Monday, 18 February 2008

A quiz!

I was walking along the track through the high boggy area (clue!) when I noticed that an earth wall - created to deter joy-riders - had become covered in little rosettes of young plants. I always like to test my identification skills on vegetative states, so I began to mentally catalogue the species I found.

I thought you might like to do the same.

First, an easy one. Leaves about 12mm long:


Another easy one. Leaves about 6mm long:

I think this is less easy, but there is a strong clue in the picture. Leaves about 10mm long.

This one is definitely more difficult. The leaves are about 5mm long, and show a feature that will (according to some references) readily identify the species, although this feature is difficult to find later in the season, when you would like it to be there to resolve disputes.

This could be a stumbling block unless you think laterally. Leaves about 12-15 mm long:

Last clue: two of the species are very closely related.


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26 comments:

Stuart said...

For those of you wanting to have a guess in private, my public email address is: cipeen at hotmail dot com
(Replace the at and the dot with the usual symbols)

Dawrosblogger said...

well, guess a wallflower group and a couple of Sedum species? That's off top of my head, will check books for the others, or indeed them wans I have guessed.

Jenny said...

Common Mouse-ear, Pearlwort, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Slender St Johnswort and Brooklime?

(Its too late at night to go hunt the Latin names......!)

Stuart said...

Jenny, 4 out of 5:

Number 4 not close (but I can see why you said it).

Great first shot. (The Brooklime is waaay out of location on top of an earth wall....)

Dragonstar said...

Oh dear, I've no hope of answering these. My recognition is very (and I do mean very!) rusty.
You're going to force me to go off looking and remembering!

Stuart said...

"You're going to force me to go off looking and remembering!"

No harm done, then...:)

Jenny said...

Now I'm really scratching my head on 4! Any more clues .....?

Stuart said...

Difficult to think of clues that won't give it away. There are a couple of species from this family that are very difficult to tell apart. I reckon I can jizz them, but habitat is the biggest clue for me. This was at the edge of acid bog. I personally only find the other on lime, but I know that's not the case elsewhere.

Give-away clue follows.....don't scroll down unless you're absolutely beaten.















The flowers can be white, blue or pinky-purple.

One more....















The flowers have a white 'trumpet' in the middle.

Jenny said...

OK, Heath Milkwort - I did get it without the scroll-down, give away clue, but I wouldn't have without the 'need habitat to tell apart' bit!

I've been trying to recognize plants from new leaves round here to improve my ID skills, but some are downright frustrating, like the very hairy clover leaves I came across last week....

Gill said...

Well done, Jenny, that's brilliant.

Stuart said...

Well, that was fun. Maybe I should put up some pics of DYD rosettes in the next few days...:)

Seriously, though, I think it's a very valuable skill to be able to identify plants in their vegetative states (and indeed from any available clues...e.g. when identifying fungi it's often essential to know what dead wood they're on....)

Jenny, tell us more about your clover....

jenny said...

Hi Stuart, is there any way I can add a picture to a comment?
The clover leaves and stems were very hairy, but I really noticed them as they seemed to be growing up through the coastal grass at regularly spaced intervals....

Gill said...

"Seriously, though, I think it's a very valuable skill to be able to identify plants in their vegetative states (and indeed from any available clues...e.g. when identifying fungi it's often essential to know what dead wood they're on....)" quite agree. I think the "any available clues" is vital - whenever I run a workshop / id session for Ryenats I stress that - including the known range of the plant.

Jenny: I don't know about uploading a pic here (maybe you could put it on your website and post a link?) but I, too, am fascinatied by your hairy clover. Is the "coastal grass" on cliffs, or the beach, or what? Acid / neutral / lime? Not that I'm likely to be much help on coastal Ireland, being based in inland Yorkshire....

jenny said...

Is it ok with you Stuart to put a link to the clover? Theres also an unfamiliar hairy buttercup from another coastal location.....

Back to the clover, the leaves were coming up through grass, not exactly cliff top, but well above shingle line. Marsh Orchids, Fleabane, Twiggy Mullein were growing further along that stretch. Also heather, gorse etc.
I'm wondering Subterranean Clover, T.subterraneum, in which case its well out of its range - its only recorded on the East coast of Ireland in the New Atlas....

Stuart said...

"Is it ok with you Stuart to put a link to the clover?"

Of course, please do. I'm looking forward to seeing it and your buttercup.

jenny said...

Thanks Stuart, hopefully this link will show the clover and buttercup...

[url=http://www.irishwildflowers.ie/uncertain.html]clover[/url]

jenny said...

Sorry Stuart, don't think that worked...
hope this does:
www.irishwildflowers.ie/uncertain.html

Gill said...

It does work, Jenny, thanks - but I'm afraid it doesn't help you as all I can say for both of them is "It's not something I recognise" - which I suppose does cut out a good swathe of common species....

Subterranean clover would be very exciting (and since I've never seen it it isn't excluded :-) ).

I'm wondering if the buttercup could be hairy b'cup. I've only seen that once, when the leaves were considerably more divided, but that was much later in the season when it was in flower; I don't recall them being particularly hairy though. It may be a silly question, but you are sure it is a ranunculus? It reminds me of a young wood avens.

jenny said...

