Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Stellaria palustris – marsh stitchwort


Distribution map

Click here to view an interactive map of the Northern Ireland dataset as currently collated by CEDaR.
The map is generated through the NBN Gateway using their Interactive Mapping Tool.


Stellaria palustris Retz
Family: Caryophyllaceae

The species can be found growing through tallish vegetation in grassy fens and marshes about Upper Lough Erne and its satellite lakes. Marsh Stitchwort can be found between the months of June and October, but flowers from May till July. It is listed as a UK BAP priority vascular plant species. It is not at present threatened at most of its sites about Upper Lough Erne.

In brief

  • In Northern Ireland Marsh Stitchwort occurs very widely about Upper Lough Erne and there is an outlying site at Lough Keelan in Co. Down
  • Marsh Stitchwort occurs in base rich fens around lakes, especially where there is standing water in winter
  • The species flowers from May until July
  • The species has declined markedly in southern and eastern England and county floras in those areas often refer to it as rare and decreasing
  • The main threats to the species are the reclaiming, drainage and improvement of the wetland where it occurs
  • There are three sites about Lower Lough Erne where the species has not been recorded since prior to 1975. In the Republic of Ireland the speciesí stronghold is the Shannon basin

Species description
Marsh Stitchwort grows up to 60cm tall, its white petals are cleft to the base, and its glabrous leaves are a very distinct glaucous green.

Life cycle
Marsh Stitchwort is a perennial which may be largely dependent on vegetative reproduction by sending out creeping rhizomes.

Similar species
Marsh Stitchwort could be confused with either Stellaria holostea (Greater Stitchwort) or S. graminea (Lesser Stitchwort). The former is usually a species of hedgerows while the latter has smaller flowers and does not have glabrous leaves which are a very distinctive feature of Marsh Stitchwort.

How to see this species
Marsh Stitchwort can be seen between June and October in marshy areas, as occur in around Crom at the southern end of Upper Lough Erne. The species will be supported by taller vegetation and associated species may well include Carex rostrata (Bottle Sedge), C. vesicaria (Bladder Sedge) and Menyanthes trifoliate (Bogbean).

Current status
The species is known from Lough Keelan in Co. Down, and since 1975 has been recorded from 73 tetrads in Fermanagh, the majority of them about Upper Lough Erne with some records from the Devenish area of Lower Lough Erne. There are several sites about Lower Lough Erne, north of Devenish, from which the species has not been recorded since a date prior to 1975.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?
Marsh Stitchwort is a UK BAP priority vascular plant species, but there is no evidence of a widespread decline in Northern Ireland.

Threats/Causes of decline
The main threats to the species are the reclaiming, drainage and improvement of the wetland where it occurs.

Conservation of this species

Current action
Many of the sites where the species occurs, as about Upper Lough Erne, are ASSIs.

Proposed objectives/actions
Ensure that the current population is maintained, and if possible increased, through appropriate habitat management.

What you can do
If you think you have found this species, contact your local Biodiversity Officer
Or you can submit your records to CEDaR .
The study of wild plants is an interesting hobby for anyone interested in the outdoors. The Botanical Society of the British Isles welcomes beginners to its field trips.

Further information

Northern Ireland Vascular Plant Database

BSBI species accounts

Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.D. (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Text written by:
Robert Northridge