In June this year the University of Reading’s biologists went gently nuts. At least one may be forgiven for thinking it the best explanation for the steady procession of people circling behind the glasshouses on the trail of a most unassuming little plant. It’s called mousetail, Myosurus minimus, and whilst it may not look like much, there were actually some perfectly good explanations for all the fuss.
Firstly, mousetail had been thought extinct on campus, and whilst the seeds are said to persist for many years, the reappearance of a healthy population was nonetheless heartening for Whiteknights biodiversity aficionados. It has also become a scarce plant nationally, perhaps due to habitat loss, and is therefore rather a nice addition to the current campus flora.
Lastly, as a master of disguise it is of some botanical interest. With narrow leaves and a spike-like green inflorescence (from whence the name) mousetail resembles a plantain, but is actually in the same family as buttercups, Ranunculaceae. Things are not always what they appear.
I can’t say that mousetail is the most spectacular species I’ve seen all year, but it is a rather sweet little plant. And I couldn’t fail to be heartened by the interest shown from a surprisingly high proportion of the people who work and study in my department. These are people who notice the unnoticed, and who care about the lost and forgotten things under our feet. If in the world’s eyes we have all indeed gone slightly mad, then it is just the right sort of madness, and one I am very proud to share in.