Sunday 31 January 2016

New Year Plant Hunt in the media II

Red Campion, one of the 'Autumn Stragglers'
which comprised 76%  of our
New Year Plant Hunt 2016 records.
Image: Pete Stroh
BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt was featured in today's edition of The Observer - you can read the article here.

On Friday afternoon, I really enjoyed talking to Fiona Stalker about New Year Plant Hunt results in Scotland. 

Fiona presents BBC Radio Scotland's 'Out for the Weekend' programme. 

You can hear the interview here - our bit starts around 1 hour 50 minutes in.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt in the media

Bulbous Buttercup in bloom at New Year
Image: Oisin Duffy
Media coverage of the New Year Plant Hunt kicked off on Monday with a brief mention on BBC Radio 4's Today programme - now available on iPlayer here and we are at 1 hour 40 minutes in. Listen carefully or you'll miss it!

Fortunately coverage by Mike McCarthy in Monday's Independent was much more comprehensive! If you missed it in the print version of The Indy then don't worry - you can read it here. It was also in The i which is print only. 

Pineappleweed in bloom:
 widely recorded during the
 New Year Plant Hunt
Image: Pete Stroh
Reports followed in The Daily Mail Online (who needs celebrities when we have wild flowers?) and The Telegraph covered the New Year Plant Hunt on both its news page and its gardening page.

Great to see images in the national press by BSBI members and New Year Plant Hunters such as recent member Karen Woolley (remember Karen's Common Centaury in flower on Day One?), BSBI Science Officer Pete Stroh who was lead author on the England Red Listace photographer Marc Cruise, from the west of Ireland, Lliam Rooney aka Botany Bill (who provided the excellent plant ID videos linked from the top of this page), and New Year Plant Hunt prize-winner James

We are also in Tech Times and the Bournemouth Echo!

But the publication everybody wants to see right now - and it's winging its way to BSBI members as we speak - is BSBI News

This plant features on the front cover
of BSBI News #131
Image: Ian Strachan
Here's a sneaky peek (on right) at the plant featured on the front cover of the latest issue - can you guess what it is? I'm trying to wheedle a few highlights out of the editors and share them here. Just so people who haven't yet joined BSBI can see what they are missing!

Remember, if you took part in the New Year Plant Hunt and you can tell a Daisy from a Dandelion, you are officially a botanist - now BSBI can help you get more involved and develop your skills. 

For non-members, there are free ID resources here, training opportunities here (and BSBI training grants to help you!) and if you click on the interactive map on our homepage, you can get in touch with friendly botanists in your area. Why not try going along to a local or national field meeting and see if you like it? Then decide if you want to join us!  

Tuesday 26 January 2016

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2016: the results

Ivy Broomrape recorded in flower
at six locations across Britain
Image: Karen Woolley
The results are in for BSBI’s fifth New Year Plant Hunt, when wildflower enthusiasts across Britain and Ireland head out over the holidays to see what is in bloom in their local patch.

More than 850 plant-lovers spent up to three hours between 1st and 4th January hunting for wild plants in flower and we'd like to thank them all for contributing to these amazing results:  
  • A total of 8,568 records of plants in flower from across Britain and Ireland.
  • A stunning 612 different species were found to be in flower, compared to 368 last year.
  • We received more than 400 lists - around half of them contained 20 or more species.
Ryan Clark, who co-ordinated the New Year Plant Hunt again this year, said “It was astonishing to see so many records flooding in, from Guernsey to Shetland and Norfolk to Donegal. 

Red Campion:
an "Autumn Straggler"
Image: Lliam Rooney
"As expected, the milder south and west of Britain had the highest numbers of species still in flower, but we also had more than 60 species reported blooming in Edinburgh. Lists from Ireland also had consistently high numbers of plants in flower at New Year”.

Do the numbers of plants flowering this New Year herald an early spring?

BSBI’s Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker said “There does not seem to be any real indication of an early spring. Spring-flowering specialists, such as Lesser Celandine, Cow Parsley and Sweet Violet, were widely recorded but they make up less than a fifth of the total. 

