Put out, in town

An leabharlann is dunta
Dunta on a monday
New hours, they say
Cut backs, hours reduced
All over the Chontae

Not to be
Put out in town
I’ll go not
On a monday

Off reading
Having green tea in lieu
Composing a protest poem
Inside, next door,
put out, in town.

Disorganized Thinking

Summer evening light,

In bed early for a fresh start, to deal with:

Lack of version control.

Too scattered to have the killer instinct,

Or the ruthlessness to put down others,

A protracted process, evolving to a style,

thought through, iteration by iteration,

until it is right,

polished from disorganized thinking.

A weakness I hide, only the malicious exploit;

Advocacy for an artist’s defense,

From the depredations of the less benign.

Vulnerable, slow to whinge,

If all is not right.

Persistently evasive to deny hardship.

Planning is a much more central part for survival,

for those pushed to the pin of their collar,

to revoke white collar abuse.

Generosity reciting reviewed information live,

To scientifically document life’s home truth

until they are lucidly communicated

is the service provided,

polished from disorganized thinking.

Howard FOX

Summer 2019


Begin with one voucher packet
see what is within
this sample provokes a section
to test the monotypic genus proposed
Black fur perhaps Cystocoleus ebeneus.
Move to the stereoscope
fresh water for the droplet
a scalpel to extract tissue
for the glass slide, positioned
and ready to cover.

On to the microscope stage
with light, filters and condenser to set
to see the anticipated filament forms
with lenses x100, x400 and x600
to magnify the anatomy to verify
the characters we need to have to get to species.

Doubt at identity now assuaged
and voucher rationally boxed morphologically
the result is ready to add to the record
ready to move on to the next specimen.

Resolve happens sample by sample,
one every so often
a quarter of an hour or more
allowing you the time it takes
to validate, verify and test.

This black fur looks by eye no different
to the temperate species
that visual recognition provoked.
Our tropical montane saxicolous sample
with the evidence that we have
gets classified the same
a result that takes decision, resolve and passion
to create this identification,
a botanical mythology for an island.

A check on the literature shows that
it has been seen in the tropics before
by Thwaites probably in Ceylon
Back in the 1840s,
so while new in Saint Lucia,
it is not so unexpected.

This full time occupation of mind and eyes
walking a landscape screening for thalli to sample
of species that look the same,
close to the truth
kept for future science testing methods
so that novel differences, if any, may be discerned
with continuously advancing science,

This is our method to induce
a latent curiosity in the rock faces
and tree trunks and leaves around,
scholarship transferred,
one entity at a time,
to build botanical knowledge
for a developing society
combating colonial oppression,
to get to biodiversity conservation
by passing the utilitarian view of nature
that gets in our way of conserving life.

Howard Fox
6 June 2019

I do not like squared paper – towards a solution to a science dilemma

Laboratory Books I need to love
on every page have squared paper –
a push away from science.
Title, abstract, introduction,
materials, methods, results,
discussion, conclusions, references
is our way.

Squares for every single letter.
Squares for every single digit.
Obsessively square control
for everything written every time,
every day in a square,
day by day, in laboratory books.

My love of digits in squares faded
with childhood mathematical prowess.
Now I could not do a budget
to save a single round cent,
yet I need to love squares again
to get some science done.

I think I am finding a way.
1000 questions in long hand
writing across square boundaries
as if they do not box me in.
Angle the page so as my hand
follows a horizontal sometime.
Write on every second line
for a page at least.

Are the problems real? The trauma is.

An unethical pharmacology demonstration
in a graph on squared paper
displaying after injection the last of a life.
Traumatic physics assignments,
of metallic springs stretched
beyond their design load.
Laboratory Book marking
turned me to botany,
and on to vegetation quadrats
standing in squares recording plants.
Geographic co-ordinates are
squares set on arcs on the celestial round,
squares undermined by cadastral appeal.

The scientific solution is to add
a compass with pencil arcs
to turn squared paper on the lathe to beauty.
Arcs and curves, sine waves and parabolas –
squares inhibit, if you do not love them.
Rekindle that spirit of botanical inquisition
to understand, model and represent.

