Vegging Out. Part 2.

Continuing getting to grips with vegetative plant identification.

Attempt #2. Petty Spurge.

Buoyed on by my success with the dandelion in my previous blog I ventured once again into my back yard with the aim of attempting to use The Vegetative Key to the British Flora to identify the first plant I saw. This meant ignoring 3 more dandelions for the sake of variety but in just a few steps I came across this unassuming little thing…

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I thought it might be petty spurge when I saw it. I don’t know spurges very well but I vaguely remember someone telling me once that a plant that looks a bit like this was petty spurge so I had an idea what it might be. Less confident than the dandelion which seemed appropriate for my next attempt.

The key took me through the following features (my descriptions below are not always direct quotes from the key):

    • Leaves simple
    • Leaf margin entire
    • Leaves with pinnate veins
    • Leaves alternate. This took me to Key K.
    • It’s a herb
    • Latex present:

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As you can see the latex is obvious (please excuse the close up of my thumb nail. I googled what ridges mean on finger nails and apparently it’s a sign of age. I am in my mid thirties which apparently is the age you start getting all gnarley).

  • Leaves all on stems but never clasping with auricles (Euphorbia). This is encouraging as spurges are in the Euphorbia genus. On to Key KH.
  • Leaves hairless
  • Leaves >2mm wide
  • Plant green. Ruderal.
ruderal
ˈruːd(ə)r(ə)l/
BOTANY
adjective
  1. 1.
    (of a plant) growing on waste ground or among rubbish.
noun

While I bristle slightly at this apparent slur on my back yard I accept it’s a green ruderal.

  • Annual with vertical tap root. This kind of feature could cause me problems when I’m carrying out surveys for my upcoming urban botany project in which I intend not to kill any specimens while identifying them, but for now while I’m learning I allowed myself to pluck this one up…

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And I was encouraged to see a pleasingly vertical, tap root.

  • This gets you to Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus).

This is easy, I thought. And I was of course quickly proved wrong. My next attempt was frustrating but useful. Blog to follow…

Thanks for reading. If you disagree with my IDs or have thoughts on the subject please comment. All feedback welcome.

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Vegging Out.

Getting to grips with vegetative plant identification.

This is The Vegetative Key to the British Flora by John Poland & Eric Clement:

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It’s a magic book that gives you the power to identify British plants in their vegetative state (no flowers) but leaves some of us mysteriously reluctant to use it.

I first heard of the book while doing a course in 2012. I was still getting my head around floral keys generally and the idea of vegetative ID was new to me. Someone asked Ros Bennett to recommend a vegetative key and she recommended Poland. She said it was good and that John Poland was younger than you’d imagine.

I went away and bought it with my usual good intentions, but as time went on and I began to gain a better understanding about how hard identifying plants with flowers was, the idea of attempting to ID them without got shelved along with bryophytes, diptera, Spanish and the ukulele.

Thing is, I knew it wasn’t going to be as hard as those. I had my copy with me when I attended an MMU day course in Shrewsbury, and Mark Duffel talked me through IDing something with it. The key is ever so slightly different to the usual dichotomous floras. It’s polychotomous with sometimes several options to choose from rather than the usual two. Mark drew a few lines in pencil on the opening key to major divisions and I got it…

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The polychotomous  thing really isn’t a big deal but it can be enough to put you off trying when you aren’t confident. So now I understood how it worked but I continued to procrastinate over veg ID. Four years after purchasing the key it still looked annoyingly new.

Well now I’ve given myself a project to do. As mentioned in my last couple of blogs I’m having a crack at producing a complete flora of the walls, gutters and random green places of Gorse Hill, where I live. Vegetative ID will be really useful to the project so I’m pulling my finger out and finally doing what I should have done all along and just use it so it.

I’m going to talk you though my practice attempts, where I went wrong, what I figured out etc, in the hope that it illustrates how good this key is and encourages a few people like me to get their copy out and have a go too.

Attempt #1. Dandelion.

I went into my back yard with the intention of IDing the first thing I saw. It’s a dandelion I thought. Let’s find out…

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The key took me through the following features (my descriptions below are not always direct quotes from the key):

  • The leaves are simple, not composed of leaflets.
  • The leaf margin is lobed.
  • The leaves are alternate. Now I got a bit stuck here because I didn’t realise they were alternate at first. That meant I went wrong and had to retrace my steps. Then I remembered someone had told me before how you tell if if a plant has alternate or opposite leaves by its basal rosette. I had a rummage through my old note pads (always keep your note pads) and found it! This took me to Key P.

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  • A non climbing herb.
  • Plant with latex (I tore a leaf off and there was clearly white latex on my fingers).
  • Hairs simple, smooth or absent. The alternatives here were hairs forked or scabrid which on inspection through a hand lens they clearly weren’t…

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  • Leaf midrib or leaf margins never spiny or prickly. Takes you to Key PG.
  • Leaves without large terminal lobe, often dandelion-like (with backward pointing lobes).
  • Petiole (leaf stem) hollow. Couldn’t get a photo but it was when you pinched it between your thumb and forefinger.
  • This gets you to Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg). There are subspecies of dandelion but this was good enough for me.

