Smut at Pwll Waun Cynon

The fungal smut Microbotryum saponariae infecting the anthers Graham Watkeys

The fungal smut Microbotryum saponariae infecting the anthers Graham Watkeys

Ok let’s talk smut shall we?

It’s probably the only time I can genuinely write about smut without being severely edited (or blacklisted – the editor!).

I wasn’t looking for smut in fact I didn’t even know I had seen any smut until I got back and looked at the pictures (I had to enlarge many of them), but there it was, pure smut bold as brass!

Smuts are a kind of fungus, an internal parasite of plants, often invisible until they are mature and start to cause damage to the host plant, in this case Soapwort.

Soapwort by Graham Watkeys

Soapwort by Graham Watkeys

Now I was very happy finding the Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) as it was a new species recorded at Pwll Waun Cynon and an interesting plant in its own right.

An archaeophyte introduced to Britain by man in “ancient” times due to its usefulness as a soap (and I’d like to think because it’s a very pretty plant), it is now thoroughly naturalised and is still used by many as a natural soap.

Like most species Soapwort has its own specialised set of parasites including its own smut called Microbotryum saponariae which infects the anthers in flowers causing them to darken and eventually split releasing the smuts spores rather than the plants pollen.

This particular genus has very recently been subjected to genetic analysis revealing several new species hidden within it that appear to be host specific Microbotryum saponariae is one of those newly defined species.

So not only can I write about smut I can write about a type of smut new to science.

Graham Watkeys – Taf Fechan warden