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Identification of Highland Plants/R.S. Callow

Kindrogan Field Centre, Perthshire,19 - 26 June, 2009


Introduction. During the course of evolution, organisms have gradually diverged into numerous distinct breeding groups which we know as species. Some species share common features and may therefore be grouped together in the same genus, giving rise to Linnaeus’s binomial nomenclature which is still in use today. For example, buttercups are grouped within the genus Ranunculus, the meadow buttercup being Ranunculus acris and the creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens. Genera which share common characteristics are grouped into families, families into orders, orders into classes, classes into phyla and phyla into kingdoms. The aim of modern taxonomy is to group organisms together into categories which most accurately reflect their natural inter-relationships and evolutionary history. Characteristics of whole groups of species, which have evidently been conserved in evolution, are used as diagnostic features in classification. The aim of this course is to identify such diagnostic features and show how they may be employed in the identification of plant species and in the recognition of larger taxa such as genera and families. Recognition of families provides a useful first route to identification. This is especially true of European flowering plants, some 80% of the 30,000 species being referable to only a dozen families.

Course outline. The course will begin with a lecture on the history of plant classification, followed by discussion of the practical difficulties both of the taxonomist in setting up a classification and of the would-be identifier in using it. The second lecture will deal with pathways of plant evolution, from primitive land-plants found in the 400 million-year old cherts near Rhynie (Aberdeenshire) to cones and flowers. Subsequent lectures will outline diagnostic features of ferns, clubmosses, conifers and major families of flowering plants. The final lecture will deal with genetical phenomena which cause difficulties for taxonomists, notably polyploidy, inbreeding and apomixis. Interspersed with these lectures, we will examine diagnostic features of plants in the laboratory and the field, with the aid of hand lenses or microscopes as necessary. We will compare a variety of identification keys: including dichotomous, indented and multi-access keys. The aim will be not only to identify specimens to species level but also to study the attributes of important genera and major families. Where possible, the features of related or superficially similar families of flowering plants will be compared. The particular families to be chosen will obviously depend on the availability of plants in flower but they are expected to include grasses, rushes and sedges; poppies and crucifers; figworts and mints and families with confusing floral structures such as the buttercup, rose and daisy families, the irises and the orchids. A printed course manual is provided.

Please bring
□    warm, waterproof clothing (waterproofs may be hired from the Field Centre)
□    stout walking boots (some boots are available for hire from the Field Centre)
□    hand lens (x 10 magnification)
□    insect repellent
□    small rucksack
□    vacuum flask
□    small notebook suitable for use in the field
□    a standard Flora of the British Isles if you have one (Don’t worry if you haven’t. Floras will otherwise be provided by the Tutor): either “Flora of the British Isles”, A.R. Clapham,  T.G. Tutin & W.F. Warburg (or D.M. Moore), Cambridge University Press or “New Flora of the British Isles”, C.A. Stace, Cambridge University Press. Any edition of either work will be useful for comparison.

□    any of the following specialist guides (if you have them).

•    “Crucifers of Great Britain and Ireland”, T.C.G. Rich, BSBI Handbook No. 6, Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1991.
•    “Docks and Knotweeds of the British Isles”, J.E. Lousley & D.H. Kent, BSBI Handbook No. 3,
       Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1981.

•    “Grasses”, C.E. Hubbard, Pelican, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex,1980.
•    “Sedges of the British Isles”, A.C. Jermy, A.O. Chater & R.W. David, BSBI Handbook No. 1 (2nd ed.),
      Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1982.

•    “Sedges of the British Isles”, A.C. Jermy, D.A.Simpson, M.J.Y. Foley & M.S. Porter, BSBI Handbook No. 1 (3rd ed.),
      Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 2007.

•    “The Fern Guide”, J.Merryweather & M. Hill, Field Studies Council, 1995 [ISBN 1851532110]
•    “Umbellifers of the British Isles”, T.G. Tutin, BSBI Handbook No. 2, Botanical Society of the    British Isles, London, 1980.
•    “Willows and Poplars of Great Britain and Ireland”, R.D. Meikle, BSBI Handbook No. 4,    Botanical Society of the British Isles, London, 1984.

Recommended reading

•    “Wild flowers of Perthshire”, P. & M. Cramb, 2000. [ISBN 0 9537746 0 0]
•    “Common families of flowering plants”, M. Hickey & C. King, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
•    “Plant taxonomy and biosystematics”, C.A. Stace, Arnold, London, 1980.
•    “Mountain flowers”, J. Raven & M.S. Walters, New Naturalist No. 33, Collins, London, 1956.
•    “British flowering plants”, J. Hutchinson, Gawthorn, London, 1948.