Build that scientific model
from the materials to hand
of some phenomenon in the world.
Back of an envelope, they say,
Why not the herbarium folded packet
Latin name, plant geography, date, collector.

Find your voice, find your style,
let your laboratory book be
your window on to that inquisitive life.
For the love of squares, with a compass then,
create arcs of roundness,
and a few tweaks here and now,
terms of reference, ethical concerns,
why this science is good for society,
and why it is right for us to do.
Masking tape to add notes culled from
notes written in undisciplined places,
until I like squared paper in the
Laboratory Books I need to love.

Sharing a meal from one’s own world

Distilling the vocabulary of genera,
detailing their morphological senses,
applying nuances to an under-explored forest.

A creative pamphlet for Honduras,
hurriedly assembled to guide, from afar,
Irish people walking by trees.

Knowledge for communication and
an incentive to tarry, turn and see
botanical detail, that bypasses me.

My table shared, in a request for family seating for a meal,
withdrawn in a botany manuscript, booklet editing,
overheard conversation, cues for discourse,
as I emerge, courteously, from my own world.

Accented English hints at exotic linguistic prowess,
Language, French, German, no, Lithuanian, Russian, yes, Irish, cupla focal.
explaining with my best roundaboutly told story of how to practice Irish,
of caint ar an madra ag rith go tapaidh, tar eis an anibhdhe ag rith go tapaidh freisin …

Howard Fox,
21 March 2016

Fieldwork, Observation and Notation systems in Floristic Botany

‘Providing names for plants subordinates them to our understanding.’ (paraphrased, Genesis 2: 3-5, after Lysaght 1997: 440).

Keywords: species, plants, fungi, geography, botany, philosophy, identification, specimens, vouchers, herbaria, methods, science.

There are still relatively few Irish field botanists, but a new heyday of Irish botany has arrived (Synnott 1997). Maria Long has illustrated figures that show that more botanists in Ireland have joined the BSBI, year on year in the last decade (2006-2015), than from the period 1964 on, with peaks in 1985 and 1997.

What do botanists do with their developing knowledge of Irish plants? What sort of works ought a botanist produce and publish for the wider society in Ireland is a worthwhile question to ask (Doogue 1992) of one’s own botanical activity and career. Listing the plants living in different sorts of places is what doing floristic botany is all about. Ecology is about learning how to communicate results about plants to the wider society, so that both the conservation of plants and what plants need to live and reproduce are actually taken into account by land managers.

Listing plant names involves observation, plant recognition, plant identification and note taking, all the while knowing precisely where one is, in terms of spatial geography and habitat, in Ireland. Each plant location in Ireland has townland and vegetation contexts. In addition, plant recording can include temporal, personnel, taxonomic reference, Ordnance Survey of Ireland raster grid and other contexts, all of which can become the normal part of a scientific biological record or a reference collection (Speight 1977, 1978).

All this geographic and spatial cognitive activity while reacting to seeing plants happens outdoors, so many kinds of notation systems are useful to record the history of these sightings, and to note any ecological or scientific interpretations, species determinations and so on, that cross one’s mind while in the field, and when thinking, about each place and detail seen, afterwards. Botanists parse the visual sensory stream that we experience into plant species, so much so that a decade ago the notion of botanists as ‘bipedal optical scanners with species recognition software’ was elaborated in a Dublin Naturalists Field Club programme and newsletter editorial. The literature that inform botanists of species concepts is diverse (Fox 2013), and includes biology syllabuses, natural histories, floras, identification guidebooks, science journals, geographic information, communication and research technologies, such as ‘Google Images ‘. Getting to know species in somewhere new and unfamiliar, like in tropical forests on a Caribbean island (Fox & Cullen 2014, Fox 2014), is a fully engaging process of botanical research.

