Friday, 30 May 2014

Identifying plants is a hard-won skill.

Most people think identifying plants is easy- "It's not hard, anyone can do it", they glibly say. An excellent quote below from Dr. M. (aka Jonathan Mitchley from Reading University) talking about teaching botany debunks the myth. To do it, you need:

"Skills such as looking carefully at plants, taking in all the vegetative and floral details using the hand lens, practicing keying using the veg key and the Book of Stace and checking the results carefully by reading the descriptions and making sure the plant fits the description. Important skills these, and skills which can be taught, but which can only really be learned through botanical dedication, concentration and love!"

How very true! 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Sedge mayhem

After the group's last visit to Fosse Meadows, I was checking the characters of some waterside sedges and noticed a glaring discrepancy in the literature. The ligule shape is a distinctive feature in some species, for example, it is obtuse in Carex riparia (Greater Pond-sedge), but acute in Carex acutiformis (Lesser Pond-sedge). Both of these species have 3 stigmas and produce 3-sided nuts, so the ligule character aids identification. Another, more infrequently found species, is Carex acuta (Slender Tufted-sedge) which has 2 stigmas, and produces 2-sided, biconvex nuts, and so, can be easily separated from the previous two species. But, if you haven't got stigmas and ripe nuts, you are forced to rely on vegetative characters. The BSBI handbook Sedges of the British Isles and The Vegetative Key to the British Flora agree that the ligule of C. riparia is obtuse, and that the ligule of C. acutiformis is acute, but they differ about C. acuta. The Sedge Book says its ligule is obtuse, whereas The Vegetative Key says it is acute. The 'Book of Stace' doesn't use ligule characters, so is no help. What to do? Who is right? How does this happen? Perhaps someone out there on the Plant ID course or the Botany for Beginners course can help.


Ligule of Carex acutiformis

Ligule of Carex riparia

Monday, 26 May 2014

Volunteering opportunity for botanists

Working on specimens
Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust
Alex Nicholson-Evans, Volunteer Development Officer for Birmingham Museums Trust, has been in touch with details of an interesting opportunity.

Alex says "I’m on the look out for some volunteers to join a unique project with us, working on our botany collections at the Museums Collections Centre in Birmingham for a few months. It’s a one day a week role just until September, but it’s a really special chance to get hands-on time with our 50,000 botanical specimens! 

One of the storerooms
Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust
"I’m trying to get the word out to specialists and people with a real interest, in the hope we can find someone who will really get a lot out of the role, as well as helping us with a pretty sizeable project! The successful applicant will be working solely on the botany collection, unless they particularly enjoy the work and want to stay on beyond September!"

You can see details of the role on their website and I've uploaded the role profile and application form to the VC55 Google Drive page - just click on the links. Many thanks to Alex for also sending the images shown here.
Posted by Louise

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Fosse Meadows

Lovely weather for our visit to Fosse Meadows on Wednesday. 

There were twelve of us, including Raita and Ann from the Friends of Fosse Meadows. 

More details to follow once Russell has typed up the species list, although we did spot a few nice things, like Pulicaria dysenterica, spotted by Graham Calow. 

For now, you'll have to be happy with a couple of my photographs!

Posted by Louise

Muston Meadows Green-winged orchid count

Steve shows us where to go!
Image: L. Marsh
We repeated the Green-winged orchid count at Muston Meadows NNR on Wednesday 21st May. 

Five members of the BSBI VC55 group, including Chris Hill from LRWT, joined Steve Hall and Roger Briggs (Natural England) to survey four fields on the reserve. Steve and Roger brought their clickers with them. Which was nice. Many thanks to them both for inviting us to do the count for the second year.

You could see the pattern of the 'ridge and furrow' and we surveyed by each walking along the top of a ridge and noting what was growing on it and in the adjacent furrow. 

From left: Meadow Buttercup, GWO, Russell and clicker.
Image: L. Marsh
Cue lots of pointing and calls of "you have that patch, I'll take this one" "did you see that one there in the grass?" etc.

Although we did the count at the same time of year as in 2013, the grass was a lot longer this time and the orchids more advanced.

But you just want to know the grand total, don't you? So you can compare it with last year

Drum-roll please....

Chris displays the grand total: 26,081 flowering spikes
Image: S. Hall
Posted by Louise

Thursday, 15 May 2014

More Sanicle than you could shake a stick at...

It's so nice when a field meeting coincides with a golden May evening - the sunlight was just lovely as we assembled this evening... and so we went into the deep dark woods!

Piper Wood is an ancient woodland scraplet (records dating back to  C14th apparently) so it was hardly surprising that we found no fewer than 9 Ancient Woodland criterion species (from this Local Wildlife Sites list for Leics.).

Hannah, Jerry & Lamiastrum galeobdolon
Russell (co-ordinating this evening's meeting) did a great job getting us all into the woodland and not side-tracked by plants on the verge where we parked! We spent about 2 hours walking the circular track through the woods. Public access via a footpath so feel free to try the same walk yourself and see which plants you can spot from the path.  

Galium odoratum
Russell also filled in the recording card tonight and is typing it up for us - thanks Russell! - but from memory, we had a good 80 species including these criterion species: 

Anemone nemorosa Wood Anemone
Galium odoratum Sweet Woodruff
Lamiastrum galeobdolon Yellow Archangel (the real thing, not the garden escape/cultivar with those silver blotches)
Luzula sylvatica Great Wood-rush
Lysimachia nemorum Yellow Pimpernel
Millium effusum Wood Melick
Oxalis acetosella Wood Sorrel
Veronica montana Wood Speedwell
And we all agreed that we had never seen so much Sanicula europaea Sanicle in one wood. 

