Wednesday 26 February 2020

British & Irish Botany: Vol 2 Issue 1 out now

Papaver atlanticum recorded by Chris
June 2016, Cambridge
Image: C. Preston
The latest issue of British & Irish Botany has just been published and it's a corker! There are six papers and a short note. The entire content is Open Access, freely available to everyone whether or not you are a BSBI member. You could head straight over here and start reading but as a bit of an appetiser, why not let me and Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm talk you through some of the delights in store...

Our first paper is by eminent Cambridgeshire botanist Chris Preston, one of the co-authors of the celebrated New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora. Titled 'The phenology of an urban street flora: a transect study', the idea behind the paper arose from Chris's participation in the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt back in 2016. He decided to "repeat the exercise at monthly intervals" so the paper "reports the results of four years’ recording, from January 2016 to December 2019, as a contribution to our knowledge of the phenology of plants in urban habitats". Phenology - the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year - is having a bit of a 'moment' as this recent blogpost about Nature's Calendar shows.

Helosciadium x longipedunculatum
Image: J. Webb
Next up there's a paper by Dr Stuart Desjardins, an early-career researcher at Univ Leicester, and colleagues. It's great to see the next generation of botanists choosing to publish in British & Irish Botany! Stuart is obviously a big fan of the carrot family, and particularly of hybrids within the family - he previously published in New Journal of Botany, the predecessor to British & Irish Botany, about the hybrid between Fool's watercress Helosciadium nodiflorum and Lesser Marshwort Helosciadium inundatum. BSBI members can view this paper, and all the others in New Journal of Botany, via the password-protected, members-only area of our website

The new paper by Stuart and colleagues covers similar ground - over to Ian to tell us more: "Long-standing suspicions of genetic introgression between Fool’s Watercress Helosciadium nodiflorum and the nationally rare Creeping Marshwort H. repens at the latter’s locus classicus at Port Meadow, Oxford, receive molecular support by Stuart Desjardins and colleagues, including Oxfordshire's Judy Webb. Three specimens were examined that showed morphological intermediacy. Two of these are confirmed as the first generation hybrid between H. nodiflorum and H. repens, which receives the formal hybrid epithet H. x longipedunculatum".

Cotula alpina
Image: K. Walker
Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, has teamed up with BSBI County Recorders from North-west Yorkshire and Wester Ross to consider Cotula alpina (Upland Leptinella) naturalised in northern England and northwest Scotland. This buttonweed appears to be spreading rapidly where it occurs and the authors suggest that it "could pose a threat to localized species associated with short grassland on acidic soils". Once you've read the paper you can click through to reports on Cotula alpina by Duncan Donald, County Recorder for Wester Ross, to find out more. 

For hawkweed Hieracium fans, we have two papers by Tim Rich and colleagues. Hawkweed identification is arguably one of the most challenging things a botanist can attempt and I'll admit that they are way beyond my pay grade. Fortunately there are two new BSBI Handbooks on hawkweeds in the pipeline. One, on hawkweeds of south-east England, is due out very soon and will hopefully make life easier for all of us! Meanwhile, over to Ian to tell us more about the two new hawkweed papers and why they are important:

Taraxacum pseudomarklundii:
an "enigmatic dandelion" from South Devon
Image: J. Richards
"Just about all our Hieracium taxa are obligate apomicts (seeds ripen without fertilisation), giving rise to a large number of ‘microspecies’ or ‘agamospecies’ with characteristic morphologies that are retained in the absence of sexual recombination. Using keys in Clive Stace’s Flora of the British Isles and elsewhere, plants can usually be assigned to Sections – the first tier of taxonomic separation. Going further than this is still the realm of the specialist, and one consequence of this complexity is that new taxa are still regularly being recorded and described. In this issue, Dave McCosh, Tim Rich and colleagues provide a formal description of three new species in the Section Stelligera that are attributed to the late Vince Jones, who first discovered them at locations in northern England. A second paper by Tim designates type specimens for species in Section Foliosa, in preparation for the forthcoming BSBI Handbook and guide to identification".

Next up, eminent Taraxacologist (dandelion expert) Prof John Richards has teamed up with John Day, BSBI County Recorder for Worcestershire, to bring us a short note about what they describe as "an enigmatic dandelion" found in Devon so in keeping with the air of mystery I'm not going to tell you any more about this one! But you can admire the image above of this Mona Lisa of dandelions... 