In more than twenty years of floristic botany, mainly on lichens, but also on mosses, liverworts, macro-fungi, woody plants, micro-fungi, seaweeds, etc., one tends to develop habits, some ways of doing things that are retained, and some notation systems that are discarded or kept when improved, for the purposes of providing a rich record of species lists from fieldwork.

Historical geographers, librarians and archivists have taken to mine our collective printed botanical floristic information heritage (Collins 1992) for cultural ends. Indeed, Robert Lloyd Praeger’s printed legacy (Praeger 1934, etc.) has already attracted considerable attention (Collins 1985, Lysaght 1998), and now increasingly that of David Moore (Johnson 2011) and Ellen Hutchins (Mitchell 1999, Heardman 2015).

Narrative order
We have for several decades been fans of narrative order; i.e. the operative order that events and observations happen, during a day out in the field. The training for undertaking the Natural Heritage Area survey (Lockhart et al. 1993) instilled the value of a system of note numbers, linked to place points with interpretative ideas, facts and details, which were marked upon photocopied sections of the relevant six-inch map. HF’s contribution to this fieldwork, undertaken in 1993 and 1994, was mainly in County Wexford and County Wicklow. The Northern Ireland Lichen Survey, from 2002 to 2005 during which 150 sites were surveyed, for our part also employed a notation system of narrative order by stop numbers, dependent woody plant host details and short species lists. This narrative order based system, combined with the Mycorec reporting package, was also used in a fungal survey of Fingal Parks (Cullen & Fox, 2006).

Specimen numbering systems are a normal part of the continental European and North American botanical traditions. We can draw an example from H.A. Imshaug (d. 2011) whose legacy in making tens of thousands collection numbered voucher specimens, subsequently digitised in the MSC herbarium, facilitated the generation of a lichen checklist (Fox & Cullen 2014). A narrative order is a good basis for such a career long specimen numbering system.

Species name prompt caveats
We have taken a rather reactionary stance on observational prompting from reading text in the field. By that, we mean reading a species name from a prompt card, and then looking for that species in nature. This heightens the danger of delusion with cursory field observation. Conversely, using a prompt card to recording a search with a null result for a wide range of taxa would be interesting scientific data, for any area of search with a defined search effort. However, the recording of positive data on mapping cards is synoptic. By that, we mean that each one field observation itself is not of prime importance, and it is more that the repeat observations, of a series of views of a range of diagnostic characters needed to identify the species as present in the area of survey, that is considered the valuable currency, for record collectors to gather, in summary for onward communication.

Psychology of recognition
Writing on the psychology of recognition, Lawley (2011) indicates that the favoured haunt of rare species are rare habitats, and so these are rewarding places in which to search. The effort of naming every organism encountered in any place, according to the morphological differences between them, and being alert to the unfamiliar, requires calm, considered and reflective identifications. The critical questioning attitude towards the descriptions in identification manuals are the hallmarks of a good botanist, seeking to build a repertoire of species they can recognise in the field. When each habitat is assiduously quartered, geographic novelties are found by searching in places where others have not thought to look. Looking in the field, collecting material, illustrating and controlling the collection at the microscope (W. Labeij, in conversation) is a process that lead to the initial detection of interlopers from the southern hemisphere (Lockhart, Hodgetts & Holyoak 2012: 512-513).

Mapping cards and walking
Filling out mapping cards is nonetheless both a crucial and industrious habit, one that allows one to visually consume a considerable land area on foot, and rapidly gain a presentable synoptic record of the species present. This is ideal for novelty hunting; first records for set areas, and so forth. However, often operative order is not preserved, repeated observations of individual species are not tacitly acknowledged, and thus using a mapping card is an exceptionally wasteful system, always forcing synopsis, that inhibits more extensive notation, and limits, or rations, the person to plant contact time in the field.

Towards a general method of notation
We have this notion that in the field, the creative act in observation is notation. Notes in the field are signals for the mind (D. Stewart, in conversation). Writing diagnostic characters, species names and ecological words in the field helps create identification guides, and so we value this, and that reading, as an activity, detracts. We have the view that observation and recording is more significant, and that the main decision points in keys to species should be in mind, when outdoors. This allows the dividing lines between species to be interpreted in view of the morphological expressions observed in the field. Spending time outdoors reading field guides or keys as an aide memoir is not time well spent, but we would rather spend time observing detail in nature and time sampling to bring for laboratory study.