Dryopteris affinis
A couple of other nice finds were Carex remota and Dryopteris affinis - we had to look at last year's fronds to see the distinctive "black spot" where the pinna joins the rachis. 

Eleven of us out this evening - 10 botanists and Graham Finch, who did his own thing for most of the evening and will report back soon on his non-plant findings. Always good to hear what the Finches find. 

Nice to see Jerry and Richard again - I love the way we can all drop in to meetings as we please, even if it's been a year or two! Jerry pointed out some galls and has sent us this nice link, so we can compare old maps of Piper Wood.

Richard & Sam
Also great to meet new people - Sam has been on our mailing list for ages, but all the meetings have clashed until tonight. Lovely to put a name to a face at last! 

A very pleasant evening altogether :-) 

Posted by Louise and all pix by me. Bit less blurry than usual? 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Botany for Beginners gets off to a great start

Ian sets out our specimens for ID
Image: L. Marsh
The first module of Botany for Beginners kicked off this weekend with a tuition session on 'Wild Flowers of Woodlands and Glades'. 

The weather forecast was dreadful, so we made sure that there were lots of specimens available for the new students to look at. 

Here is Ian arranging some of the plants that he brought in from our list of ~80 woodland species recorded as occasional, frequent or abundant in VC55 in the recent Flora of Leicestershire &; Rutland by our BSBI County Recorder Mike Jeeves. 

Sally recording the flora of the Shiant Islands
Image L. Marsh 2013
Ian completed all five modules of Botany for Beginners in 2013, so he has come back this year as a Botanical Buddy to help people who are keying out plants for the first time. 

Sally Peacock also came down from Notts. With her teaching skills and considerable botanical expertise, she is an ideal co-tutor for this course. Sally really helped people find out how you go about identifying a wild flower. 
And we were delighted that plant-finder extraordinaire Brian Laney, from Northants., responded to our invitation for regional expert botanists to come along and share a few ID tips. Many thanks to all three of them for making it such a successful day! 

It's too late for you to join this module, but there are still a few spaces available on each of the other four modules. The next one is on 'Summer Meadow Flowers' - more info here

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Next BSBI55 meeting

Farm track by Piper Wood
Image: Wiki Commons
The next BSBI meeting will be held this Wednesday 14th May starting at 6.30 pm. 

We are visiting Piper Wood, the last remaining trace of a deer park first recorded in 1339. There are scant records in recent years, so this visit promises to be an exciting voyage of discovery.

Meet at SK475221, Ashby Road, B5324 on verge near Smithy Lane between Long Whatton & Shepshed. Here is a map and here is the link to the Doodle poll so that you can register if you wish to attend.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

VC55 group is off on a jaunt!

Uta has been liaising with the lovely Tim Pankhurst to arrange a rare visit for the group outside the county. So if you would like to see some of the iconic Breckland plants in the company of possibly the botanist who knows them best, please use this Doodle poll to register your interest in coming to Thetford Heath (Breckland) on 1st June. Once we know who wants to go, we can sort out car-sharing and lifts.

Petrorhagia prolifera
Image: J. Crellin
Uta says: "The Breckland is a unique landscape of sandy unstable heaths with continental climate and calcareous flora, and is one of the three most important botanical “hotspots” in England. Tim Pankhurst (Plantlife Regional Conservation Manager) has kindly offered to lead us to areas where Plantlife is carrying out a management and research project to restore and maintain populations of rare Breckland plant specialities such as Silene otites Spanish catchfly, Petrorhagia prolifera Proliferous pink  and Medicago minima Bur medick, to name but a few. Detailed information is provided on the Plantlife website.
Assembly point: Cranwich Camp (Car park at TL775 941 on north side of road).

The meeting starts at 11 and we will need at least 2 hours to get there. So, Uta suggests leaving at about 8.30 from Leicester. I'm not sure if Tim will put a limit on how many of us can attend - he may not realise that there are almost 300 of us in the local group! - so please register quickly if you are interested. We may have to operate a first-come, first-served, policy if everybody wants to come!

Posted by Louise

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Green-winged orchid count 2014

Green-winged Orchid
Image: I. Denholm
Last year, we carried out a count of the Green-winged Orchids at Muston Meadows National Nature Reserve, at the request of Natural England. Eleven members of the local BSBI group counted more than 26,000 flowering spikes on 22nd May 2013. Click here to see the photo of us at Muston.

Natural England have asked us to repeat the count: it's really helpful to see how populations of plants are faring from year to year. The Orchids are a little more advanced this year, so Steve at Natural England has suggested 3 suitable dates when some of their staff could join us and bring their snazzy clickers which make orchid-counting so easy.

Here is the Doodle link so you can vote on which date would be best for you. UPDATE: THIS MEETING HAS NOW BEEN FIXED FOR WEDS 21/5/2014 Assuming the thought of walking across a meadow full of orchids and simultaneously making a useful contribution to scientific research is something that might appeal to you :-)

PS Alyson Freeman (North Northants BSBI group) sends this invitation for orchid-lovers: 
"Would anyone like to join the Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes at the reserve on Saturday 24th May? We will be attempting to find and count Man Orchids, Orchis anthropomorpha.
Meet at the main car park at 10 am. Please let me know if you intend to come, so that we have an idea of how many to expect and can plan the work accordingly".

Posted by Louise