Saturday 30 December 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day One

BSBI's seventh New Year Plant Hunt kicked off today and the first records reached us before 1am! 

As in previous years, the 'First Flower' prize is awarded to an Irish botanist but this year, it's Jessica Hamilton rather than Oisin Duffy

She spotted the Groundsel on the right.  

For her wonderful effort, Jessica receives one of our opulent, no-expense-spared New Year Plant Hunt prizes... oh I wish! 

I'm afraid our prizes are simply a chance to share three botanical wishes for 2018 on these pages. Watch out for Jessica's three wishes later in the month. 

She was a busy bee today though, because as well as recording the first flower, Jessica then headed off to Killarney to lead one of this morning's first group Plant Hunts! 

The photo above left shows her team of 18 botanists from the BSBI Kerry group just after they had recorded a grand total of 43 species in Killarney. 

Click on the Kerry marker on our interactive map here to see which species they found. 

Recorders were out across Britain and Ireland today and they spotted a wide range of plants. 

There were plants which always raise a smile, like the Butcher's-broom found in bloom in Cambs. by Roger Horton (below left).

There were invasives like Three-cornered Leek, seen in Folkestone by Dave Steere (above).

The good, the bad and the - no there aren't any ugly plants!

Locations ranged from the south coast to the north of Scotland.

Our most northerly recorder reported only three species, Gorse, Daisy and Cow Parsley, blooming in Caithness while Met Office climate scientist Mark McCarthy found it easy to record more than 20 species during a 20 minute walk through Exeter and at Lake Cliffs on the south coast, 72 species were recorded in bloom.

The composite image below shows some of the plants Mark found in bloom. 

This is probably a good time to remind people that the aim of the New Year Plant Hunt is to build up a clear picture of which plants are flowering where across Britain and Ireland so we can see how our wild and naturalised plants are responding to changes in long-term weather patterns.

So it's about the roles played by altitude and proximity to the coast, or whether urban sites provide micro-climates which can support more species in bloom than rural sites, or how alien species fare compared to native plants, or whether we are seeing plants 'hanging on' from autumn vs plants expected to bloom in midwinter vs spring plants blooming early... it isn't about who has the longest list! 

So three cheers for John Fergusson in Ayrshire who recorded Gorse and nothing else, despite having a really good look and then having to endure his phone battery conking out while he was trying to upload his one and only record. 

John reported feeling deflated but I think he should feel proud of capturing a true picture of what's in bloom (or not) in southwest Scotland in midwinter after some particularly nasty weather there in recent weeks. 

Records like this - and reports from people who couldn't find anything at all in bloom - are exactly what BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker needs for his New Year Plant Hunt analysis. 

What he wouldn't want is people cherry-picking hotspots likely to support lots of plants in bloom, but I'm sure News & Views readers wouldn't do that. 

Because you know that it's actually much more fun to contribute meaningful data - such as the plants spotted today for the first time in a particular location, like the inland Danish Scurvy-grass (above left) seen by Paula O'Meara in Taghmon, County Wexford - that one was new for the hectad. A recent arrival? Or just a plant that nobody had spotted before? 

And then there were finds such as Sophie Leguil's quartet (on right) of plants growing on the streets of London, which may prove to support the 'more plants in cities than in the countryside' hypothesis. Or maybe not - we'll see!

Or how about the records of plants we usually see in the spring, like the Sweet Violet (on left) spotted in Suffolk by Rosemary Lincoln? 

How many of those early spring flowers will we see this New Year compared to those autumn stragglers and all-year-rounders which currently fill the list of most frequently recorded plants on the 2018 results page

Lots of questions and only your New Year Plant Hunt data can provide the answers! So here's to three more days of data collection. If you haven't been out yet and don't fancy venturing out on your own, check out the group events here or contact your County Recorder and see if they are planning anything.

And if you have any questions, or you are struggling to use the online recording form, or you want us to help you identify a mystery plant - just email us at or tweet us @BSBIbotany using the #NewYearPlantHunt hashtag.

Here's to Day Two of the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt! 

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Winter twig ID key: the answers

Did you have a go at guessing the identity of the three mystery twigs we posted last week, taken from John Poland's forthcoming Field Key to Winter Twigs?