In recording vegetation, the discipline of setting out a quadrat of 10m, 2m or 0.5m, can be an interesting exercise in data collecting. All sorts of ancillary information can be documented in addition to the vegetation layer; e.g. soil samples can be taken for later analysis, voucher specimen packets for species determination validation, and so on. A system of releve plots, set out in experimental arrays (Gordon 2007) of 3 replicates in 5 sites ‘of a kind’ can be helpful in circumscribing within site, and between site, variation in particular habitat types.

HF has been involved in several quadrat surveys – the Moneypoint tree trunk epiphyte vegetation quadrat survey to bioindicate air quality in 1990 and 1991 for the Electricity Supply Board – and the Brackloon wood survey in 1997 for Coillte (Cunningham 2005) – and the FORESTBIO woodland vegetation study in 2007, 2008 and 2009 for COFORD. These surveys all provoked a consideration of and practice of notation systems; such as DAFOR scales for species cover abundance, as well as dependant epiphyte host substrate notations for 10m forest vegetation monitoring plots, discussed below.

Notation systems for epiphytes
In studying epiphytes, there is a structural dependence of epiphytes on woody host trees and shrubs for their micro-habitat, up in the air on the tree bark surface. Detailing this dependence is an important activity in modelling the correct evaluation of individual woody plants as the settling points for species dispersed in the aerobiota as ascospores, conidia, soredia and vegetative diaspores. Learning about the micro-habitat preferences of individual species, requires attention to recording the substrate details is a synoptic manner.

For many years, we have used a system of woody host plant substrate notation, initially observed in conservation site reports, and have adapted it to a standard contracted form of abbreviation which is resistant to misconstrual on re-expansion. This substrate notation revolves around noting the genus of the woody plant host, using double letter codes with leading capital and trailing small letters, followed by a hyphen, followed by a two letter coding for the tree part, to indicate whether a trunk, bough, branch or twig is providing the structural support for the epiphyte.

Epiphyte epidemiology
This notation system can be taken further in epidemiological studies. For newly colonising species, we have taken to note (Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, in conversation) that a species Teloschistes chrysopthalamus, occurs ‘as a single thallus with small apothecia, in the axil of the 8th annual node of branches from the south side of a willow bush, Salix cinerea, on the east shore of Whiddy Island, 30 August 2015. If it takes 2 or 3 years for willow bark to become a suitable substratum for lichen growth, and the thallus is 30mm in diameter, then it might be upwards of 3 years old, then the epidemiological inference is that this species colonised at some stage in the time period 2009 to 2013. Counting back branch nodes, marked by annual bud scale bark scars is a non-invasive method, while counting branch tree rings in cross section is suitable method, if woody vegetation sampling, and some note is taken whether the part of the twig, with the lichen thallus on, is live or one to several years dead attached. On a card, an epidemiologically instructive notation might be: 1380 Telos chry, Sx-br, 8yo, 30mm, fertile. This cuts to the chase, identification secure, and reports only the ecology. The logic of the taxon Teloschistes chrysophthalamus also needs to be abstracted.

The broader consideration here is to plan for using an optimal notation system through your botanical career, and for long term plant observation projects, so that data losses, between field observation and resulting scientific syntheses, are nil.

Writing a field guide
To engage with creating pleasant botanical activity outdoors for eco-tourism, one has to really consider what litany is to be recited about plants in habitats in nature. The Latin names of plants are a start, together with technical details in species memoirs, and a recital of previous finds. To make this, one needs to collate results from fieldwork, observations and notation into an illustrated guide book to the species in order to facilitate others to make species identifications (Fox 2014). This will ensure the propagation of floristic botany, as a pleasant outdoor visual and cognitive activity, for the wider society in Ireland to engage with.