“At least three quarters of the plants recorded were ‘Autumn Stragglers’ like Yarrow, Red Campion and Red Dead-nettle that had carried on flowering in the absence of a hard frost. 

Hawthorn in bloom
Image: Marc Cruise
"The two most commonly recorded plants were Daisy and Dandelion – which we would expect to be flowering at this time of year.

Perhaps more surprising was Hawthorn in bloom!"

612 species in flower represents about a quarter of the species that occur regularly in Britain and Ireland. A number of these are aliens from warmer climates that may have escaped from gardens or cultivation and are continuing to flower until winter frosts knock them back. 

Horseshoe Vetch:
Francis Rose's Wildflower Key 

(1981) tells us that this plant 
flowers May-July!
Image: Lliam Rooney  
As in previous years, urban areas tended to have more species in flower than rural areas. This is to be expected: there are more sheltered and disturbed areas with warm micro-climates where native and alien plants, including garden escapes, can thrive.

Kevin said “Conventional wisdom on what should flower when is clearly out of date, and for many alien plants we simply don’t have good data on peak flowering times. 

"The New Year Plant Hunt results will help provide an up-to-date picture of what’s going on. Many thanks to all the volunteers who contributed to New Year Plant Hunt 2016”. 

Monday 18 January 2016

Note from the herbarium

Causative organism with its host 1
Image: M. Godfrey
It's always good to hear from Martin Godfrey about what he's been up to in the herbarium at the Potteries Museum, where he is a regular volunteer

Martin says:
"Recently it has been time once again to do a bit of curatorial work on our plant galls collection, which we hold in the herbarium along with some of the causative organisms. 

"Unlike the average herbarium specimen, plant galls need relatively frequent looking after as many of them are kept in “spirit” rather than dried and pressed and this evaporates and needs topping up every year or so. 

"We keep the insect causative organisms in spirit too – either in a small pot in the larger pot with the gall or in small pots in the box or bag with the dried gall specimens, makes a bit more sense than keeping them in separate botanical and entomological collections. 

Some of the galls collection and a copy of
Redfern & Shirley ID Guide
Image: M. Godfrey
"Plant galls, or at least the larger and more obvious ones, are an everyday sight for botanists and with the outstanding Redfern and Shirley AIDGAP ID guide there is no real excuse for not identifying them. 

"Indeed it is probably simpler for us to do this than the entomologists as the keys are based on the host plants rather than causative organisms and there is constant stress on the need for accurate identification of the plants to species level – including (especially?) those pesky Poaceae

"So maybe a sideline to record when you are out doing your stuff for Atlas 2020 or even just for fun?"

Causative organism with its host 2
Image: M. Godfrey
Sounds like a plan! Thanks to Martin for the above and for the list he submitted for the New Year Plant Hunt of 46 plants in bloom, in Staffs. including a Daffodil cultivar called Narcissus pseudonarcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'. Martin knew the plant anyway (it's the all-yellow Daffodil which usually flowers at this time of year) but this New Year Daffodil Guide by Mick Crawley made it very easy to check.

Martin also sent this gentle admonishment, which gives me a chance to share a few links: "In your News & Views blog you have been encouraging folks to record plants and support associated recording societies like Plantlife and the Wild Flower Society - I couldn't agree more but don't forget that there are more sorts of plants than those with flowers. 

"So how about an honourable mention for the British Pteridological Society (ferns are even covered by BSBI recording) and the British Bryological Society. Algae are a bit more problematic as some are in separate Kingdoms but you get the idea. Even sticking to vascular plants, it is my experience that both ferns and horsetails could do with a bit of a boost".

Typical specimens
Image: M. Godfrey
I'm very happy to include a mention for ferns and horsetails - they are, after all, vascular plants, although they were excluded from the New Year Plant Hunt because they do not produce flowers. 

Looking at bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) keeps many a botanist occupied in the winter months - they are still part of the Plant Kingdom but they neither flower nor have a serious vascular system that would allow them to grow tall and in dry places. 

I think Martin is pushing his luck a wee bit asking for a plug for algae, although the excellent and inexpensive fold-out Seaweed ID Key from the Field Studies Council is a great way to get started. And it would be rude to mention the British Bryological Society without also mentioning the equally excellent British Lichen Society - both are partners with BSBI and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the SPLASH project.  

