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Ceratocapnos claviculata


There is no confusion over the identity of Climbing Corydalis, but it has suffered somewhat from nomenclatural issues. The correct name is Ceratocapnos claviculata (L.) Lidén but it is perhaps better known in Britain as Corydalis claviculata (L.) DC. (e.g. in Clapham, Tutin & Moore 1989) and it has also previously been known as Capnoides claviculata (L.) Kuntze. It is the only British member of the genus Ceratocapnos (Stace 1997).

Chromosome No. 2n =32 (Stace 2010).

Ceratocapnos claviculata

Photography A.J.Lockton


It is a European endemic, according to the map produced by GBIF, where it is largely restricted to the Atlantic fringe. The Maps Scheme map shows it occurs almost throughout Britain except Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, and it is rare in Ireland, only occurring in the south-east. It is therefore an oceanic species that, unusually, avoids the most oceanic parts of the British Isles.

The New Atlas (Preston, Pearman & Dines 2002) gives it a Change Index of +0.57, but the author of the account, P.J. Wilson, states that its range has not changed and the apparent increase is a consequence of better recording.

However, Nicole Voss of Justus-Liebig-Universität, Gießen (see Further Work) describes it as having spread significantly in Europe in recent decades, and is investigating the effects of its spread.

Ceratocapnos claviculata

Photography A.J.Lockton

BSBI Hectad Map 

Click on the map to view full-size on the BSBI Maps Scheme website.

  • Origin: native.
  • Rarity: although it is not a rare plant in Britain this is a plant for which we have a large proportion of the global population, so (like bluebell) it is an important species here. It is very rare in Ireland.
  • Threat: in Britain it is currently listed as being of ‘Least Concern’ (Cheffings & Farrell 2005).
  • Conservation: there appear to be no conservation initiatives for it. It should arguably be at least passively monitored, from the point of view of conservation of genetic resources. Almost all counties that have axiophyte lists have included it, which suggests that it is of considerable importance for nature conservation.

Rodwell (1991) lists only W10 Quercus robur and W16 Quercus petraea woodland types for this species. Ecological accounts for it are difficult to find. One of the most authoritative available is given by Sinker et al. (1985) in their account of it in Shropshire: ‘Open woodland and edges of dry peat mosses, persisting in grassland on previously wooded sites, on dry to damp sandy or peaty soils, PN poor base poor, acid, usually sheltered and half shaded to shaded but tolerates some exposure to sun. Poor competitor but sometimes abundant in disturbed parts of recently cleared plantations or woods, scrambling over tree stumps.’

Further Work 

It evidently occurs in more NVC communities than those listed by Rodwell. Whether it is indeed increasing in Britain within the limits of its range is a question that might be difficult to answer. Another potentially interesting question is how its ecology differs towards the edges of its range.

Nicole Voss is appealing for information on Ceratocapnos claviculata throughout Europe, seeking phytosociological data and requesting specimens for genetic analysis.

  • Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G., & Moore, D.M. 1989. Flora of the British Isles, 3rd ed. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sinker, C.A., Packham, J.R., Trueman, I.C., Oswald, P.H., Perring, F.H. & Prestwood, W.V. 1985. Ecological Flora of the Shropshire Region. Shropshire Trust for Nature Conservation, Shrewsbury.
Voss, N. (date accessed). Species account: Ceratocapnos claviculata. Botanical Society of the British Isles.