Nature at Home: An Introduction to Plants

As someone without a garden, I am often frustrated by suggestions of things to see and do in ‘your’ garden. And at a time like this, the garden envy is growing. To contain it, I am using my daily walks to see as much wildlife as I can. When I’m stuck inside, I try to remember to look out of the window. I do hope everyone everywhere can see at least one tree from inside.

Spring is an excellent time to go outside but learning to identify flowers can often be overwhelming, as there are so many. Start with what you know: daisies, dandelions, daffodils. These are hopefully all familiar names to you even if you don’t think you know many flowers. While there are many different species of daisy, there’s no need to worry about that now. Think family instead.

Daisy © Lee Ismail.
Daisy © Lee Ismail.
Dandelion © Lee Ismail.
Dandelion © Lee Ismail.
Daffodil © Lee Ismail.
Daffodil © Lee Ismail.

All in the family

You may be surprised by the flowers that are related to each other – the daisy family is a very large one, which includes the one you’re used to seeing on lawns, as well as the giant ones ox-eye daisies. There is an obvious family resemblance between those flowers. Some are less obvious, as dandelions are part of the same family too.

Ox-eye daisies © Lee Ismail.
Ox-eye daisies © Lee Ismail.

Trees – size matters

Trees are also a great place to start with plant identification. They’re big and have distinctive leaf shapes. Try looking at tree families. Members of the Acer (maple) family have similar and recognisable leaf shapes. This is known as palmate. Sycamore (Acer psuedoplatanus) is a common example.

Sycamore leaf taken on a smartphone © Kerrie Curzon.

Sycamore leaf taken on a smartphone © Kerrie Curzon.

Oaks are often the first tree that people recognise, look at the lobed shape of its leaf. As you learn each plant it will give you the ability to separate features and go on to identify other plants.

The clue is in the name

Plant names can give you clues to the appearance of a plant. For example, a bluebell is blue. Or it can provide a location of where it is likely to be found. For example, field poppy and wood anemone. Latin names are also highly descriptive, but there’s not room to dive into that here.

Bluebell close-up © Lee Ismail.
Bluebell close-up © Lee Ismail.
A field poppy in a field © Lee Ismail.
A field poppy in a field © Lee Ismail.

Ways to identify

Using ID guides can often be confusing and overwhelming. There are now many useful online guides and apps. PlantNet is popular, as all you need to do is take a picture of the leaf or flower and the app will attempt to identify it for you. Other websites that help with identification are iSpot or iNaturalist , just upload a photo.

Taking photos is ideal, as many wildflowers are protected. Enjoy them where they are instead of picking them:

‘Take the book to the plant, not the plant to the book.’

Advice provided by Richard and Alistair Fitter in Wildflowers of Britain and Northern Europe (1974).

It’s not rude to stare

In your quest to identify them, peering closely at plants can reveal aspects that you’ve never seen before – is the flower simple or a complex shape? Is there an insect foraging? What’s been nibbling on that leaf? I’ve noticed species of insect I’ve never seen before when looking longer at plants.

Plants are even better than insects for macro photography, as they keep still. Patience may be required if it’s windy, but they never scuttle away or fly off to find food.

Ox-eye daisy with bee © Lee Ismail.
Ox-eye daisy with bee © Lee Ismail.

Discover More

Have a look at the previous posts in the Nature at Home series to help with insect identification. Look out for upcoming posts for more details on flowers and trees.

The Field Studies Council (FSC) has excellent guides for trees and other plants, which are often very easy to use.

The Woodland Trust produce handy swatches:

Leaf swatch

Wildflower swatch

Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant

 

2 Responses

  1. Jane Clark

    My experience is similar in that I don’t have a garden and have got really interested in the wild flowers I see when I’m out walking. A friend has lent me a good camera (which weighs the same as a small car!) and I take a lot of photos of the flowering plants up on Southwick Hill. I’ve ordered a couple of books to help me identify them, but will also try the apps you suggest. Thanks Kerrie for a really interesting and useful post.

    • Kerrie Curzon

      Hello Jane, Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s great to hear about other people’s nature explorations (especially without a garden). It sounds like you’re making the most of your walks. I hope you find a camera that’s a bit lighter soon! I’ve only ever heard good things about the apps, so I hope you get on well with them and they help with identifications.
      All the best,
      Kerrie

Leave a Reply