So, lots of opportunities to keep our recording skills sharp until the botanical season starts in earnest - although there is still a surprising amount in flower at the moment!

Thursday 14 January 2016

New Year Plant Hunt prizes #2: Most Hunts - Joint Winner

Montage of plants spotted in bloom by James,
Exeter 1/1/2016

Image: James Faulconbridge
Click on images to enlarge them
Following on from Gus's amazing five New Year Plant Hunts in Scotland, now read about James' five New Year Plant Hunts across England. And being a five-time Hunter wasn't the only thing these two botanists proved to have in common! Over to James: 

"I missed the boat for the New Year Plant Hunt in 2015, but managed to squeeze in five Plant Hunts to make up for it in 2016! The Hunts spanned from Devon to Lincolnshire – I would love to say this was commitment to the cause but in fact we spent New Year in Exeter and stopped a night in Bristol on the way back up to the Midlands – the perfect opportunity to explore new places and see what was in flower on the way!

Montage of plants spotted in bloom by James,
Bristol 2/1/2016
Image: James Faulconbridge 
City-centre Plant Hunts were rather different to the places where I’m used to botanising – you end up poking around behind bushes and in tucked-away corners which most people pass by, and subsequently finding things which people might not expect you to find! I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the gaps…!

Not knowing either Exeter or Bristol well, I set out and followed my nose, instinctively heading towards greener spaces such as parks and churchyards. But the majority of the finds seemed to be in less ‘official’ green space – these were the opportunistic or ephemeral species which found a niche at the side of pavements or concealed themselves within ornamental shrubberies. 

I found a thriving patch of Annual mercury Mercurialis annua beside a subway in Bristol, whilst Petty spurge Euphorbia peplus and Annual meadow grass Poa annua were fairly ubiquitous in both cities. Lawns were another good source of species with Daisy Bellis perennis flowering abundantly and other species such as Common mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum and Creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens also nestled amongst the Perennial rye grass Lolium perenne. Plants do not constrain themselves to the horizontal either – the delicate flowers of Ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis were well-naturalised on city-centre walls including Exeter Castle, where almost every plant seemed to be in flower. These two Hunts totalled 21 and 22 species respectively.

Montage of plants spotted in bloom by James,
Tyntesfield NT 2/1/2016

Image: James Faulconbridge
An afternoon walk around Tyntesfield National Trust property with my partner was another opportunity to tot up species. Luckily she is well enough used to me by now to get into the spirit of the Hunt with sharp eyes helping reach another count of 22 species – something of a trend emerging! Interestingly around a third of the species over a 2 hour walk came from ten minutes in an area where the Trust had undertaken some recent clearance works and where the ground was more disturbed. Here we counted Herb Robert Geranium robertianum, Bramble Rubus fruticosus agg., Wall lettuce Lactuca muralis, White dead-nettle Lamium album and Prickly sow-thistle Sonchus asper all in flower. The more established grassland and woodland edge habitats produced fewer specimens by contrast. Early spring flowers such as Hazel Corylus avellana catkins, Primrose Primula vulgaris and naturalised Winter heliotrope Petasites fragrans, Snowdrop Galanthus nivalis and Daffodil Narcissus spp. were another key component of the count at this site. 

Montage of plants spotted in bloom by James,
Stonesby Quarry, Leics 3/1/2016

Image: James Faulconbridge
Back home on the 3rd Jan, I got out at first light to beat the mid-morning forecast of rain and headed across the county-border into Leicestershire for a fourth Hunt. I went to a Leicestershire Wildlife Trust site – Stonesby Quarry – thinking that the topography of the site might create more sheltered spots where flowers would escape the frost. This was not the case however; the limestone swards yielded very few species with most of my finds occurring at the ecotones with scrub at the edges – species such as Red campion Silene dioica, White dead-nettle Lamium album and Wood avens Geum urbanum

One particularly productive area however was an area of old tarmac just inside the entrance which was being colonised slowly – here there were low-growing Thyme-leaved sandwort Arenaria serpyllifolia, Scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis and Common mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum. Whether this ephemeral/opportunistic setting encouraged early flowering or whether they were simply much easier to spot than within a denser grassland sward, I couldn’t be sure. I called in at the next village of Branston afterwards - I turned up almost the same number of species in half the time, with Lesser celandine Ficaria verna, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Ox-eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare and Yarrow Achillea millefolium, amongst others. In all, the count for the Sunday was 26 species. 