Hart's pennyroyal in NE Yorkshire
Image: A. Baker
Dandelions, like hawkweeds, can be very hard to ID to species - we all know what a dandelion is but few people realise that there are c300 different species! Like the hawkweeds mentioned above, they are apomicts and need to be put into Sections before you go any further. 

Fortunately there are some really helpful keys to the Sections, prepared by Prof Richards and published in the Plant Crib. You can find them here under Taraxacum and they are all free to download. If you will be in southwest Scotland in early May, there's also an opportunity to learn more about dandelions at the feet of the master: John is leading a Taraxacum training workshop in Portpatrick and there are still some spaces available. More details here.   

A paper by Ambroise Baker, about Mentha cervina Hart's pennyroyal, an aquatic alien mint recently found naturalised in north-east Yorkshire, possibly linked to climate change, rounds off this issue. Ian and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we all enjoyed working on it. So get a cup of tea, sit back, click on the link and enjoy British & Irish Botany 2.1.

Sunday 23 February 2020

Wild Flower Hour: interview with Rebecca Wheeler

From left: Isabel, Janette & Rebecca
Image: I. Hardman
Wild Flower Hour has become something of a social media phenomenon in recent years! Every Sunday evening between 8-9pm, people share photos of any wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the previous week across Britain and Ireland. From small beginnings in 2015 when founder Isabel Hardman invited BSBI to promote and support the initiative, Wild Flower Hour now regularly "trends" on Twitter and has proved a great way for plant-lovers to come together, compare notes and get ID help from friendly botanists. 

There's a bit more about the history of Wild Flower Hour here and we introduce you to some of the people involved. But most of us would agree that these days, the main person behind the success of Wild Flower Hour is BSBI member Rebecca Wheeler aka @botany_beck

I caught up with Rebecca to find out how she got involved in Wild Flower Hour. But first I asked her to tell us a bit more about herself and her botanical life:

Rebecca (on left) with members of Liverpool
Botanical Society at Altcar,
admiring the green-winged orchids
RW: For as long as I can remember I have always loved plants. In fact my mum likes to tell the story that after saying mum & dad as a baby my first proper word was ‘flower’. Both my parents and grandparents were keen gardeners and growing up I had my own little patch and I used to spend much of my pocket money buying plants and seeds. It was mum though that introduced me to wild flowers giving me her fathers copy of Keble Martin and teaching me the scientific names which I loved. I used to spend many hours poring over the beautiful illustrations and the orchid pages held a particular fascination to me. I went on to study horticulture and for a time worked as a garden designer before diversifying into teaching and then becoming a forest school practitioner.

Rebecca out with the Warrington Plant
Group and the "biggest patch of common
cow-wheat in the world!" 
LM: So that was your background, but how did you first get involved in Wild Flower Hour?

RW: I had enrolled on the online Identiplant course when I first discovered Wild Flower Hour. I can still recall the moment when I stumbled across it, it seemed quite magical to me, a charming colourful tumble of wildflower tweets which really brightened up my Sunday evening and the realisation that there was this wonderful community of friendly and knowledgeable people that were also mad about plants!!! I participated for the next few months, #wildflowerhour becoming a key focus of my walks and driving my family mad as I dived into hedgerows and it was responsible for me always lagging behind! 

Broad-leaved helleborine
Image: R. Wheeler
Then in 2017 Isabel advertised on Twitter for volunteers, I jumped at the chance and that is when I became involved in helping to run the @wildflower_hour account.

LM: And now you run the WFH social media accounts…

RW: Yes, we're on Twitter under the @wildflower_hour account and when people tweet, they add the #wildflowerhour hashtag; we're also on Facebook and on Instagram.

LM: And of course you are the woman behind the Wild Flower Hour challenges! What was your thinking behind the creation of the challenges?

RW: The thinking behind Wild Flower Hour and the challenges is to get people looking and noticing all these wonderful wildflowers some of which are of course small and easily overlooked, but when you take the time to really study and observe them are just fascinating!! For me looking and noticing is the first step to naming and then caring and becoming passionate about plants. You can’t care and fight for things that you don’t know about or notice and that for me is the driving force behind what I do for Wild Flower Hour. 

Rebecca photographing
bird's-nest orchid
The challenges are planned to be fun and engaging, focusing people’s attention on different habitats and particular plant families. Wild Flower Hour founder Isabel Hardman once said that ‘#wildflowerhour is the gateway to serious botany’ and I think she is absolutely right! Learning is memorable when it is fun and people’s interest is piqued and they want to learn more!

