As a naturalist, plants have always been my Achilles heel; diverse to a fault and forever conspiring to flummox.
Whereas I was brought up identifying and observing birds, and have learnt to [somewhat] accurately tell apart various other fauna, for me, plants have always proven tricky. Why? I am not sure, but perhaps this is down to sheer numbers – there are just so many of them out there. Many more if you include the hundreds of garden escapes currently growing in the wild. They are also – with some exceptions – difficult to tell apart. To my untrained eye, one Forget-me-not appears just like any other, various speedwells merge into one daunting mass of blue, and grasses? Don’t even get me started.
Over the past year, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to ‘getting to grips’ with my local plant life, to limited success. I have encountered some eye-catching and quite scarce species, bettered my basic identification skills and have logged around 2000 biological records. Albeit, mostly of common, unmistakable plants: the tenacious beasties that poke defiantly through the patio or seed themselves with gusto amid the bedding plants – the daisies, dead-nettles and ground elders of this world. Throughout all of this, I have developed a begrudging love of plants. They may be a daunting group but they provide many reasons for admiration.
Plants are beautiful, there’s no denying it, the very reason humans have fawned over wildflowers for centuries. Colour, texture, flower shape, each plant is different and each is unique; though the joy of plants goes far beyond their mere appearance. Our little green friends are probably the most tenacious group of lifeforms out there (excluding the obvious bacteria, tardigrades and other microorganisms). Plants get everywhere, and try as we may, we find it difficult to conquer them as we have over taxa. Even in the great, grey dead-zones that are our cities, it is impossible to walk more than a step without noting at least something green. The dandelion growing in the cracked pavement, the ivy marching skywards up the side of a decrepit garage, or the non-native buddleja rooted in a ludicrously tiny patch of dirt between the brickwork of a supermarket. Plants are everywhere.
It this tendency for plants to infiltrate all corners of our daily lives that highlights perhaps their greatest asset: they provide everyone, regardless of circumstance, free-time or location, with an opportunity to experience a little bit of nature each day. Birds are unreliable, mammals elusive, invertebrates are sporadic but plants? Well, they’re always there, quietly existing in one form or another, often unnoticed. Steadfast and reliable.
Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)
365 Days of Plants
With a burgeoning appreciation of everything leafy and green, and in an effort to not only better my identification skills but ensure I consume my recommended daily dose of nature – we know the value of time spent outside – I have decided to set myself a challenge as we head into the new year. One which should (in theory) prove both enjoyable and outright educational.
In 2020, I will be committing to #365DaysofBotany: a personal challenge to find, appreciate and share a different plant for each day of the year. Starting in the depths of winter, on New Years Day, I will aim to keep this lighthearted, sharing images, scientific names, observations and maybe the odd fact, but will also set myself two rules:
- No captive foliage – non-natives and fence-hoppers are fine, but all plants must be found in a wild state.
- Photos must be provided. If only to force me outside, regardless of weather conditions.
Disclaimer: I am not a botanist (or at least a very good one). Doubtless, there will be misidentifications, and I will not be striving to share any great outpourings of plant-based wisdom. This will be an exercise in appreciation, first and foremost; though one I suspect with the potential to educate me greatly.
I will be sharing my daily observations on Twitter and Instagram, so please feel free to follow my progress there using the hashtags #365DaysOfBotany and #365DaysOfPlants. I will also strive to keep this blog updated regularly; perhaps through weekly summaries. We will see!
There are around 2591 species of plants in Britain, so getting to grips with 365 shouldn’t be all that difficult, right? *gulps*
Let the year of the plant commence…
Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)