If not, why not have a go now before you look at the answers below!

The answers are:
1. Norway Maple Acer platanoides, one of the six xylophyte genera often seen in Britain and Ireland which have opposite leaves/ buds.

2. Katsura tree Cercidiphyllum japonicum, whose leaves have a distinctive toffee-apple/ caramel smell as they change colour and whose twigs have distinctive 'crab claw' buds.

3. Black walnut Juglans nigra with a leaf scar looking like a monkey's face and superposed buds.

The image on the right shows another winter twig that features in John's forthcoming book. This one is from the Fig tree Ficus carica.  

Sunday 24 December 2017

Christmas message from BSBI's President

Chris in the Herbarium at University of Reading
Image: A. Culham
Earlier this month we brought you an interview with Chris Metherell, who on 25th November took over from John Faulkner as BSBI President. I asked Chris if he'd like to offer a Christmas message to botanists and I'm delighted that he sent this note through earlier today: 

"This is the second task I have undertaken in my new role as President. The first was to sign a formal objection on behalf of the Society to a planning application for a new golf course at Coul in East Sutherland

"Somehow we need to make sure that our plant records, so carefully gathered, are more regarded by planners and their ilk. I know that the Board of Trustees is currently considering a new conservation policy for the BSBI and I've already fielded some phone calls from senior members on related topics. Watch this space. 

"Now for the Christmas message. 

Chris in the Herbarium at University of Leicester
Image: L.Marsh 
"Winter is traditionally not a good time for botany. Short dark days which make us long for the summer. County Recorders are hunched not over roaring fires roasting chestnuts but more often over their computer screens inputting data. But I offer you a new winter sport. One that doesn't involve snow and planks of wood or hard ice and sharp blades. It's the herbarium season! The best present you can give a herbarium keeper is a visit! So, make a New Year resolution to spend an afternoon with some pressed plants

"And the folks who run herbaria are often really interesting people too. One of the things I've learned about botanists is that most turn out to be multi-faceted individuals for whom botany is just one of their all-consuming passions, if that's possible! We might expect quite a few birders but I've met botanists who turn out also to be organists, poets, unicyclists or ballroom dancers to mention just a few. A few years ago we were running a trip for the Wild Flower Society to Ben Lawers. On the last evening we arranged to meet up for a meal. Over the haggis we realised that every one of the fourteen botanists present played a musical instrument. Of course none of us had bought one along. Pity.

Chris in his local herbarium: Hancock Museum,
Image courtesy of C. Metherell
"So I have a second (and final, I promise) New Year resolution for you. On your next field trip, or conference or training session, or whatever it is, try and get behind the botany and find out about the alter egos of the botanists you meet. You might be surprised at the results. 

"Have a great Christmas and enjoy your New Year Plant Hunt - I'll be out hunting on my patch in Northumberland and I'll share my finds with you on these pages in the New Year." 

Thanks to Chris for this - now click here to find out about our President's alter ego. Merry Christmas!

Saturday 23 December 2017

New Year Plant Hunt support team 2018: ready to help you!

Ciara was delighted to find
a Shepherd's-purse in flower!
New Year Plant Hunt 2017, Leicester
Image: K. Akkerman
We're busy gearing up for BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt which starts next weekend. There are eight of us on the support team this year, ready to answer your enquiries, help with identifications, offer advice on how to use the recording form, retweet or 'like' any finds you post via Twitter or Facebook, process/ report on and then analyse the results...

Last year, Ciara Sugrue, PhD student at University of Loughborough, joined the team to help out behind the scenes and she has very kindly agreed to come back again this year. 

I asked Ciara to tell us a bit about her experience as a New Year Plant Hunt volunteer, why she got involved and to remind us what the New Year Plant Hunt is all about. 

Over to Ciara:  

"The New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH) is undergoing its seventh year of data collection from Saturday 30th December to Tuesday 2nd January. 

The New Year Plant Hunt website
showing 2017 results
"The aim of the NYPH is to walk for up to three hours identifying wild or naturalised flowering plants. This data collection is very important as it helps to build a bigger picture of how many plants are flowering in winter in the UK and Ireland, in light of climate change.

