourages me to go out looking for them and is more often than not successful.
This time, while reading about the activities of the Devon Bryology Group, I came across the liverwort Jubula hutchinsiae for the first time and realised that it had been recorded in the Plym valley, and quite possibly in the tributary running down to the river that lies a short walk below my parents’ house. So, heading down the track, after about a mile I found a way down to the stream, in which the encrusting red alga Hildenbrandia rivularis was quite noticeable. By a waterfall a shady bank hosted a nice mat of Hymenophyllum tunbrigense (Tunbridge Filmy-fern), and then I turned around, looked at the bank, and there it was. The holly-like leaves of Jubula hutchinsiae were really rather distinctive. It had taken about 20 minutes from leaving the house to find it, and it was within the city limits of Plymouth.
It is, admittedly, a small plant, maybe only a couple of millimetres across, and would be easy to miss, but under the microscope it looks wonderful, with its unmistakeable leaves. Not having the right footwear I couldn’t cross the stream over the waterfall to check out a large bracket-like clump, but the general habit of that did look remarkably like Jubula as well. It is certainly a western species, as the NBN distribution map illustrates, but even in Devon it isn’t overly common.
Slightly elated at having found it, I did continue exploring the area, collecting small plants I didn’t recognise, scrambling down rocky slopes, getting a bit wet, and thinking about the history of the plant: who named it? and what is its story?
Charmingly, it is the first plant described and illustrated in William Hooker’s British Jungermanniae (1816). Born in 1785, Hooker developed an interest in botany (and lower plants in particular) in his youth, and this book was his first major scientific work, though he is most famous for being director of Kew from 1841. In 1815 he married Maria Dawson Turner, the eldest daughter of Dawson Turner, a banker and naturalist.
Hooker called this new plant Jungermannia Hutchinsiae, though it was later assigned to the genus Jubula by Du Mortier, and describes its habitat and source of its specific epithet:
Glengariff, near Bantry; along the banks of the first river, as you go from Bantry above the water-fall; and in gloomy caverns by the side of other mountain rivulets. Miss Hutchins.
A couple of pages later he notes:
I am happy in being able to devote the first plate of a History of the British Jungermanniae to a perfectly new and distinct species, and still more so in the opportunity it affords me of dedicating that species, one of the most beautiful to which I am acquainted, to its discoverer, Miss Hutchins, of Ballylickey, near Bantry; a lady whose valuable communications on the subject of marine Botany are already before the public in the Historia Fucorum, as well as in the British Confervae, and whose zeal and knowledge in the present genus of plants I shall frequently have occasion to notice in the progress of this little work. To her, through the kindness of my friend, Mr. Turner, I am indebted for many of the most rare and interesting species which will here be described.
J. Hutchinsiae was originally found, two years since, growing on a spot of ground which also produced J. trichophylla [Blepharostoma trichophyllum] and Saxifraga Geum [Saxifraga hirsuta].
“Miss Hutchins” was Ellen Hutchins of Ballylickey, and was the same age as Hooker. She had been ill since childhood and her interest in natural history was developed by Whitley Stokes, a doctor and family friend. Her expertise developed rapidly and increasingly specialised in marine algae, lichens and bryophytes. Through Stokes she corresponded with James Townsend Mackay at Trinity College, who also passed on some of her specimens to Dawson Turner, the common link with William Hooker. Many of her collections were new species, and several bear her name. She was also famed as an illustrator, providing many illustrations for Turner’s Historia Fucorum, though unfortunately she died 9 February 1815, not yet thirty years old, and did not live to see the publication of British Jungermanniae.
 William Jackson Hooker. (2017, April 19). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jackson_Hooker
 Hooker, W. J. (1816). British Jungermanniae: Being a history and description, with coloured figures, of each species of the genus, and microscopical analyses of the parts. Retrieved from http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/50652133
 Hutchins, M. (2015). Ellen Hutchins: Ireland’s first female botanist. Retrieved from http://www.ellenhutchins.com/; Dutton, S. (2015, January 2). Ellen Hutchins: Ireland’s first female botanist. Retrieved from http://blogs.nybg.org/science-talk/2015/01/ellen-hutchins-irelands-first-female-botanist/; and Ellen Hutchins. (2017, April 06). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_Hutchins.