Montage of plants spotted in bloom by James,
Grantham, Lincs 4/1/2016

Image: James Faulconbridge
The 4th January was the last date for a New Year Plant Hunt and I combined a walk to work with a lunchtime meander to count up 44 species in Lincolnshire. This started out in the dark with a few photographs of species by torchlight, but ended with the much more pleasant sunshine of a winter’s afternoon. The Grantham Canal yielded a good number of species including Red and White campion Silene dioica and S. latifolia, Red and White deadnettle Lamium purpureum and L. album and Yarrow Achillea millefolium. There were also plenty of Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium flowers and a single Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris head – these were all in the strip cut beside the towpath in late summer whilst not one of the plants which had escaped the blade was flowering. 

Cow Parsley
Image courtesy of JR Crellin/Floral Images
Through the town of Grantham itself were a typical collection of opportunistic and annual species (we don’t encourage the word ‘weed’) including Shepherd’s-purse Capsella bursa-pastoris, Wavy bittercress Cardamine flexuosa and Canadian fleabane Conyza canadensis. The proximity to gardens also boosted the naturalised ornamentals including Greater periwinkle Vinca major, Wood spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides and Oregon grape Mahonia sp.. 

The hedges turned up a couple of surprises as well including Dogwood Cornus sp., Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Holly Ilex aquifolium and Hazel Corylus avellana all in flower. Up to the Hills and Hollows to the east of the town at lunchtime ticked off a few more species and finished with Gorse Ulex europaeus which was flowering abundantly on the hillside overlooking the town. As the phrase goes, ‘when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion’!

Image: Claudia Ferguson-Smyth
The New Year Plant Hunt was a great excuse to get out in the fresh air after Christmas, and it is cheering to see so many flowers still in bloom – in all, excluding duplicated, I totalled 64 different species. Following the progress of others on social media was a great way to put your finds in context – to get a feel for what others were finding in flower or otherwise. 

It was good to see what the real experts were finding too – the lists coming from some luminaries were very impressive and an inspiration to continue to learn and develop ID skills. It was great too to see how many people were taking part from an enthusiast or amateur standpoint, totting up the splashes of colour they were seeing on the New Year’s Day walk or heading out as a family to see what they could find. 

Geoffrey Hall, County Recorder for Leics,,
 refinds Dianthus deltoides on a road verge
Image: L. Marsh
Five hunts across four counties has left me with a strong impression of what kind of species flower in the dead of winter, and why, but I am looking forward to the analysis and summaries which the BSBI are undertaking on the overall results to see whether my hunches are replicated across the country. 

It looks like a bumper year for participation so hats off to Louise Marsh and Ryan Clark who have undertaken a serious commitment to collate and compile the results. [ed. Aw thank you James but Ryan is doing the serious stuff while I waffle and tweet about it!] I’m looking forward to taking part again next year!

My three wishes, to be granted by the BSBI genie, would be:

 My first wish is one which I have to share with Gus – hopefully the power of two wishes from the BSBI genie will be irrefutable – and that is that the ‘Road Verge Campaign’ run by Plantlife in 2015 reaches more people and gains traction with local authorities and land managers in 2016. 

Find out why Geoffrey was so pleased to see this plant:
Image: L. Marsh
The space for wildflowers, and the species which depend upon them, is increasingly being squeezed and so much of the land in urban and rural areas is managed at great expense to effectively minimise its ecological functionality through weekly mowing. The road networks are a natural ‘green corridor’ around the whole of the UK linking our towns and cities, and ecologically sensitive management could provide a huge boost to biodiversity as well as an aesthetic and wellbeing boost to those who use and travel through these spaces. 