"In January 2017, I volunteered for a week to assist in the NYPH. Last year a new mobile form was created to record the flowering plants on your phone and there was a new website with an interactive map, so you could enter the records at home and see what other people were recording

"The forms are really user friendly. Plant records can be entered quickly and easily whilst on the plant walk or at home. This allowed plant species to be documented without having to be manually entered by the volunteers. 
Geoffrey Hall (County Recorder for
Leicestershire & Rutland (VC55)
examining Wall Barley to see if it
was in flower. He decided it wasn't!
New Year Plant Hunt 2017
Image: C. Sugrue

"For those that lacked a smart phone, I helped enter in over 500 individual species records on the website form. The mobile form and website were a great success, and we have to thank Tom Humphrey and the Biological Records Centre/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology for creating them!` 

"This year I will be volunteering for another week with the BSBI. Part of my volunteering includes checking records. Where flowering plants have never been recorded in that area, I manually check the records. By processing these records I develop my knowledge of the flowering plant distribution in the UK and Ireland.

"Last year I attended two New Year Plant Hunts organised by the Leicestershire VC55 BSBI group as part of my volunteering, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 2017 was the first year I have taken part in the NYPH and would highly recommend it to beginners. During the two Leicestershire surveys (one in the city, one in the countryside), we recorded between 25- 35 flowering plants each time, which was the perfect amount as I was able to refresh my memory and learn how to identify a handful of new plants. 

Keechy Akkerman learning how to
identify wild flowers with
Ciara's trusty 'Collin's Flower Guide'.
Image: C. Sugrue
"There were botanists with a range of expertise, allowing us to learn from one another. I really enjoyed the first (rural)  NYPH, so much so that I took one of my colleagues Keechy Akkerman out with me on my second (urban) trip! 

"As I am volunteering again this year I am looking to create ambassadors from universities with a strong botanical background that can organise a NYPH on their campus or in their local area. I have met many excellent botanists who began as students or who were self-taught and believe it is extremely important to share this knowledge. 

"If you would be interested in helping coordinate a NYPH on your University campus please contact me via the NYPH email 
and we can post your event on the new Events page on the NYPH website.

"I would like to say a final thank you to the NYPH team from 2017: Ian, Richard, Ryan and Tom. With a special thank you to Louise (BSBI Communications Officer) and Kevin (Head of Science) as without them I wouldn’t have been able to take part in this great event. I would also like to welcome Ellen Goddard from Loughborough University who will be volunteering with the NYPH this year – welcome to the team Ellen! - and I'm also looking forward to working with Jo, who is based in London and is also joining the team this year. 

"Happy New Year Plant Hunting!"­

Friday 22 December 2017

New Journal of Botany: final issue now out!

Some of the plants found during a survey of Fair Isle
Images: C.V. Quinteros Penafiel
Today sees the end of an era - after seven years of BSBI's scientific journal New Journal of Botany, today we publish the final issue.

It's a bumper issue, with twelve papers, one short note, several pages of notable plant records and two book reviews.

If you're a BSBI member, head over to our members-only area (password required), click on the New Journal of Botany link, and you'll be able to start reading the issue in full.

Comparing Britain's Small-white Orchid
with its Icelandic counterpart
Images: R. Bateman
If you're not a BSBI member, you can still see abstracts here and you can read one of the papers in full, as it has been published under an open access agreement.

The open access paper gives the results of a floristic survey of Fair Isle by C. V. Quinteros Penafiel (from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh) and colleagues.

There are also three papers on orchids, including two co-authored by orchid expert Prof Richard Bateman, who also published in the first issue of New Journal of Botany.

Richard's papers are, unsurprisingly, among the most frequently downloaded in the journal's history. 

Click here to read a review of one of Richard's previous papers on the iconic Military Orchid and its pollinators.

