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Dr M’s Spring term plant ID test: vascular plants

Dr M’s students have returned from the vacation and spent the first week of the new term on the New Year Plant Hunt in which they and Dr M found 38 species in flower on the University of Reading campus!

This week Dr M set his students a plant ID test of vascular plants and bryophytes.

This was a formative test which is a test in which the results do not contribute to the marks for the module, but instead the test contributes to the development of skills (here plant recognition and ID) which will help students perform better in the summative ID tests at the end of the term which do contribute to the module marks.

Dr M sets formative tests at intervals (roughly once every 2 weeks) to get students familiar with test, more relaxed with the test process, and also to give them practice at plant ID skills, e.g. using keys under pressure, as quickly and efficiently as possible, to build individual confidence and abilities for enhancing performance in the final tests.

This first formative test of the term had two parts; Part 1 – vascular plants (excluding ferns), and Part 2 – bryophytes which Dr M will report in a separate post.

The Part 1 vascular plants were set out in the lab and there were twenty species in total: comprising seven common species to be identified without books (these plants are indicated in bold in the featured image above) and thirteen species to be identified with the aid of books and notes.

Being winter, Dr M recommended students to use the veg key but they are also encouraged to use The Book of Stace and also illustrated wild flower guides, e.g. David Streeter’ Flower Guide, for plants in flower and to help verify their ID.

In the featured image above, the final column of the table, “V” means the species was vegetative only, “F” means there were flowers present.

Students had 90 minutes for this test, so on average that’s four and a half minutes per plant.

Dr M’s top tips for improving performance in plant ID tests (and being better at ID generally):

Revise your recognition of the main families – check and test yourself on the important ID features of the top 20 plant families:

    • If you see stipules it CANNOT be Ranunculaceae!
    • If you see stipules it could be Fabaceae (with palmate, trifoliate or pinnate leaves and pea flowers) or Rosaceae (with serrated leaves and actinomorphic flowers).
    • If you see opposite, decussate leaves it could be Lamiaceae (square stem, zygomorphic flowers) or Caryophyllaceae (actinomorphic flowers, notched petals).
    • Four petals in a cross is likely Brassicaceae.
    • Monocot with triangular stem, leaves in 3-ranks is Cyperaceae!
    • etc etc etc

Practice keying species under pressure and dare to use the key rather than guessing or ignoring the plant and leaving a blank!  e.g. find conifers tricky?  OK, but honestly the veg key to conifers works really well –  give it a go!

Practice intelligent keying: do not just key out a plant and accept the first answer, or worse just check the pictures in a wild flower guide (or on the internet) and fit the first thing that “looks” right; instead…

Always double check the ID against written descriptions and illustrations carefully to make sure of correct determinations.

There are no short-cuts to the development of plant ID skills, just practice, practice, practice!

Good ID skills are hard won but highly valuable and valued by those that matter (and it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling when you get it right, so it’s selfish too!)

And finally:  Plants are all gorgeous and fascinating, there is no such thing as a boring plant, check them with your hand lens, love them and they will love you back and your plant ID will sky rocket!

The test results:

The featured image shows the twenty test plants listed in order of correct ID:

    • Yellow = correct ID of family by more than half the class.
    • Blue = correct ID of genus by more than half the class.
    • Green = correct ID of species by more than half the class.

To see a pdf of the full results click here: Dr M Spring ID test results

The test plants:

Here are illustrations of the 20 plants ordered by level of correct ID, those at the top of the gallery had more correct ID’s (e.g. Dactylis glomerata (Cock’s-foot Grass) than those at the bottom (e.g. Carex remota (Remote Sedge).

Hover over the image to check the Latin name and click on the images for a better view:


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