A good start. It didn’t take long. Next step will be to try something less familiar. Update to follow…

Urban Botany – A project for the coming season…

Thinking about urban botany…

Stretford in Manchester, where I live, has just the right degree of scruffiness. You can go about your business safely but it’s not so well to do that the walls and gutters have been stripped of the thin layer of soil that accumulates after autumn, and the little green things that grow there.

Back in 2013 when I was gathering data for my dissertation I had cause to cycle through Hale Barns, one of Greater Manchester’s posher corners, on my way to my survey site. As I did I would sometimes stop peddling and glide past the mansions, having a gawp, a little disappointed in myself at the twang of envy I felt. Not that I didn’t like my red brick terrace rental in Rusholme, but look at the size of those gardens, those trees, you could fit my whole place in some of the garages. But then I’d notice the walls, pavements and roads. Not a single thing lived outside the gates of those houses. It was as though someone had fastidiously swept up every last crumb of detritus, and plucked out every green shoot like an embarrassing floral mono-brow spoiling the neat and tidy face of Hale Barns.

I’ve lived in Stretford for a year now and am pleased to report there is no shortage of crud here!  I love it. I like seeing what different plants exploit what nooks and what crannies throughout the year. You get to know what’s in what garden or tree pit when you’re walking home. There’s a place on Taylor Street which I noticed early in the year had a blanket of either wild or barren strawberry growing in it. I’d glance in every time I walked past until one day, ‘there they are!’ A blanket of little strawberries. And the rosebay willowherb, and horsetail stems poking up here and there were like a calendar, growing taller each day like slow fireworks building up to the coming explosion of summer.

#HorseTails #Stretford #Manchester #UrbanFlora #Manchester

I’ve been working on my plant ID skills for a few years now and in that time I’ve wondered what my ‘interest’ would be? I like it when I meet people and they tell me they have an interest in lowland heaths or calcareous grassland or whatever. When people ask me what I like I’m never sure which habitat to say. I sometimes say woodland, but secretly think that while I like woodlands they aren’t ‘the one’. Truth is that people’s interests tend to relate to jobs they’ve had or places they live or have lived. It’s about exposure.  I live in Manchester. Big, urban Manchester. If I’m honest I suppose my interest, the one I think about most often, is in the walls, gutters and random green places in urban areas. There I said it. Ah! It feels good to have that off my chest!

Eruca vesicaria #GardenRocket #Stretford #Manchester #UrbanFlora #botany

So an idea has been brewing in the back of my mind for a little while. Since graduating last year there’s been an absence of project in my life. I thought it’d be fun to have a mini project which encouraged me do botany with a key regularly throughout the spring and summer, submit biological records to my local records center, and indulged my interest in urban botany.

#Dandelions #BridgewaterCanal #Stretford #Manchester #UrbanFlora #botany

The area of Stretford I live in is called Gorse Hill. As it happens Gorse Hill has a bit of a buzz about it. There’s a project called Gorgeous Gorse Hill whose mission is to make the area gorgeous for its residents through public art and gardening among other things. It’s a great idea. Stretford is not in its self a thing of natural beauty. Stacey and I have a running joke of singing the Dallas theme tune as we drive along Chester Road past Harry Ramsden’s, Tesco Extra, White City Retail Park etc. But what the area has in spades is a good sense of community (as anyone on the Stretford M32 Facebook group knows). People like it here and they’re interested in helping each other out and making it a nice place to live. So the murals, fruit trees in big pots, and mosaic tiles on concrete bollards give it a quirky, friendly feel.

#shepherdspurse #Stretford #Manchester #UrbanFlora #botany

I thought I could satisfy my own project needs and add a little to suburb’s quirkiness by having a go at producing a complete flora of the walls, gutters and random green places of Gorse Hill.

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Gorse Hill (more or less)

It’s less than a couple of square kilometers. Mostly residential streets but with a sprinkling of other curiosities from parks to allotments to industrial estates, and my personal favorite, the Bridgewater Canal no less! Enough to make it ambitious but not so much that it’s implausible. I imagine it’ll be fun, and that it’ll be useful in ways that are yet to occur to me. And without a deadline there’s no pressure on time, it can take as long as it takes.

#cowslip #BridgewaterCanal #Stretford #Manchester #UrbanFlora #botany

As of right now that’s all I’ve got. Next step is to think about logistics. What will I need? How should I go about it? Is this kind of thing already happening anywhere else? These aren’t rhetorical questions by the way I’d genuinely like your opinion! All comments and suggestions welcome. Planning blog to follow…

Thanks for reading.