Dr S. M. Haslam is a field botanist and researcher with the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, who has made intensive studies of reed sites in Britain and Malta, and less intensively across eastern and western Europe, Israel and North America. Her studies on plant growth have made her familiar with various plants from Africa and Australia. Her new book, A Book of Reed, is published by Forrest Text. We asked Dr. Haslam for some insight into her subject…
“Reed occurs in all five continents. It is concentrated in Europe, Asia and Africa, but is most variable and abundant in eastern Europe and into Asia (much in China), in temperate climes. Here it is the commonest wetland dominant, the commonest (non-bog) peat former, and the commonest sparse species in other wetland types. Reed peat is of course a fen peat, formed under water from old plant peats. Reed beds, before much human impact, often lived for several thousand years, colonising flooded areas and building up peat until dry land vegetation could invade or land or sea level changed to increase surface water again. The plants have large rhizome systems growing at the front and dying at the back. It is thought, but without evidence, that the same plants live throughout the life of a stable bed (one that is not subject to constant disturbance and disruption).
“Before main drainage, the next most important habitat (still seen, though sparsely) is in bands along lowland streams, outside a fringing band of trees or bushes. Small dominant stands occur in other wet places, and sparse reeds are in most fens, rich and poor, in estuaries and beside some rivers.
“Reed is extraordinarily sensitive to most environmental impacts, natural and human. These variations make reed a fascinating study in plant behaviour.
“There has been a deplorable decline and loss of river plants which is quite possibly worst in Britain, among the larger countries. This has occurred over the past 30 years or so, although some decline was recorded from the 1930s through to 1980 (principally in fine-leaved Potamogetons). Among small countries, Malta seems to be approaching total loss in a few decades time, there having been a good and common aquatic flora in 1850. This loss, however, is primarily due to water loss from abstraction.”
The dedication in Dr. Haslam’s next book, “The Waving Plants of the River”, is to “the botanists of the future who dedicate their lives to reverse the present decline and devastation of river plants.”