LM: I know that #thewinter10 challenge, which has been running over the last few months, finishes at the end of February so what is the next challenge coming up? And I think we go to weekly challenges now?

RW: Yes #thewinter10 finishes at the end of February with the weekly challenge programme beginning at the start of March. This season we will be teaming up with the Nature’s Calendar team for some challenges and the first will be the Colt’s-foot challenge! An exciting development which means that throughout the year #wildflowerhour finds will directly contribute to research into the effects of climate change. 

Close-up of the
bird's-nest orchid
Image: R. Wheeler
LM: Ooh yes! On Friday, we featured a guest blogpost by Judith from the Nature’s Calendar team, so that’s another way that people can share info about which wild or naturalised flowers they are seeing in bloom, and when. I love the way that New Year Plant Hunt, Wild Flower Hour and Nature's Calendar all give people a way to get involved in the botanical community! I think that if people have tried and enjoyed any of these three activities, they will probably like all three.

RW: Absolutely! I think it’s fantastic that we have these strong links and support each other and would encourage people to try recording for Nature’s Calendar or to participate in the fantastic New Year Plant Hunt if they have not already as they will hugely enjoy it!

LM: So to close, what are the plans for Wild Flower Hour going forward?

RW: At Wild Flower Hour we are passionate about making plant identification fun and accessible for beginners, we have just launched a new series of top tips by Moira O’ Donnell (@nervousbotanist) which has been a great success.

Some of the Wild Flower Hour gang on an outing!
From left: Linden, Barry, Martin, Rebecca,
Moira & Josh
LM: Yes! Hope it's ok if I butt in here to say that we've shared links to two of Moira's ID sheets for Wild Flower Hour on our new Plant ID: getting started page and Moira (also a BSBI member) has very kindly agreed to do a blogpost for us next week about how to find wild flower ID info and resources on social media. I'm really looking forward to that!

RW: Moira really is amazing - every Sunday, and all throughout the week, she answers queries under the #wildflowerID hashtag and very generously gives her time to help with identifications.

LM: Yes and she is always so patient and helpful with people - as well as being a really good botanist!

From left: Moira, Rebecca & Louise (BSBI
Comms Officer) at BSBI 2018 Exhibition Meeting

Image: R. Horton 
RW: Going forward I would like to see guest features by experienced botanists to deepen people’s knowledge.
A subject close to my own heart is to keep on spreading the word about how vital wildflowers are for wildlife – they are the foundation upon which so many other species depend. With this in mind @Wildflower_hour started a new hashtag #WildWebsWednesday where folks can share pictures of the species they have found dependent on wild plants.
Above all to keep on celebrating our beautiful and fascinating wild flora with as many people as possible!!!

Well said Rebecca and many thanks for talking to us. Don't forget that Wild Flower Hour happens this evening and every Sunday 8-9pm but before that, there's an extra treat: author Brigit Strawbridge will be on BBC Countryfile this evening looking at snowdrops in Dorset and then she'll be trying to find #thewinter10 for Wild Flower Hour. So from social media to primetime TV, our wonderful wild flowers are having their moment in the spotlight! Rebecca, Moira, Isabel, Brigit and I are all - as you would expect - absolutely delighted about this and we hope you will be too :-)

Friday 21 February 2020

Nature’s Calendar, New Year Plant Hunt and #WildFlowerHour – how to get your phenology fix!

Hazel: first flowering
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
Judging by the increasing numbers of people taking part in the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt each year (1,714 people in 2020) and talking about which plants they find in bloom in the depths of winter, and the growing number of people who take part in #wildflowerhour every Sunday evening, sharing images of wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the previous week, it's clear that lots of us are fascinated by which plants are in flower and when. 

We also regularly find people asking BSBI on social media, "this seems early compared to last year" and "is anyone else spotting this plant in bloom in their local area?".

This whole subject area is called phenology and I asked somebody who knows a lot about it to tell us more. Over to Judith, Citizen Science Officer at Nature's Calendar: 

Some of the plants Judith spotted in bloom
during  New Year Plant Hunt 2020
Image: Judith Garforth 
"I took part in the New Year Plant Hunt this year because phenology, the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year, is something I find absolutely fascinating. 

"Whilst out on a family walk on New Year’s day, I made a note of the wildflowers I saw and submitted my records to the BSBI to help scientists investigate how wildflowers are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns.

"I think most people have an awareness of the annual timings of natural events, especially in the UK where we have such marked seasons and love to talk about the weather. Have you ever thought ‘the daffodils are early this year’ or are you aware of what’s in flower around the time of your birthday? 