Taraxacum hibernicola, one of the Dandelions
described by Prof John Richards in his new paper
Image: Paul Green
You will also find a paper by Simon Smart and colleagues analysing changes in the abundance of common plants across Wales over decades; Keith Kirby and Rob Thomas investigate the impacts of a management plan to restore a broadleaved woodland in southern England; Scandinavian botanist Torbjorn Tyler looks at Hawkweeds, John Richards reports on new Dandelion records from Ireland and describes four new species; and alongside these familiar names, we were delighted to publish first-time author Margaret Harris's morphometric study of Knapweeds.

To find out about the other papers in this final issue, check out the Editorial here by Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm.

All BSBI members have online access to all papers published in New Journal of Botany over the past seven years - that applies even if you join BSBI today. And plans are well advanced to put together a new platform for publishing botanical research so watch this space in the New Year!

Thursday 21 December 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: invitation to take part

Winter Heliotrope blooming in Devon
New Year's Day 2017
Image: Karen Woolley
For the seventh consecutive year, you are cordially invited to take part in BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt

We encourage plant lovers across Britain and Ireland to go out and record any wild flowers you can find in bloom over the New Year period. 

This year's New Year Plant Hunt runs from Saturday 30th December until Tuesday 2nd January 2018.

To find out more about this year's Hunt, how to take part and how to follow everyone's results as they come in, please visit this page.

You can go out recording on your own, or with friends and family, or you might prefer to join an organised group - click here to see some of the group meetings we know about or contact your County Recorder to see if anything is planned in your local area.

Ciara with a Shepherd's-Purse spotted
in bloom during the 2017 New Year
Plant Hunt in Leicester
Image: Keechy Akkerman
Last year we introduced a recording app to help you record plants you spotted in bloom and to make it quicker for us to process your records - we received more than 7,000 records last year so it is no longer possible to copy over your finds from spreadsheets and tweets! 

The app worked well but this year we have tried to make things even easier for you. There is a very simple recording form which you can use on your smartphone or on your computer. More details here on how to use the form. 

If you run into any problems, you can email the New Year Plant Hunt support team at

Ciara, Ellen, Jo, Richard and I (Louise) will be working shifts and ready to help you with any queries. 

Also on the support team this year are BSBI Database Officer Tom Humphrey (technical advice), Ian Denholm, ace botanist and Chair of BSBI's Board of Trustees (who can advise on any particularly tricky plant identifications) and BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker, whose real work starts once all the records are in - he will be analysing them and then reporting back on what they tell us. 

Some of the flowers spotted blooming
in East Sussex, 2nd January 2017
Image: Kate Gold
We will need to receive all your records by midnight on Friday, 5th January so Kevin can get started on his analysis and report back to all of us (and to our media contacts) before the end of the month.

The idea of the New Year Plant Hunt is to build up a clearer picture of which plants are in bloom in the middle of winter and how this might be changing over time.

In 2016 we recorded a total of 611 different taxa (species, hybrids and escaped garden cultivars) and in 2017 that total was 492, once Head of Science Kevin Walker had been through all the records and removed any duplicates, mis-identifications or invalid records.

New Year Plant Hunters in West Cork,
Ireland, 2017
Image: Clare Heardman
In 2017, more people took part in the Hunt than ever before and we received more lists but we actually recorded fewer kinds of plants than the previous year when weather was a little milder. 

It will be interesting to see how the recent snow across much of the country affects what we find in bloom this time. 

Watch this space from 30th December for daily reports on the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt. 

You can also follow results as they come in on this page or via our Twitter feed. Happy hunting!

Tuesday 19 December 2017

New winter twig ID key!

Exciting news: John Poland - of Vegetative Key to the British Flora fame - is about to publish another book! 

We've been hearing rumours for some time that John was working on an ID key to winter twigs and it looks as though we're about to get lucky!

John was at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting running a winter twig ID quiz. He told me: 

"At this time of year I think a lot of botanists hibernate or yearn for the forthcoming season. However there is plenty to see in winter, even with snow on the ground! 

"Planted (and native) trees, shrubs and woody climbers [collectively known as xylophytes] are often ignored yet they quietly enrich our lives and provide a great deal of curiosity for those fascinated with novel ID characters. 

"Just my lunchtime walk around the local streets and green spaces yields 81 species of deciduous woody plant. I’m sure some News & Views readers can beat 100 in an hour!"