The positive effect on wellbeing has been demonstrated where wildflower meadows have been introduced to urban spaces such as Bristol. Many people respond to reduced mowing regimes by considering it untidy or unmanaged – there are even counter-campaigns asking councils to resume their previous management. Education, explanation and inspiration are needed to succeed and I would wish for success in achieving progress with this.

#wildflowerhour poster at
BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2015
Image: Terry Swainbank
Secondly that the excellent  #wildflowerhour on Twitter goes from strength to strength. This was initiated by Fennel & Fern and taken up by BSBI on Twitter. It is an invitation for people to share images and sightings of wildflowers every Sunday night between 8pm and 9pm simply by tweeting and using the #wildflowerhour hashtag. 

It allows you to share interesting finds, and in turn to get a weekly snapshot of what is flowering and where across Britain and Ireland. And if nothing else, there is little more cheering on a Sunday evening than a feed full of wildflowers as you get ready to go back to a week at work.

Ros Bennett talks about teaching plant ID.
BSBI Training the Trainers workshop 2014
Image: Oli Pescott
Thirdly, a BSBI-specific wish, I would like to see a BSBI ‘Introduction to the 10 or 15 Commonest Plant Families’. I remember well – a breakthrough moment when I was first learning botany was an FSC course where they introduced the 20 most common wildflower families in the UK. There are certain characteristics which, when you learn to spot them, can take you straight to the family – suddenly the 1,600+ possible IDs could be quickly narrowed to 20 or 30 species in a family. 

I’m sure these are available commercially tucked away in books, and a quick Google finds this information in disparate forms is available online, but a simple, clear, friendly and accessible guide targeted at beginners would be excellent to encourage people with an interest in botany to take an immediate step-up in their confidence and abilities".

Many thanks to James, who isn't just a great New Year Plant Hunter, he's also pretty good at guest blogposts! What do you think of James' third wish? Why not leave a comment below? I bet James would love to hear from you!

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Botanical snippets for January

Foxglove with terminal peloric flower
Image: P. J. Rudall 
A few botanical snippets to entertain you while we are still working through all your New Year Plant Hunt records!

From Paula Rudall at RBG Kew, this report about some weird and wonderful foxgloves.

Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, attended botany classes and went on field excursions? More here

New research project from Urban Pollinators - four wildflower meadows are being created in Bristol to examine the effects of urbanisation on urban pollinators.

Free access until the end of March to this paper in Plant Ecology & Diversity titled 'Hybrid swarms: catalysts for multiple evolutionary events in Senecio in the British Isles'. For more free access papers from Taylor & Francis (publishers of New Journal of Botany) head over here.  

Try this page for family-friendly events this year with a botanical theme at the South London Botanical Institute. 

Rock Samphire & Sea Plantain in Ireland 2014
Image: P. O'Meara
If you are planning to look more closely at ferns this year, particularly Male-ferns Dryopteris spp., you may want to try this ID crib which botanists shared recently on Facebook, as well as this from the Plant Crib.

If you are champing at the bit to find out more about what people saw on their New Year Plant Hunts this year, there are several blogposts by BSBI members in the list on the right, or try some of these by non-members who took part for the first time this year: an account from Clare in Northants.; another from a young naturalist in the Chilterns; and this report from the Isle of Wight, where Rock Samphire Crithmum maritimum was seen in bloom.

Finally, try this report from Tela Botanica if you'd like to know what French botanists have to say about the plants they are finding in bloom this winter.

Monday 11 January 2016

BSBI Training Grant helps a seventh botanist

If you're still debating whether or not to apply for one of this year's BSBI Training Grants, here is the seventh case study of how a grant helped a budding botanist get started with plant identification in 2015. Over to Debbie to tell us her story:

Debbie in the field.
Image courtesy of D. Wright
"Last year I was lucky enough to be awarded a BSBI Training Grant to attend a basic plant identification course. The course was run by the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire and focused on learning to use The New Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace to key out plants. It took place over a 6 month period, with a morning session held once a month at the John Krebbs Field Station. There was also an optional field trip to Wytham Woods, which happened to be on a day filled with glorious sunshine!

