MULBARTON POND HOLDS HOPE FOR MANKIND
article appeared in an issue of the Eastern Daily Press under 'Down Nature's
Way by E.A.E.' (i.e. by Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis). Cutting undated, but
Ted Ellis was looking at plants on the Common and advising the Common Committee
The village of
Mulbarton, near Norwich, is the fortunate owner of a vast "green" which is a
common. In the last year or two the condition of this attractive open space has
been greatly improved by voluntary effort. Over the greatest part there is now
springy green turf, with trees, play areas, and so on where not long ago
thistles and scrub were in the ascendant. At the same time a very important
little pond and its surroundings have been left to nature, so scientific as
well as amenity interests have been served under the new management scheme.
The pond is of
special interest because the small club-rushes growing in it produce a rare
ergot fungus, Claviceps nigricans. Every summer horn-like ergots develop
in large quantities on the brown flower spikes of the rush. These fall into the
water and float to the edge of the pond in winter and in May they give rise to
bluish violet fruiting clubs shaped like drumsticks, which produce the spore
that re-infects the rushes just as they re coming into flower again.
another kind are common on rye and many wild grasses. These were notorious in
the Middle Ages for causing the gangrenous disease known as 'St. Anthony's
Fire' when people ate bread made from infected rye.
several valuable alkaloids extracted from these ergots have been employed
widely in obstetrics and gynaecology and for treating varicose veins, high
blood pressure and migraine. Moreover, in 1938, the drug now known as L.S.D.
was isolated for the first time from these ergots by a Swiss biochemist,
although the hallucinatory effects of this substance were not discovered till
five years later.
When a rich
source of Claviceps nigricans was found at Mulbarton Common a few years
ago, scientists in various research centres in Germany and Britain initiated
investigations into the biochemical qualities of its ergots, in the hope of
discovering further interesting and perhaps additionally useful alkaloids which
would benefit mankind. These researches continue and it is therefore now doubly
important that the classic source of the fungus should be preserved.