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.
|The visit to Prawle Point as part of |
the FSC 'Simply Wild Flowers' course
Image: C. Install
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
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
"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.
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).
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
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.
"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
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!