Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Which herbaria has Chris been in this year? 

The Herbarium at RBGE
Image: C. Metherell
In pursuit of specimens to examine for his forthcoming BSBI handbook on Euphrasia aka eyebrights, Chris Metherell has been visiting herbaria all over the country this year. 

He also ran a Euphrasia workshop at the Scottish Annual Meeting last month to try out the keys for the handbook and reports that it was "very successful, with 50% of participants able to get their ID right first time using the keys, which - considering most had never tried Euphrasia before - was pretty good. And I picked up some more errors and a few good ideas for improvements". 


Lochan on Lewis
Image: P. Smith
While in Edinburgh, Chris took the opportunity to check out some herbarium sheets at the Royal Botanic Garden. He tells me "Having been on Lewis this summer I wanted to finalise the E. campbelliae description and key entries. And I've been working on the other N. Scotland specialities E. rotundifolia and E. marshallii and to a lesser extent E. foulaensis and E. heslop-harrisonii. The E. rotundifolia description has been tightened up, meaning that quite a lot of material has been redetermined as E. foulaensis x marshalii, but there's still room for the species - we'll see if we can find it next summer."


Herbarium cabinet at RBGE
Image: C. Metherell
But as well as a day of measuring plant bits and writing descriptions, Chris also unearthed some treasure which will necessitate a return visit: "The real find was the Halcrow-Johnson herbarium which is kept separately from the rest. Mostly pre-war material refereed by H.W. Pugsley and, I suspect, not much used since. Almost all from Orkney but with a bit of material from Shetland. Looking forward to really digging into it on my next visit".  

Having spent Hebridean evenings watching eminent botanists like the late Richard Pankhurst with a copy of Sell & Murrell and a bagful of eyebrights - he always insisted on five specimens rather than one, to get a better idea of what the "average" plant looks like in that population - I can vouch for the difficulty of some of the species and wouldn't attempt them without a more experienced botanist to help with keying-out. 


Machair with eyebrights on Eriskay
Image: L. Gravestock
Fortunately, wherever there are nice plants, there is always somebody in the BSBI support network who can help, but a Euphrasia handbook would be really useful. Let's hope Chris can keep this pace up and who knows, we may even see one published in time for next Christmas.

Hope you all get some nice botanical presents in your stockings tomorrow - Merry Christmas to botanists everywhere!