Beech: leaf unfurling
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"As a child I always used to go blackberry picking in the last week of the summer holiday because I knew the bramble fruits would be ripe by then. I could be sure there would be heaps of fallen leaves to kick through on bonfire night. So we’re all natural phenologists really (even if you’ve never heard of the word).

"Some people take that natural awareness one step further and keep detailed records from year to year. A lady called Jean Combes, for example, started recording the date of oak budburst every year when she was a child and continued to do so all through her adult life (she is now in her 90s). Her records have become famous and used by scientists interested in the impact of a changing climate on trees and wildlife. Her records show that budburst has got earlier during her life time although there is huge variation from year to year due to the weather. She has been awarded an OBE for her work!

Beech: full autumn tinting
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"Records like these kept by individuals are hugely important but only give scientists a snapshot of information from a single location in the UK. In 1998 a UK wide recorder network was established by Tim Sparks. It’s called Nature’s Calendar and is run by the Woodland Trust. It’s a citizen science project so anyone can take part but you don’t need to be a scientist!

"So if you enjoyed the New Year Plant Hunt and look forward to seeing snowdrops flowering in the spring, collecting ripe blackberries in summer, watching leaves change colour in autumn and spotting birds migrating for winter, Nature’s Calendar is the project for you. There are 69 different trees, shrubs, flowers, birds, grasses and fungi to look out for and record throughout the year.

"Records submitted to the Nature’s Calendar project, via the website, go into a phenology database and are used by scientists to investigate what effect recent weather has had on wildlife and - over the longer term - how wildlife is responding to climate change across the UK. The database contains nearly 3 million records dating back to 1736 but new recorders are always needed to continue the project into the next decade and beyond.

Lesser celandine first flowering
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"I personally enjoy recording trees, shrubs and flowers for Nature’s Calendar. I share my Nature’s Calendar flower sightings during #wildflowerhour on twitter (8-9pm every Sunday). This is another phenology fix for me! It’s so interesting to see which wildflowers are flowering each week. If you also take part, look out for the upcoming Nature’s Calendar challenges!"

Many thanks to Judith and her colleagues at Nature's Calendar for telling us about this excellent project. There's more to come about the series of Nature's Calendar challenges currently being planned by the Wild Flower Hour team in the next few days, when we feature an exclusive interview with Rebecca Wheeler, BSBI member and the woman behind much of the recent success of Wild Flower Hour: watch this space! 

Saturday 8 February 2020

Botanical University Challenge 2020

We brought you an interview last February with Prof John Warren, founder of Botanical University Challenge (BUC), when the event was being held at University of Reading. That was the second BUC; the first was held in 2016 at RBG Kew and we are now looking forward to the third BUC on Wednesday 19th February - it's shaping up to be an annual event.

Organiser Meriel Jones said "This one day event is happening this year at Ness Botanic Gardens in Liverpool. BUC is when teams of university students compete about all things botanical. UK wild plants and ecology, terminology, plant identification and diversity, food plants, plants in UK and world culture – indeed all the interests of the enthusiastic botanist! This is a great early Spring event to inspire you to look again at the plants around you.

"Teams will come from universities including Liverpool, Edge Hill, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Lancaster, York and Reading Universities.

"It will be held in the Lecture Theatre at the Visitors Centre, Ness Botanic Gardens, CH64 4AY, starting 2 pm. The event is free but you'll need to book a ticket in advance  please via Eventbrite: This does not include entry to Ness Botanic Gardens - that is charged at normal winter rates".

There is a Twitter account for the event if you'd like to find out more, and you'll be able to follow the action on social media on the day via the hashtag #BUC2020   

John Warren said "As Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee, I am delighted to see Botanical University Challenge happening again in 2020.

"Despite the apparent decline in plant biology at university level, BUC reveals that many students are still fired up by botany and have an impressive depth and range of knowledge of all things green. It is also pleasing to see it being organised in the north for the first time this year and attracting several new teams. It is being organised by Liverpool University at Ness Gardens. Last year's winners, Reading, are returning to defend their title and competition is sure to be intense". 

If you can't make it along to the event in person, don't forget to keep an eye on the BUC hashtag from 2pm on 19th February and see how many BSBI botanists you can spot in the eight teams. Past participants include well-known next generation botanists such as Josh Styles and George Garnett. Cheering your favourite team or player on from the safety of your own computer is definitely allowed!