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Field botany

A tale of two willows

The Willow family – Salicaceae – includes two main genera – Willows and the Poplars – a family of deciduous trees and shrubs with (usually) simple, alternate leaves with stipules. The flowers are in catkins and there is no perianth (i.e. no obvious petals or sepals). There are 2 carpels and the fruit is a one-celled capsule which bursts to release the many silky
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Boys and girls come out to play!

We’ve had bluebells galore, so about time for some other woodland plants. Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is a member of the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae) and as with other members of this family the flowers are dioecious, i.e. there are separate male and female flowers.


On hearing the first cuckoo of spring – and spying that first bit of skirt…

According to Ian Skelly on BBC Radio 3, Dr M’s radio channel of choice, the 15th of April seems to be a reliable date for hearing the first cuckoo of spring (in Dorset at least!), though not many get to actually see these extraordinary and rather elusive birds.


Dr M on the road: eXtreme botany through the car window!

With Bank Holiday travels (and traffic jams!) in prospect Dr M says: Let’s play that classic travel game “eXtreme botany through the car window!”


Can you tell your Dipsacus from your Helminthotheca?

Dr M has been reminded in his recent field surveys of two similar (but different!) rosette plants of disturbed ground, both with rough, blistery-bristly leaves and often found growing together, but which can be confused by the beginning botanist – even though they are from rather different families. So how to tell them apart?


Are you getting enough botany? Dr M’s white flower plant ID quiz

New research shows that the oft-quoted 5-a-day fruit and veg may not be enough to ward off disease and even premature death, but rather, 7-10 is much better.


Spring has definitively sprung, springed and even sproinged!

Yes, you don’t need Dr M to tell you spring has arrived, the botany tells us that loud and clear – wherever we look there’s a feast of spring flowers to confirm the fact and to enjoy! Here is a sweet little posy of spring flowers gathered from a local Nature Reserve by Earley Environmental Group for the Biodiversity in Berkshire event in March
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Botany is dead, long-live eXtreme botany!

Last year Dr M was struck by an article entitled“The Death of Botany” in the “Rant and Reason” section of the June 2013 edition of the magazine of the British Ecological Society.  In this rant, Dr Markus Eichhorn, botanist at the University of Nottingham, bemoaned the loss of botany degree programmes from UK Universities.


The future of UK botany as we know it?

Dr M reports that the Society for Biology has just undertaken the first ever analysis of activities across the UK’s plant science sector. The study involved a year of consultation with over 300 individuals and organisations from the UK plant science community. The report entitled: “UK Plant Science: Current status and future challenges” was released at the Royal Society, London on Tuesday 28th January 2014.
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Dr M and student’s “New Year” Plant Hunt – The Results!

Dr M’s MSc New Year Plant Hunt (borrowed from the idea by BSBI) took place on Tuesday 14th January 2014. Three groups of MSc students walked the University of Reading Whiteknights campus for 1 hour each in the chilly sunshine collecting any plant in flower and these were taken back to the lab and identified