So, a gauntlet thrown down by John and a new word for us to drop into our botanical conversations - "What is that xylophyte over there?" "Not sure, my xylophyte ID skills are very poor - I'll certainly be buying John Poland's book when it comes out..."  

John has produced a flyer about his xylophyte ID book - you can download it here to find out more. If you'd like to go on John's mailing list and receive an alert once he's ready to publish, you can email him at 

The line drawings are being done by Robin Walls, County Recorder for Dorset - there's an example of Robin's work above.

While we're waiting for the book to come out, John has provided a few illustrations of xylophytes - why not have a go at identifying them?

There's no prize for guessing them correctly, just a smug feeling and the chance to astonish your friends with your knowledge of - here comes that word again - xylophytes! 

I'll post the answers after the weekend. 

Good luck!

Saturday 16 December 2017

Can you help the North West Rare Plant Initiative?

One of the few remaining plants of Genista anglica
at Highfield Moss, 2017
Image: J. Styles
Back in August, we brought you a report on the new North West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI) which had just been set up by botanist Josh Styles, known to News & Views readers as a BSBI Plant Study Grant recipient and one of our keenest next generation botanists.

The idea behind the initiative is to earmark species on the cusp of regional extinction, with the intention of reintroducing them into areas where suitable situations exist. 

So the NWRPI has a lot in common with a similar project in Leicestershire called Genebank55.

Joshua exhibited a poster about the initiative at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting - if you missed the meeting, you can download Josh's poster from this page.

Gnaphalium sylvaticum
Image: K. Walker
I asked Josh how he was getting on with the initiative and if there was anything BSBI botanists could do to help support him. 

Josh said: "Most species that are considered to be a priority (see a full list of species and their conservation status on my websitehave been obtained and are now in cultivation including species such as Utricularia minor (Lesser Bladderwort), Wahlenbergia hederacea (Ivy-Leaved Bellflower) and Trollius europaeus (Globeflower). 

"I am currently discussing collaboration with Chester Zoo. 

"Though many species have been obtained and are now in cultivation, others cannot be obtained as they are either extinct, or very near extinction regionally. 

"These include: Gnaphalium sylvaticum (Heath Cudweed), Genista anglica (Petty Whin) and Gentiana pneumonanthe (Marsh Gentian). Without intervention, these species are or will soon be extinct in the entire north-west region.

3 of the 5 plants of Gentiana pneumonanthe
left in the region, Highfield Moss, 2017
Image: J. Styles
"Therefore, anyone who could source seed from any of these species would be very much appreciated (any postage and packing charges can be covered by myself). Please email me at to discuss. 

"Find out more on the North West Rare Plant Initiative on my website or download my poster from the BSBI Exhibition Meeting webpage." 

Many thanks to Josh for this update on the North West Rare Plant Initiative - fingers crossed that some of you can help him source seed for some of his target species. We're obviously talking here about seed that has been legally collected and sustainably harvested. If you're in any doubt about what this means, the BSBI Code of Conduct will prove helpful - you can download it from the BSBI Resources page here

If you'd like to find out a bit more about Heath Cudweed and Globeflower, you can download BSBI Species Accounts from this page

Friday 15 December 2017

Note from the Stoke Herbarium

Always a pleasure to hear from Martin Godfrey who sends notes from the Stoke herbarium, where he is a regular volunteer, whenever he spots something of interest to News & Views readers. Over to Martin:

"A continuing project at the Stoke herbarium is to review and catalogue a lot of non-Staffordshire specimens which haven’t been looked at since their arrival over 30 years ago. The bulk is, as might be imagined, very ordinary material but there are a lot of really rare things collected from the first half of the last century and the final decades of the 19th. If every botanist collected rarities like this I am surprised that there is anything left growing on Ben Lawers!

"However I thought I would like to show you a specimen of a species which I have certainly never seen before and until now had barely heard of – Crassula aquatica (as Tillaea on the sheet). This specimen [photo on right] is from the site of its discovery in Britain and this record, at least, isn’t in the BSBI Database.  