Digital camera media streams
The practice of recording photographically the critical series of observations of the diagnostic features of particular plants and animals, needed during the identification process, with a digital camera is an interesting development.

Some plant recorders think little nowadays of making 500 photos from a day’s outing, and the macro-lens views can capture lots of interesting features for analysis. Editing this media stream series, down by 10-fold or more, for onward presentation, is a key method for improving the overall image quality.

The pioneer in Ireland with botany image websites must be Stuart Dunlop of Donegal Hedgerow fame, who has made a huge contribution to biodiversity recognition in Ireland, with his media stream on his website from 2003 to 2007 which continues to this day as a blog. In the DNFC from the last few years, Pat Lenihan has been publishing many photos, on the DNFC event reports website. His images from weekly outings, ensure that a wide range of taxa that are named in the field by specialists and naturalists present on site, are captioned, harnessing the collective knowledge of people attending with years to decades of experience in Natural History species recognition and identification.

We have often retold the story of the making of Roger Phillips 1981 Mushrooms, which hinged on Roger setting up a camera studio in the corner of the week long British Mycological Society residential forays, starting from the amazing summer of 1976 with the autumn that was alive with mushrooms, and photographing choice exhibition collections from the residential foray, which were also dried and scientifically vouchered into the K herbarium, for a few years, until his set of photographs and technical descriptions were second to none.

There is an incredibly exciting future to 2020 for natural history illustration in Ireland using digital camera media streams, something that Mark Cruise on Twitter and Vincent Hyland in Derrynane are pushing out the envelope, with underwater digital videos of the behaviour of subtidal inshore fauna and the dynamic forms of seaweeds in the seawater column.

It would be remiss not end this essay by mentioning the Irish Association of Botanical Artists, with many artist members talented and fluent in watercolour and book design and production, which with some social crossovers, and exchange of natural history and horticultural materials to illustrate, will also be part of this Irish botanical media stream into the future. Conceptual line art in botany is a key area that requires attention in Ireland, and more intensive integration into biology syllabi, and the advice of a botanical artist Claire Dalby on making line illustrations has been highlighted too (Fox 2015).

Atlas 2020
The distribution of plants in Ireland is on the agenda to 2020. In this essay, we would encourage botanists to examine their notation systems, and try and improve them, extend them, with all mod cons, so that they have a rich legacy to draw from. While people are out botanising, why not point your mind to other pressing questions about plants, the number of flowers of a plant that set seed, annual reseeding success, annual vegetation gap dynamics, micro-habitat humidity, and plant point temperature measurements at a noted time on the survey day, to name but a few attributes that we have scant original data in Ireland for.

The day of the natural history mapping distribution card and the tick list, invented in the late 1950s for the first atlas in 1964, has evolved to the computer age in the 2010s to Mapmate, Recorder and Mycorec. These computer applications have been in use by recorders in Ireland from at least 2003, 1997/8 (P. Green, pers. comm.) and 2002 (the authors) respectively. The most troubling aspects of these computer systems have been (1) when a recorder has a large batch of records in an excel spreadsheet to append, and the precise process involved is tricky to discern and unclear with a worrying risk of things going awry, and (2) during the bedding in period in the early 2000s of the concept of ‘names in current use’ when the species name dictionaries were highly irritating and forcing recorders to select among species synonymies they did not agree with.

Species concepts in use in literature from continental Europe (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.) and biogeographic regions of Atlantic Europe like Macaronesia, and not solely Britain alone (e.g. Fraxinus angustifolia, Cladonia stereoclada, Toninia kolax, Caloplaca polycarpa) always have played a role in informing the taxonomic repertoire of botanists studying Ireland. Indeed, taxonomic literature from New Zealand and Terra del Fuego has been helpful in learning about southern hemisphere aliens that are growing naturalised in Ireland. With the era of national checklists, many of the obscure taxa from many parts of Europe have come to light, and in the internet age now, with global access to taxonomic species concepts from arctic, temperate and tropical zones, there are interesting efforts afoot in harmonization of nomenclature between biogeographic regions. The use of regionally ground-truthed distribution cards and species tick lists, that act to enforce by consensus one’s taxonomic opinion, do not automatically hold universal appeal with the Irish psyche; ‘au contraire’, a psyche that is more comfortable with taxonomic nuance and ambiguity as a proxy for a scientifically laborious description of variation. One must be pluralist enough to accept that there is always a role for continental European and exotic taxonomic literature in Irish botany.