"The course started with the basics, such as the parts and functions of a plant. We then moved on to looking at the main different families of flowering plants each session. The tutors would talk about the distinguishing features of the family and relevant terminology, then we would key out one or more example plants from the family and finally, we would try to key out some more plants on our own. The tutors always brought in a range of relevant reference books and advised us on what to refer to, as well as telling us about local and national plant societies and activities we could get involved in.

Debbie in the field II
Image courtesy of D. Wright
"I learnt a great deal from the course. Beforehand, I had very limited knowledge of plants, having never studied them in depth. The material was always made very accessible, and although the emphasis was on keying out using Stace, we also used other keys, such as The Vegetative Key ofthe British Flora by Poland and Clement. The tutors were always extremely friendly and approachable and I felt like I could ask anything without feeling stupid!

"The BSBI Training grant gave me the opportunity to start learning about plants. I became interested in a particular family, the Brassicaceae, which I then went on to study further. The course gave me the initial knowledge I needed, and the confidence to simply go out and explore! I would recommend both the course and the grant to others, particularly if they are initially struggling with using keys".

Thanks Debbie! Read about what some other budding botanists used their Training Grants for herehere, here, here, here and here. And then why not head over to the Training page here. Scroll down column one for short botany courses and the on-line Identiplant course, or scroll down column two to download an application form. 

Sunday 10 January 2016

New Year Plant Hunt Prizes #1: Most Hunts

Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Image: Gus Routledge
Last year we started the tradition of New Year Plant Hunt prizes: awarded by me, intended as a bit of fun and of no financial value whatsoever! Last year, prizes went to Tim, to Phoebe, to Lin, to Oisin and to Dawn

This year, I noticed two recorders who had obviously 'got the bug' and were heading out for multiple New Year Plant Hunts. Gus and James notched up five Hunts each over the four-day period so they both win the newly-inaugurated Most Hunts prize! Each of them is invited to tell us about their Hunts and then share their three botanical wishes for 2016 on these pages. First up is Gus: 

"My plan to do the New Year Plant Hunt first started when I saw BSBI tweeting about it, and Christmas certainly helped as I got the Collins Flower Guide, along with a few others.

Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis
Image: Gus Routledge
A few days before Christmas, however, I was invited to join Wild Reekie (a group based focused on enjoying and restoring the beauty and variety of nature right in Edinburgh) for a New Year Plant Hunt which happened to be on my local patch of the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill. It was great being around people with similar interests, talking about wildflowers, ferns, bees, and such. It also meant more eyes to look for flowers! In the end we managed 16 species, which I added to on my walk home with a further 8 species in the last half hour; 24 species in total.

Once home I still had a craving to see more flowers, so I headed into the Braid Hills in near darkness to find 7 species. Perhaps I would have managed more if it hadn’t been so dark!

Hairy Bitter-cress Cardamine hirsuta
Image: Gus Routledge
On the 2nd January I decided to try a habitat not many people would bother checking, and went into the Moorfoot Hills, around 500m altitude, where I discovered, to my surprise, 4 species in flower, including a single Bell Heather Erica cinerea. It was “dreich” as we Scots call it, i.e. very grim weather-wise! But it did mean I could try something I’d always wanted to do: drink water from Sphagnum moss. It tasted… earthy, but wasn’t half bad! The following day I went to Arniston Estate where I figured the valley would perhaps shelter flowers and encourage more to be on show. 14 species there, and it included some lovely Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis which I’d never noticed before becoming completely addicted to plant hunting! 

The last day of the New Year Plant Hunt took me to Holyrood Park where I had seen a few flowers before Christmas and hoped some would still be around. Thankfully, a lot of them were, and somehow I spotted this little flower growing at the side: Hairy Bitter-cress Cardamine hirsuta, my favourite find over the 4 days of the New Year Plant Hunt.

Gorse Ulex europaeus
Image: Gus Routledge
I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction into the world of botany, and it’s been so easy to get into! Taking into consideration I got my field guide 6 days before starting the New Year Plant Hunt, I managed to identify 33 species in total. And of course, all the help I’ve received on social networks and from people I’ve met has helped a lot as well.