"It is extinct at its only site in England – discovered in 1921 it was gone, according to Peter Sell, in 1938 and, according to Clive Stace, 1945. It was rediscovered in 1969 at a single site in Scotland. Its status seems a bit odd too. It is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere but gets only a note in the back of Pete Stroh’s England Red List as a naturalised neophyte, whereas in Crawley and Stace’s Alien Plants it is noted as probably a self-introduced native.

"The irony of this is that this odd little plant appears to be extinct in England and very rare in Scotland despite the rather “predatory” habits of its relative Crassula helmsii."

Thanks to Martin for bringing this "odd little plant" to our attention - here's its distribution map so you can play 'spot the dot'!  

Sunday 10 December 2017

Genebank55: conserving plant species at local level

Packed exhibition hall at BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2017
The Genebank55 poster is on the left.
Image: J.  Mitchley 
For anyone who was unable to attend the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting, we are starting to upload some of the 38 exhibits to this page and have invited exhibitors to tell us a bit more about their projects, latest books, interesting plant finds etc.

First up is a poster by Anna Farrell and Richard Gornall (University of Leicester Botanic Garden) about Genebank55, an initiative to conserve the seeds of locally threatened plants with a view to re-introducing them at some point in the future into suitable local receptor sites. 

Richard said: "We have been losing plant species from our two counties, Leicestershire and Rutland (VC55) at an average rate of 1.5 per year. Some are down to a few individuals. One conservation approach is to take seeds of threatened species into the protective custody of a genebank. This allows the storage of large numbers of individuals from different local populations. 

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem
Image: Pete Stroh
"This is important because it preserves locally adapted genotypes, valuable for scientific research and possible re-introduction. The initiative complements on a local scale the largely international work of RBG Kew's Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.

BSBI members can read more about Genebank55 in the September 2017 issue of BSBI News, which focuses on one of the first beneficiaries of the initiative. It tells how twelve bulbs of what appears to be the last population in VC55 of Gagea lutea (Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem) were taken (with the landowner's permission and full co-operation) and have been grown on at the University of Leicester Botanic GardenAlthough Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem is listed as of Least Concern on the England Red List, it is on the Rare Plant Register for Leicestershire & Rutland

As the BSBI News article, by Richard, Anna and Dr Geoffrey Hall, County Recorder for Leics. & Rutland, points out, "Although there is a strong case to be made for better protection of wild plants by means of habitat management, there is also a good argument for ex situ conservation, either by growing the plants in botanic gardens or by storing seeds in gene-banks". 

Take a look at the poster, which you can download from this page, and see what you think about this initiative. Leave a comment below! 

Saturday 9 December 2017

What Kevin did next: Part Two

On Wednesday we brought you news of botanist Kevin Widdowson's poster (on right) showing the fruits of some British and Irish wild flowers and asked if you could guess what they were.

The list giving names of all the plants featured is shown at the foot of this page - did you get many right? Click on the images to see them at full size.

We also featured photos on Wednesday of two extra mystery fruits, just for News & Views readers. They are shown on this page again today, but this time we can tell you what they are! 

One of the mystery plants is a Kidney Vetch (below) and the other is a Shepherd's-purse (on left) which has a special significance for the Widdowson family.

Elizabeth Widdowson, one of Kevin's three daughters, is officially The Measurer of the Tallest Shepherd's-purse Reported to Date in the World, as confirmed in January 2016 by Dr Tim Rich who wrote the BSBI Handbook on this family of plants (Crucifers of Great Britain & Ireland). 

Head over here to read the whole story and find out why Dr Tim thought that Elizabeth, then aged seven, should have double pocket money for her excellent work on Shepherd's-purse.

Kevin's fruity poster has been a huge success - he's been inundated with requests and keeps having to reprint another batch! I asked Kevin how he felt about this success and, modest as ever, he said:

"I'm completely overwhelmed by the response to my fruit poster. I can't quite believe that over 100 people have shown enough interest in it to buy one. I've got a real sense of achievement in having made something that people enjoy both looking at and learning from".

If you'd like to own your own copy of Kevin's poster, best head over here quickly before this latest batch is sold out. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter here and enjoy his wonderful wild flower photos free of charge whenever you like!