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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @BSBIbotany using the #NewYearPlantHunt hashtag.
Here's to Day Two of the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt!