Tuesday, 17 December 2019

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2019: Part Five

The visit to Prawle Point as part of
the FSC 'Simply Wild Flowers' course
Image: C. Install
Last month we heard how a BSBI Training Grant made it possible for Meg to attend a course in Common British and Irish Plant Families. Now Claire tells us about the course that she was able to attend, thanks to another BSBI Training Grant.

Over to Claire:

"I work for Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and am fortunate to work with local recorders, authorities, NGOs, volunteers, and land managers to try to ensure the best outcome for wildlife. My background is more general and also in invertebrates and aquatic environments, so I felt that if I developed my plant identification skills, this would enable me to understand sites better and also provide more targeted advice to land owners and managers. I saw the Field Studies Council (FSC) ‘Simply Wild Flowers’ course, led by Ros Bennett, as the next progression in my plant identification knowledge. I applied for a BSBI training grant to help towards the costs of attending the course and was lucky to be offered the grant. As well as the benefits mentioned earlier, I also hope to be able to work closely with my local BSBI group and encourage others to learn plant identification and get involved in conservation.

FSC Slapton Ley:
coastal wildflowers and the
Study Centre in the distance
Image courtesy of the Field Studies Council
"The course was held at the Slapton Ley FSC centre which is within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and very close to the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve. There are plenty of great sites for wildlife to visit which are near to the centre, making it a great base for natural history courses. The course was run over three full days and three evenings with both classroom and field work. The other course attendees were a mix of people working in conservation or consultancy as well as people with an interest in plants wanting to further their knowledge.

"There are approximately 120 families of plants in the UK, however 75-80% of our species belong to about 20 families, conversely over half of the plant families have fewer than three species. This course would help us to identify if a plant was in one of these 20 families, we would then be able to key it out to species level, or draw links between species that we could already identify. We began by looking at the structure of the flowers and names of the different parts of flowers. This is essential for using keys and floral formulae. This then led to looking at the arrangement of flowers on a stem (inflorescence) and subsequently leaf arrangement.

A Geranium species was used
to learn about floral formulae.
Image: C. Install
"Once everyone had become familiar with the terminology, we were introduced to floral formulae – something that I had not come across before. A floral formula describes the structure of a flower, specifically the symmetry; number of sepals (K), petals (C), androecium (male parts) (A) and gynaecium (female parts) (G). It also specifies whether any of the parts are fused and whether the ovary is above (superior) or below (inferior) the point of attachment of the other flower parts. 

"We started learning about floral formulae in the classroom using a Geranium species as an example, we then looked at Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove) which needed a bit more thought as some of the features were fused. We learnt that all the species within a family (with a few exceptions) shared the same or very similar formulae. For example, flowers in the Brassicaceae (Cabbage) family are radially symmetrical, have four sepals, four petals, six stamens (male parts) and a gynaecium (female parts) made up of two fused carpels which are superior, with the ovary above the point of attachment of the sepals and petals. Brassicaceae also have leaves arranged spirally and the combination of four petals and six stamens is unique to this family.

Looking at flowers in the
Slapton Ley FSC garden.
Image: R. Bennett
"Once we all understood the concept of floral formulae, we headed outside into the garden and onto Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve to look at different flowers and discover their similarities and differences and how this might help us to identify which family a plant belongs to. Along our walk, we looked at Circaea lutetiana (Enchanter’s-nightshade), an Oenothera species (Evening-primrose) and Epilobium hirsutum (Great Willowherb). 

"They all had a hypanthium – a tube made up of the basal parts of the sepals, petals and stamens – between the flower and inferior ovary and this is a common feature of plants like these that belong to the Onagraceae family. The flower parts of Onagraceae species also come in fours (or twos) – the Epilobiums and the Oenotheras have four sepals, four petals, eight stamens and four carpels; Circaea lutetiana has two sepals, two petals and two stamens, two carpels. 

"Looking at the flowers of the Cyperaceae (Sedge) family, we saw that they had separate male and female flowers on the same plant. These did not have petals or sepals, but had either three stamens (androecium) or two or three fused carpels (gynaecium). Despite this the female flowers formed single seeded fruit – nutlets. In general, the stems were solid and triangular.

Caryophyllaceae (Campion) species
showing
dichasial cyme structure.
Image: Claire Install
"A clue that a plant was in the Caryophyllaceae (Campion) family was the dichasial cyme structure of its inflorescence. This meant that the flowers came in threes, a branched pair with a stalk in the middle leading to an older flower.

"Once we got to grips with which family a plant was in, we then went to the relevant section of Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles (4th Edition, 2019) to key it out to species level.

"The following day we headed out to Prawle Point with a slow walk along the coastal path looking at plants as we went. A lot of the plants we looked at along our walk belonged to the Asteraceae (Daisy) and Fabaceae (Pea) families. We had spent some time in the classroom prior to the walk looking at the structure of Asteraceae flower heads – each of these is made up of many individual flowers – and the differences between thistles, dandelion-like plants and daisies. We also used lateral keys that Ros had compiled to help us identify some of these to species level.

The visit to Prawle Point.
Image: C. Install
"Our final day’s field trip was to Andrew’s Wood where I was pleased to see Stellaria graminea (Lesser Stitchwort) with a dichasial cyme structure – remembering a plant from Slapton Ley NNR I could quickly see that this too belonged to the Caryophyllaceae family. 

"This site also gave us a chance to look at the Juncaceae (Rush) family. There are two genera: Juncus (Rushes) and Luzula (Wood-rushes). Unlike Poaceae (Grasses) and Cyperaceae, Juncaceae have a brown papery perianth (indistinguishable petals and sepals) and hermaphrodite flowers with one style and three stigmas. Individual fruits are triangular and, like the flowers that precede them, they occur in clusters. 

"The floral formula is typically *P6A6G(3) or *P(3+3)A6G(3). Juncus species have round stems (and often cylindrical leaves) which have pith inside and a capsule with lots of seeds whereas Luzula have grass-like (long and flat) leaves and a capsule with only three seeds.

The visit to Prawle Point.
Image: R. Bennett
"There was a great deal packed into the course and I came away feeling that I had learnt a lot about grouping plants into families with the floral formulae helping to demystify this. I was able to make connections between different plants and remember clues that helped me identify their families. The course handouts were excellent and it was great to learn from Ros. I would recommend this course and also applying for a training grant from the BSBI to further your botanical knowledge".

Many thanks to Claire for telling us about the course she was able to attend thanks to her BSBI Training Grant, and for sharing an introduction to floral formulae. This is probably a good time to remind you that the next round of applications for BSBI Training Grants opens on 1st January here, the full programme of next year's FSC botany courses can be seen here and you can find links to other short plant ID courses here. The Grants get snapped up really quickly so it's a good idea to work out which course you'd like to apply for and then be ready to get your application in as early as possible! 

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