The migration to complexity will continue to 2020 with digital image stills, YouTube instructional videos on how to observe particular species, and GoPro footage of fieldwork, together with watercolour illustration, natural history sound libraries, and line art for naming the plant parts. All these ought now to be part of the Irish botanical record.

We are grateful to the late Willem Labeij (d. 2011) for inspirational conversations on art and floristic botany in Ballygriffin, Kenmare in the late 1990s. For insightful comments on reading an early draft of this article in 2015, we are grateful to Dudley Stewart, Quest Campus, Charleville Castle, Tullamore.

For commissioning botanical surveys in Ireland, we are grateful to Electricity Supply Board, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Declan Little, Woodlands of Ireland, Mark Wright, DoE(NI), Hans Visser of Fingal County Council, and John Fennessy of COFORD, National Council for Forest Research and Development.
For support in Saint Lucia, we are grateful to Michael Bobb, Roger Graveson, Chris Sealys and Margaret Ishmael Severin.

Collins, T. (1985) Floreat Hiberica: A bio-bibliography of Robert Lloyd Praeger 1865-1953. Royal Dublin Society, Dublin. xiv, 151 pp.
Collins, T. (1992) Research sources and publications. Irish Botanical News 3: 19-23.
Cullen, M.L. & Fox, H.F. (2006) Ecological Study of the Countryside Habitats in County Fingal. Phase III – woodland fungi. Fingal County Council, Swords. 197 pp. http://www.fingalbiodiversity.ie/resources/fingal_countryside/2006%20Woodland%20Fungi.pdf
Cunningham, D. (2005) Brackloon, the story of an Irish oak wood. COFORD. 148 pp. http://www.coford.ie/media/coford/content/publications/projectreports/brackloon.pdf
Doogue, D.A. (1992) Are County Flora’s obsolete? Irish Botanical News 2: 11-13.
Fox, H.F. (2013) Goodreads Listopia: Botany Reference Books. https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/42326.Botany_Reference_Books
Fox, H.F. & Cullen, M.L. (2014) A history of lichenology in Saint Lucia including a lichen checklist. Harvard Papers in Botany 19(1): 1-22. http://huh.harvard.edu/files/herbaria/files/19_1_1_fox_cullen.pdf
Fox, H.F. (2014) lichenfoxie | Writings from our forests on botanical perception. https://lichenfoxie.wordpress.com/
Fox, H.F. (2015) Voucher specimens, the DBN herbarium and BSBI county recording. BSBI Irish VCR Newsletter 5 (December 2015): 9-10. http://www.bsbi.org.uk/ireland.html
Gordon, J.C. (2007) Planning Research: A Concise Guide for the Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. Yale University Press, 112 pp.
Heardman, C. (2015) Ellen Hutchins – Irelands ‘first woman botanist’. Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland News 129 (April 2015): 48-51.
Hill, D.J. (2006) Surveying and Report Writing for Lichenologists: Guidelines for surveyors, consultants and commissioning agencies. British Lichen Society, London. iv, 56 pp.
Johnson, N.C. (2011) Nature displaced, Nature displayed. Order and Beauty in Botanical gardens. I.B. Tauris, London, 267 pp.
Lawley, M. (2011) The psychology of discovery: finding and recognising uncommon bryophytes. Field Bryology 104: 22-27.
Lockhart, N., Hodgetts, N. & Holyoak, D. (2012) Rare and threatened Bryophytes of Ireland. National Museums Northern Ireland. 638 pp.
Lockhart, N., Madden, B., Wolfe-Murphy, S., Wymer, E. & Wyse Jackson, M., (1993) National ASI Survey. Guidelines for Ecologists, Unpublished Report. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin. 154 pp.
Lysaght, S. (1997) Contrasting Natures: the issue of names. pp. 440-460. In J.W. Foster (ed.) Nature in Ireland, a scientific and cultural history. Lilliput Press, Dublin.
Lysaght, S. (1998) Robert Lloyd Praeger. The life of a Naturalist. Four Courts Press, Dublin. 208 pp.
Mitchell, M.E. (1999) Early observations on the flora of southwest Ireland. Occasional Papers, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin 12: 1-124.
Praeger, R.L. (1934) The Botanist in Ireland. EP publishing. 460 pp.
Speight, M.C.D. (1977) What is a biological record? Bulletin of the Irish Biogeographical Society 1: 48-50.
Speight, M.C.D. (1978) What is a reference collection? Bulletin of the Irish Biogeographical Society 2: 63-68.
Synnott, D. (1997) Botany in Ireland. pp. 157-183. In J.W. Foster (ed.) Nature in Ireland, a scientific and cultural history. Lilliput, Dublin.

