Saturday, 14 January 2006

Identifications - How To Use

Fifty years ago I started training as a botanist in Dundee, then a college of St. Andrews University. To continue with botany and zoology I had to transfer to St. Andrews University itself. At the end of my second year I dropped botany to concentrate on zoology. This was almost entirely because botany in those days consisted almost entirely of rote learning taxonomy while zoology was opening up to all sorts of exciting cell and molecular things. I did however spend much spare time in the botanic gardens and there realized the wonderful diversity of the genus Meconopsis. I did later teach botany at the tertiary level though a colleague in the now biology department described me as just a bl**dy gardener - which probably was quite reasonable ! So I have always found taxonomy a little tedious - to me its function is to ensure anyone, anywhere in the world, in any language knows just what plant one is talking about. Taxonomists however see it as something subjest to constant change as science developes new and ever more complex ways of classifying plants. In theory all new descriptions of plants should be published in refereed journals but given the very, very few real experts in this genus of plants this is unlikely to happen. Taxonomic identification may require access to material that has immature leaves, flower spikes, flowers at various stages of development as well as developing and mature seeds pods and sometimes microscopic examination of structures including ripe seed. The aim of this website is gradually, with help from lots of outside experts, to develope a pictorial site where identification can be achieved with a high likelyhood of success with significant comparative images of all the critical features. How successful it will be remains to be seen but the power of the internet and the digital camera combined with some sort of integrity with those creating the website should allow a successful development. So much for pious good intentions!!

For more expert readers - remember there is much variation in some species - M. horridula group and in new areas these may not have been desciribed though whether they are worthy of being new species is doubtful. Second recently split species like M. integrifolia and M. pseudointegrifolia ( with 5 subspecies ) are almost continuously variable with climate and altitude. There are relatively few hybrids described from the wild. For beginners particularly, identifying garden plants you need to understand the categories ( use this guide ) e.g. which are winter dormant, which are evergreen, also which may be perennial and which are monocarpic ( die after flowering ) and be aware there are all sorts of hybrids and this includes new ones arriving from garden seed you have sown!