Plants - UK and Ireland : This group includes the huge variety of plant life, from tiny algae to massive trees. Vascular plants These are the familiar flowering plants, forming a fundamental part of the natural world. They are often the most obvious sign of li
This group includes the huge variety of plant life, from tiny algae to massive trees.
These are the familiar flowering plants, forming a fundamental part of the natural world. They are often the most obvious sign of life in any habitat, and are the food source for huge numbers of animals. Wild flowers themselves come in a fascinating range, some advertising themselves with big colourful flowers while others are so small as to escape most people's notice.
About 1,700 species of flowering plant have been recorded as native to Britain. If you include all the non-native species that have now found their way into our environment this number rises to around 3,400.
Plant life cycles vary - some are "perennials" that carry on growing and flowering over many years, while at the other extreme "annuals" grow, flower, set seed and die every year. In between there is a range of other strategies including "biennials" with a two-year growth pattern.
Most people start by learning to identify the more obvious plants, moving on to the less obvious ones and perhaps to identification from leaves or other vegetative characters. Many flowers are easy to learn, and most people can recognize at least a Daisy or an Oak. But there are many more subtle distinctions to be discovered, and even the Dandelion actually consists of a whole set of closely related species that can be very hard to tell apart. The trickiest species may require close examination of flowers, fruits and leaves under a lens, but there are plenty of flowers that can be quickly and reliably identified by careful observation.
Plant identification usually starts with shape and colour of the flowers and leaves. In some cases you have to look out for quite small details to distinguish between groups of similar species, and you'll need to get used to the different growth forms and flower types found in each plant family. The habitat, location and date of flowering can also be useful clues.
Photography for identification
Try to get several photos, showing in the flower and a typical leaf in reasonable close-up, plus a shot of the whole plant, and a wider angle shot to include its habitat or setting. Give some indication of size, either in the photo itself or by measuring the flower/leaf and recording that information. See this helpful blog from iSpot user Rachy Ramone for some good tips about identification photography.
- Find Wild Flowers from the BSBI - online keys and photos with details given for each species
- A simple key to common British trees
- A more comprehensive key for identifying British trees and shrubs
- The Natural History Museum's Postcode Plants - find out which species are known from your area
Plant recording and conservation
The Botanical Society of the British Isles collate records for plants from all over Britain, via a network of volunteer county plant recorders, as well as publishing authoritative identification guides and running training courses.
The leading plant conservation society is Plantlife International.
- British Bryological Society for mosses and liverworts
- The Wild Flower Society
- The specialist society for algae (including seaweeds) is the British Phycological Society.
See above for the British Phycological Society.
- Seaweeds are recorded as part of the MarLIN project, which has online identification resources and recording forms.
- The Marine Biological Association promotes research into marine life, publishes a range of journals and other resources, and runs events and courses.
- Seasearch works with volunteer divers to record marine habitats, as well as running projects on particular species.
- The Marine Conservation Society promotes the conservation of marine habitats and species.