Howard Fox, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin D09 VY63, Dublin.
Maria Cullen, Dublin City University Innovation Campus, Glasnevin Hill D11 KXN4, Dublin.

Reprinted from
Irish Botanical News 26: 7-15, (March 2016).

Voucher specimens, the DBN herbarium and BSBI county recording

Botany with your own herbarium voucher specimens available from previous field work allows for anatomical understanding of higher plant parts.

Only recently I was informed that a pomegranate produces 613 seeds. In checking this out further online, the ‘pomegranate seed’ statistics are on http://www.aquaphoenix.com There are numerous other anatomical features of botanical interest that can be studied with a fruit-bowl, and one’s imagination that values scientific activity and questioning. Almost fifteen ago, a bug found by a breakfaster in microwaved porridge from somewhere along the east coast of America arrived in Dublin for forensic analysis and was passed along to the herbarium for investigation. Dissections of the bug returned a satisfying result that it was an edible blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosa (Ericaceae).

As a botanist into the identification of lichens, mushrooms, micro-fungi, mosses, liverworts, slime moulds and seaweeds, my use of vascular plant herbarium resources has been focussed mainly on woody plants (trees and shrubs; native and introduced) as substrates for epiphytic life.
Higher plant parts that I am interested in, as part of epiphyte ecology, include twigs and branches with bark, buds, leaf and bud abscission scars, dead attached branches with bark, trunk bark, and twig and branch timber with tree rings. Terminal branches from leafless hedgerow bushes collected in winter from September to April in the farmed Irish landscape can be very challenging to identify without herbarium reference collections. Willow, hawthorn, sycamore, ash, sitka spruce, etc. can all be placed.

With herbaceous plants, one becomes interested in what specifically rots them down, and one begins to gather interesting plant leaves with rusts and mildews, and herbaceous litter stems from deep ditches and hedgerows for dainty ascomycete fungi for study. When one is walking by the sea, beachcombing, it is always interesting to attempt to identify plant and plant parts in the sand. Sources include wetland, dune front and salt marsh plants, with river mouth flotsam including riparian tree and reed parts. A standard reference is Ellis & Ellis’s Microfungi on Land Plants. This is now in its second 1997 edition. Ellis and Ellis consider land plants as substrates for fungi and have the following categories (1) plurivorous wood and bark fungi, (2) plurivorous leaf litter fungi, (3) fungi specific to trees, shrubs and woody climbers, (4) plurivorous fungi on herbaceous plants, (5) fungi specific to herbaceous plants in general, (5) plurivorous fungi on grasses, (6) fungi specific to grasses, (7) fungi specific to rushes, sedges, bur-reeds and reed maces, (8) fungi specific to ferns, horsetails and clubmosses, (9) fungi parasitic on rusts and powdery mildews. The jargon plurivorous refers to fungi feeding on many different kinds of plant in a non-specific way. Analagously, one could suggest most corticolous lichens are pluricolous, each species living on many host tree genera.