Now I’m just eager for the year to progress and for more flowers to be out in bloom! I suspect I’ll be making more trips specifically to see flowers and I’m also going to try to get into recording so that my sightings count towards something!

My first wish, is for more people to become aware of Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign. It really frustrates me that almost every road verge I see is so bland and boring. Let there be colour! Everybody loves to see flowers, so why not allow them to flourish in one of the few places that we can definitely do so?

Giant Butterbur Petasites japonicus
Image: Gus Routledge
Wish number 2, something that I’ve always hoped would happen at some point, is for more access to learning about the outdoors for young people. They don’t have to become as enthralled in it all as I am, just a better understanding of the natural world. This would help young people to understand the need for threats to biodiversity, individual species, and habitats to be dealt with and gotten rid of. If more people understood the natural world, it would be far easier to encourage them to protect it.

Thirdly, I wish that there was a resource that allowed you to easily find sites in your area that are of particular botanical interest. Being a beginner, I don’t know where to go for areas that will hold interesting plants, or many plants. At the moment I tend to walk around places I know well in order to find flower and other plants, but I suspect there are plenty areas in which I will find more that I don’t know of."

Rape Brassica napus
Image: Gus Routledge
Many thanks to Gus for telling us about his New Year Plant Hunts and sharing his three botanical wishes for 2016. Plantlife, our partners in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, are doing a great job raising awareness of wildflowers 'On the Verge' and are working with local authorities to optimise cutting times so that species are able to set seed. BSBI also applauds all attempts to engage younger members with the natural world and especially our wild flowers.

Wish number three is a really good one - Gus isn't the first person to wonder where all the most interesting wild flowers are in his local area. If there's one plant in particular you want to see, you can check the BSBI Distribution Database and get a rough idea where it has been recorded (BSBI members and active recorders can also request access at a finer scale) but what if you want to know all the plants in a given grid square? Or at a certain postcode? 

If you can help grant any of Gus's three wishes, please get in touch! 

Friday 8 January 2016

Botanists at all skill levels join in New Year Plant Hunt 2016

Galium album blooming in Newquay
Image: Judy Swift
The deadline has now passed for submitting New Year Plant Hunt records and Co-ordinator Ryan is probably quite relieved - the poor man has been rushed off his feet this year! I've just been having a look at the database to find some interesting snippets for you and the columns of records seem to go on and on...  

It's fascinating to see the plant records that some botanical "big names" sent in. Past BSBI Presidents David Pearman, Michael Braithwaite and Ian Denholm were out hunting in Cornwall, Berwickshire and Herts. respectively and current President John Faulkner was out hunting in Armagh. 

David Pearman was with members of the Botanical Cornwall Group in Newquay and their list of 61 species in flower included our first record of Kickxia elatine (Sharp-leaved Fluellen) and a very out-of-season Galium album (Hedge bedstraw)! 

Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, was out with his children in W. Yorks. and they found 18 species in flower. Obviously not all our eminent botanists were able to devote three whole hours to a Plant Hunt but several very kindly submitted short lists while nipping to the shops and others managed to find interesting species in flower. 

Kickxia elatine blooming in Newquay
Image: Judy Swift
Mick Crawley nabbed the only records this year of Mirabilis jalapa (Marvel-of-Peru) and Sisymbrium irio (London-rocket)

Remember Sandy Knapp's Mystery Mustard from her Plant Hunt around Walthamstow Marshes? Her original hunch was Sisymbrium irio but like the world-class botanist she is, Sandy checked her plant carefully against herbarium specimens and this what she said:

"Checking the identity of our mystery mustard (always so tricky, mustards) in the herbarium let me see the variation in these most variable of plants - it was great to see how the leaf shape is different up and down the plant (just like ours) and over the season. 

"Mustard identification depends so much on fruit, it's tough when you are not sure if the siliques are full size or not....  I thought our mystery plant was Sisymbrium with bitsy siliques, but in fact it was Hirschfeldia incana (Hoary mustard) - tiny siliques normal in this species! 

