Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Adoxa moschatellina – moschatel


Distribution map

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Adoxa moschatellina L.
Family: Adoxaceae

A woodland plant known from one site in N. Ireland, although other sites were known in the past. It is generally regarded as native in these sites, although some have suggested it is an introduced species. In the Republic of Ireland, the plant is known from a few sites where it is regarded as introduced.

In brief

  • Restricted to one site in Belfast Castle Park (former deer park, Cave Hill)

  • Found in woodland asociated with opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium opoositifolium) and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

  • The main flowering period is late March to mid-April

  • A Priority Species because it is restricted to a single site

  • Threatened by habitat destruction or modification, competition from other species and trampling

  • Its other sites, which were nearby, were lost in Victorian times through urban expansion.

Species description
A small species up to about 18cm tall with leaves divided into finger-like segments. Each stem ends in a tight group of five tiny yellowish-green flowers arranged like the faces of a clock tower with a single upward-facing flower on top.

Life cycle
Studies on plants in Great Britain suggest that this plant rarely sets seed and that propagation is mainly vegetative by runners. However, the flowers produce nectar and are known in Great Britain to be visited by small insects so that insect pollination seems likely to occur occasionally. The situation in the Cave Hill population is unknown although casual observation suggests it spreads locally by vegetative means.

Similar species
There are no similar species which could be mistaken for this plant.

How to see this species
The plant is extremely difficult to locate, being confined to one main colony of about 1 square metre in scrubby woodland on the slope of Cave Hill. In the 1980s artificially propagated plants were planted out in the woodland nearby and some of these daughter colonies appear to have survived. Searches should be made in early April.

Current status
It is confined to a single site where the main colony is a mere one square metre or so in area. It is protected under the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Irish red data book

  • Irish native population restricted to Northern Ireland.

Threats/Causes of decline
Nineteenth century literature refers to sites in the vicinity of the Milewater, not far from its one remaining site – these were destroyed by the expansion of the City of Belfast.

The remaining site has been monitored on an ad hoc basis by one botanist over a period of thirty years and during this time the plant has shown no decline in extent or numbers. For much of this period the plant was protected by being under an overhanging elder tree which has now collapsed and rotted away. This has led to it being more exposed to possible trampling, although a footpath which passed close to it has now fallen into disuse. The principal threats would appear to be a lack of awareness by the owners of the site of the plant's whereabouts and the absence of any active management of the area. The dangers of uninformed habitat management, improvement or tidying-up probably constitute real threats. The tiny size of the population also constitutes a vulnerability to habitat interference.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • It is protected under the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985

  • There are no specific action plans in existence

  • Some daughter colonies were planted out in the 1980s in suitable sites close to the original colony

  • Monitored on an ad hoc basis (last seen April 2005).

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain a viable population of the species

  • Increase the number of viable populations of the species

  • Establish appropriate management on the historic site.

What you can do
Send any records to either Botanic Society for the British Isles (BSBI), c/o Botany Department, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU or to CEDaR, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU, Tel: 028 9039 5256, [at]

Further information

Flora of Northern Ireland


Text written by:
Paul Hackney