In order to broaden one’s experience in botany in the field, becoming a specialist in locating plants in the landscape is a very satisfying apprenticeship. Herbarium resources are built from reference collections needed by botanists, and are made for various botanical purposes. In DBN, we are keen to support floristic botany in Ireland, and our collections are open for researchers to visit and consult. We have kept a wide range of voucher samples from floristic explorations, and from ecological studies, and have filed all plant flowering shoots in a systematic sequence. There are collections of seeds, timber anatomy slides, DNA extracts and other reference materials of value for the identification of plants, and plant parts, to their botanical species. Frodin’s (2001) Guide to standard Floras of the world is a compendium of the literature created and written by botanists for botanists for use in each geographical region. This provides a good guide to what can be made with herbarium specimens. Womersley (1981) shows how ethnobotanical collections can lead to a herbarium. Dalby & Dalby (1980) provide advice on line drawing from specimens. Mitchell (2000) gives a list of floristic botanical publications in Ireland. Since then, more works have appeared (Fox, in manuscript). Lawrence & Hawthorne (2006) advise on making plant identification keys and they set out the steps involved in making such publications from herbarium voucher specimens, written with the primary purpose of assisting people with plant identification.
I would like to conclude this article by calling for the making of herbarium specimens from one’s own ad hoc collections of plants and plant tissues. Being in the field, doing botany is an expense and a luxury to satisfy ones nosiness for what grows where, and how to find it. Making voucher specimens suitable for addition to herbarium collections is a worthwhile end use for plant materials gathered from a day’s botany.

As part of a network of herbaria globally (Thiers 2011), we in DBN can support this activity of keeping herbarium specimens in a practical manner (OPW, 1992). Herbarium labels and standard mounting sheets for use with wood glue can provide impetus to encourage one to tend to processing one’s plants, pressed and dried, in folded newspapers, into something more formal and permanent. We use Evostick wood adhesive and cut out straps from paper to mount material. For advice on methods, one can turn to the herbarium handbook (Bridson & Forman, 1998).

If you are recording plants with the BSBI in Ireland, do visit us in DBN to see how your ad hoc plant gatherings, that support your studies and intellectual explorations of plants in Ireland, can be made into something more.

Bridson, D. & Forman, L. 1998. The Herbarium Handbook. 3rd edition, xii, 334pp. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens.
Dalby, C. & Dalby, D.H. 1980. Biological illustration: a guide to drawing for reproduction. Field Studies 5: 307-321. http://fsj.field-studies-council.org/media/343259/vol5.2_135.pdf
Ellis, M.B. & Ellis, J.P. 1997. Microfungi on Land Plants: an identification handbook. New enlarged edition. The Richmond Publishing Company Ltd. 868pp.
Frodin, D.G. 2001. Floras at the end of the twentieth century: philosophy, progress and prospects; references: 52– 85. In D.G. Frodin. Guide to Standard Floras of the World: An Annotated, Geographically Arranged Systematic Bibliography of the Principal Floras, Enumerations, Checklists and Chorological Atlases of Different Areas. 2nd edition. 1107pp. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Lawrence, A. & Hawthorne, W. 2006. Plant Identification. Creating User-friendly Guides for Biodiversity Management. 1st edition, xvi, 268pp. Earthscan. London.
Mitchell, M.E. 2000. The Irish floras: a checklist of non-serial publications. Glasra 4: 47–57. http://www.botanicgardens.ie/glasra/ns4_3.pdf
Office of Public Works. 1992. National Botanic Gardens Management Plan. Stationery Office. Dublin. 40 pp.
Thiers, B. 2011. Index herbariorum: A global directory of public herbaria and associated staff. New York Botanical Garden’s Virtual Herbarium. http://sweetgum.nybg.org/ih/
Womersley, J.S. 1981. Plant collecting and herbarium development. A manual. In: FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper (FAO), No. 33 / FAO, Rome (Italy) 146 pp.

Reprinted from
BSBI Irish VCR Newsletter #5: 9-10, (December 2015).