London Botanical Still Life #2:
'Imprisoned Mercury'
Image: Sophie Leguil 
"The other character I shall always remember this one by was the way the leaves were in clumps on the stem, and the incredibly loooong inflorescence. But really, I couldn't have done it without the BSBI Crucifers Handbook, the NHM herbarium and of course the incomparable Fred Rumsey!!"

Ok, now we know what Sandy's secret weapons are - a great ID book, a great herbarium, and a fellow BSBI member to discuss the plant with ;-) And this is the second record of H. incana in bloom - Jim also found it in Edinburgh. It does seem to be a plant that likes city life in general, whereas Sisymbrium irio favours London, as its common name suggests!

Also out New Year Plant Hunting were Alan Cann of Annals of Botany fame who spotted eight species blooming during a short walk in Leics. and bryologist Sam Bosanquet of Mosses and Liverworts of Britain & Ireland fame who found 23 higher plant species in bloom in Northants. 

BSBI Grasses expert Arthur Copping recorded 44 species around Diss in Norfolk, including our only records so far of Anisantha diandra (Great Brome) and Chenopodium ficifolium (Fig-leaved Goosefoot) in flower, while Trevor Dines of Plantlife (and a BSBI member, of course!) found 36 species blooming in the lanes of Denbighshire

Petrocoptis pyrenaica
Image: P. Oswald
Arthur Chater, author of the Flora of Cardiganshire as well as BSBI's gold standard Guide to Pressing a Herbarium Specimen, had Rubus ulmifolius (one of the hundreds of 'micro-species' of Brambles) on his list of 36 species in bloom from a 2-hour walk in CardiganshireHis fellow "Pubs" member Philip Oswald sent several lists from his peregrinations in Cambridge - 27 species from one 45 minute walk, 21 from another. 

Philip, Arthur and several other "Pubs" members, all friends of the late Peter Sell, have been working hard to bring the final two volumes of Sell & Murrell to press so it's good to hear of them getting out to do a little plant-spotting. 

And Philip spotted one particularly noteworthy plant. He sent the image (on left) saying: 

"Petrocoptis pyrenaica, established for several years on a wall in Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge, possibly for the first time in the wild in Britain. Photo of 19th December 2015, but still flowering well on 1st January 2016 (when the light was poor for photography)".  

Ivy Broomrape blooming in Cambridge
Image: P. Oswald
Not only are Arthur and Philip superb field botanists but between them they have chalked up many years of service on "Pubs" (BSBI Publications Committee), advising the Committee and New Journal of Botany on issues from copyright to Latin descriptions of new species but, although they are both somewhat older than the botanists featured here, this hasn't stopped them from keeping up with social media. Philip very kindly responded to several plant ID queries and observations he noticed on these pages and on the BSBI Twitter feed

On Helena and the Somerset Rare Plants Group finding Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae in bloom, Philip said "It isn't just in Somerset that O. hederae is flowering, though admittedly it's native there and only naturalised in Cambridge. Here (on right) is a photo of one of two plants in flower in Mill Road Cemetery this morning – along with more than a hundred dead spikes.

"I believe it is a consistent characteristic of this species that, unlike any other Orobanche (anyway to my knowledge), spikes regularly come up all through the period from June to November (the latest that I have seen them previously –  in the Botanic Garden, killed off by a sharp frost).

Ceratocapnos claviculata (Climbing Corydalis)
blooming on Killiney Hill, Dublin 1/1/2016
Image: Sylvia Reynolds
"It looks as if the colony in Mill Road Cemetery has expanded from an area of Irish Ivy into one of Hedera helix ssp. helix, which – inexplicably to me, but obstinately – the late David McClintock maintained it didn't grow on"!

Martin Rand, County Recorder for S. Hants. got several excellent lists from his own Plant Hunts and also very kindly acted as one of our Expert Referees for the duration of the New Year Plant Hunt. Kevin Walker, Brian Laney and Ian Denholm have checked a few tricky plants and thanks also go to John Poland who checked vegetative IDs on a few atypical specimens - just to be extra sure that the results, which we hope to circulate next week, will be as robust as possible!

Coming up next: the first of the New Year Plant Hunt prizes!