Austin’s Hummocks


Flanders Moss NNR

Out in the middle of Flanders is a special type of sphagnum moss. Flanders is so big that it is home to 2/3 of the UK’s species of sphagnum and one of them is Austin’s Bog Moss – Sphagnum austinii. This is a rare moss with a restricted distribution and is a great moss to find. It forms these large and really very firm hummocks of a lovely rich browny/green sort of colour. I recently found this huge mound of it out in the middle of the moss; almost knee high, encrusted with sundews, it just had to be patted.

But it got me wondering who was Austin?

It turns out that Coe Finch Austin was an American mosses and liverwort specialist who lived in New York state from 1831 to 1880. From an early age he had a fascination with plants and this developed with age to become an obsession with the smallest of plants. He started his working life as a teacher and his memorable lectures were renown for their vigour and enthusiasm. He later became the curator of herbarium at the Columbia college. He was such an expert that people sent samples for identification from across the world. His enthusiasm often got him into trouble, even when older. In later life his last trip to the Pallisades was made in a new suit just completed by his wife. Knowing him well she didn’t want him to wear it but he promised her that he was only making a social call and would not be botanising. However the temptation was too great and he found such beautiful specimens of mosses as he travelled that he cut out the lining of his coat and used the coat as a bag to put the specimens in. Within a few hours of travelling he had gone from a well turned out gentleman to more of a tramp! That sounds to me like a final level of enthusiasm for the natural world. Next time I see some Austin’s Bog-Moss on Flanders I will raise my cap to Coe Finch Austin


More can be found about Coe Finch Austin here

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