Forays into Botany

So, welcome to my blog! If you’d like to know more about me and my interests, please do read the ‘About’ section. As for this, my first post, I’m going to talk about something which is, to me, completely different – Botany.

I’ve always been an animals girl, with the plants mostly providing pleasant background colour to the land of the furred and feathered. However, due to my current need/desire to upskill, I’ve started taking an interest in the plants… and there are so many of them!Herbarium

Currently, I’m working on teaching myself wild flowers, and it brings me back to what fundamentally got me interested in nature as a child, just being curious about the things around you, and the satisfaction in being able to put a name to it. In just a few weeks I’ve hugely increased my identification skills by collecting samples out in the field and keying them out at home; I then stick them into my old herbarium book which I started when I was about 15 and abandoned shortly after. I highly recommend starting a herbarium for anyone who is interested in learning plants, you end up with a beautiful, tactile portfolio, full of old samples eventually crackled and discoloured with age, but still fragrant and delicate. At the minute, I’m using Collins Complete Irish Wildlife” and Appletree Press’s “Trees & Shrubs” and “Wild Flowers” for identification. The former is a great all-round wildlife guide, which is a handy size for taking out in the field; however it doesn’t really provide enough information for keying out the trickier plants; the Appletree books are beautifully produced with gorgeous illustrations and anecdotes about historical uses of particular plants, however once again, it’s not a comprehensive guide (and I don’t think it ever intended to be).

Recently, I took part in a field trip to the Burren with a group of ecologists and botanists from Northern Ireland, seeking the Burren’s beautiful and rare species. The Burren is a region in Co. Clare in the the south-west of Ireland which has a limestone pavement (karst) landscape. Because of it’s unusual geology, it is home to a number of rare arctic and alpine plant species which are only found in this part of the country. For me, the highlight was seeing spring gentians (Gentiana verna) a stunning little blue flower which just pops with colour against the barren rock. Another highlight was the fly orchid Ophrys insectifera, this amazing little plant attracts pollinators by producing flowers which mimic the appearance of flies (hence the name), it also releases a scent which mimics the female sexual pheromones of bees and wasps; the pollinators attempt to mate with the flowers and pollinate them in the process. Isn’t evolution just fascinating?

Yesterday, I seized the opportunity to go a bit more hardcore and attended a workshop on grass identification. The workshop was run by Lynda Weekes, a botanist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre, and with the help of her extremely useful book “Identification guide to Ireland’s grasses“, we learned the fundamentals of grass identification and even successfully keyed out grasses in the field, something which would have been an impossible dream two days ago.

The world of plants is a big one, as I am learning, and right now I’m just trying to get a handle on the common wildflowers and tree species but it just goes to show what you can achieve with a bit of help from an expert, a good field guide and some persistence!

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