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!

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