Not a silly question at all - I'm not 100% convinced its a ranunculus, it reminds me a bit of some of the geranium species....
At least that one I can check fairly regularly, which is more than can said for the clover!

Stuart said...

It worked fine. Sadly I haven't got a clue about the clover. I note:

a) it's very hairy
b) it has pale(ish) leaves
c) the leaves have a very fine notch at the tip.

Nothing in Stace, BFF or Heukels matches that. Keys mostly work on the flowers, so I think you'll have to wait until spring and let us know.

As for the Buttercup, I know lots of things that it isn't. My only option is Bulbous, but I suspect you'd have looked at that option earlier.

It might be a species that you already know, but grows differently in a different habitat. I've recently become aware of a phenomenon that I had suspected existed, but I didn't realise it had a proper scientific basis: Some species are known to vary according to their habitat. I call them ecotypes. I strongly suspect that some 'sub-species' splits are wrong, with variations being caused purely by habitat.

I see you have pics of Heath Spotted Orchid on your site. I feel certain that they and Common Spotted Orchid are little more than ecotypes of each other. My contacts at TCD and Glasnevin agree.

jenny said...

I'd agree on the Common and Heath Spotted Orchids, and I've come across lots of very intermediate looking ones on more 'middling' types of ground.
Would the different Fragrant Orchids (Gymnadenia) be eco-types as well as that would make a lot more sense than sub-species?

Bulbous was my first wondering on the buttercup - like you say I think I'll have to wait for the flowers....

Gill said...

"I'd agree on the Common and Heath Spotted Orchids, and I've come across lots of very intermediate looking ones on more 'middling' types of ground." Perfect confirmation of Stuart's hypothesis - with which I agree.

"Would the different Fragrant Orchids (Gymnadenia) be eco-types as well as that would make a lot more sense than sub-species?" er, what different fragrant orchids? I wasn't even aware there were subspp of these - which in my experience are much less variable than the 'spotties' which I tend to lump together as dactyl-orchids unless they are very distinct (like some of the marsh orchids).

"Bulbous was my first wondering on the buttercup - like you say I think I'll have to wait for the flowers...." I'd be surprised if bulbous is that hairy - also a wall top doesn't sound right - but maybe it's different in Irealnd.

jenny said...

Hi Gill - I think Fragrant Orchids might be even more of a head-banger than the Spotted Orchids....

The 'New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora' has Gymnadenia conopsea with three subspecies: conopsea, borealis and densiflora.....

'Orchids of Britain and Ireland' (Harrap) has them as three distinct species, plus the comment 'hard to identify with certainity'. Arrgghhhh!!

The subspecies/species seem to be partly habitat-divided too, like Stuarts eco-types for the Spotted Orchids.

Gill said...

"The subspecies/species seem to be partly habitat-divided too, like Stuarts eco-types for the Spotted Orchids." Oh, well, let's call 'em ecotypes then and leave them in the same species. As Stuart well knows I am a lumper by nature; if it can't be determined in the field I'm not interested and it gets recorded as "agg."

jenny said...

I'm really torn on that one - half of me wants to stick to identifications that can be made in the field.
The other half wants to put as close a name as I can, and gets fascinated with the detail when I bring photos up big on the computer screen. (Or more often very frustrated, I don't know which are the crucial bits until I get home and discover what I was photographing in the first place!)

Stuart said...

I think splits are only meaningful when they're err meaningful. Lots of things have common names; everything has a formal binomial. Things that have common names are things that can be readily identified (e.g. daisy), or need to be identified for reasons of e.g. toxicity (e.g. Death Cap). The concept of 'species' is a handy identifier, but every individual is different, so we need to describe a range of identification features which, when taken together, allow identification to species. But then we find something that is outside the range, and consistently so. Now we need to decide whether it's a new species, or a subspecies of some existing one. I can't find any consistently applied rule, here.
DNA doesn't help, because that only works at the level of the individual. Can we cluster similarish groups of DNA into species? Nope. Can we do it to subspecies? Nope. Not unless we know precisely what each part of the genome does and how they interact with each other (think dominance).

In June last year, an observer noted that some particular specimens of Bee Orchid had flipped to a different subspecies in the space of a year. How can this be? The only possible answer is that the two subspecies are, in fact, the same species, but that the flower shape varies according to some undefined external parameter (humidity, temperature, nutrient, pollinator..who knows). This is where I have a problem. Putting it simply, I believe that we have over-split some species, and should only record to species level where we have ecomorphs.

We need to consider why we are recording, and who will benefit in the future from our records. I think it's reasonable when describing a plant to say it has three equal lobes (if in a wet habitat) or one more-pointed lobe (if in a dry habitat).

Of course, we might then want to record which version of the species we had found, so we could record "Plant species X, dry version" and "Plant species X, wet version". Would this be useful knowledge? If applied consistently, I think it could be more useful than the current species, subspecies mish-mash that we have today. But I don't see it happening, especially when you can get your name appended to a new subspecies if you identify it...