Conservation work benefits rare plant

Headley Heath is one of the few places in Britain where star fruit thrive

Conservation work on Headley Heath has resulted in a rare marsh plant - the British star fruit - re-establishing itself. Headley is now one of only a handful of sites in the UK where this beauty can be found.

The star fruit plant (Damasonium alisma) is a British native plant that has been in severe dec  have declined considerably over recent years with no plants recorded in the wild in 2006. It is classified as an endangered species with only three recorded growing sites in England.

However, recent conservation work at Heath House Pond on Headley Heath has resulted in the  starfruit being discovered thriving here.  Overcrowded by trees and dark with over-hanging branches, the site precluded much aquatic life from flourishing. Formerly a watering hole for the heathland cattle, access to the pond has now been stopped and much of the birch and bramble plants growing close to the pond have been cleared.

Recent survey work by freshwater botanists has resulted in the discovery of this extremely rare plant in this now light-flooded pond.

Area Ranger Federico Ghittoni explains “A thriving population of starfruit (Damasonium alisma) with fifteen plants was recorded during a survey at the end of July; it’s estimated that they will set at least 2000 seeds. This is a direct result of the work done earlier this year to remove the trees and is a truly fantastic result”.

Starfruit have small white flowers with three petals; their name comes from their distinctive six sided star-shape. It has broad leaves on long stalks. Their seeds only germinate under water and it is thought that dormant seeds remain dormant as long as they are kept constantly damp or underwater. The longer a plant remains submerged, the larger it will become, with more flowers.

"I'm absolutely thrilled to see starfruit responding positively to our habitat management work," commented Countryside Manager Andy Wright. "This project has been a great example of the National Trust working in partnership with Freshwater Habitats Trust to improve this pond for nature. The conservation charity Plantlife list this plant as critically endangered. Happily its seeds survive a long time in mud. The removal of scrubby trees and bushes, along with disturbance of the mud has allowed this old seed to flourish. This is such a positive story for a plant on the brink of extinction. Well done to all involved."