Sometimes plants can be easy to miss. But when we take time to look a little closer, we see how exciting and important they really are!
As part of the Museum’s Family Festival, the Citizen Science Team invite you to join the Plant Club virtual BioBlitz, to take a closer look at plants and discover which grow near you. Look closely at the shapes and textures of leaves and flowers and use the resources on our BioBlitz webpage to help you to tell different plants apart.
How to join the Plant Club BioBlitz
iNaturalist allows you to add multiple photographs for the same plant, so for the best chance of an identification, for each plant try to upload:
- A photo of the whole plant
- A close-up of the leaves
- A close-up of the flowers and/or fruits or seeds if present
3. See what others have found and try adding your identifications.
Plants to look for near you
You don’t have to go far or on a special trip to a nature reserve to look for plants. When you are out and about take a little time to examine the plants that grow in cracks in pavements, on road verges or on walls or roofs. Often dismissed as ‘weeds’ and cut down or sprayed with herbicide by councils, these plants provide vital habitat and food for other wildlife. Here are some to look out for this summer:
Poppies are annuals (plants that complete their life cycle in one year) and their seeds require soil disturbance to germinate. They are associated with both the soil disturbance from ploughing farmland and the ground churning of warfare. Poppies commonly occur in disturbed areas in urban areas too, such as from roadworks. Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) has one of the highest pollen productions of all meadow plants, making it a valuable source of food for insects. You might see some other poppies escaped from cultivation in your area as well, including the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
The plant family Solanaceae has many plants important to humans for food, medicine and enjoyment. The genus Solanum is the largest in the family and includes some common street ‘weeds’ that you might find near you, as well as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines!
Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) often appears in bare and disturbed areas and sometimes causes panic by being confused with the poisonous deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna). Unlike it’s poisonous relative, some varieties of black nightshade are edible and have been used as a human food source since ancient times, but wild plants should never be eaten since there are also toxic strains. Black nightshade can be identified by its white flowers with yellow stamens which are followed by bunches of green berries ripening to black.
Also look out for woody nightshade or bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) a climbing plant with purple flowers sometimes found growing in hedges and road verges. In some streets and waste ground you might even find escaped tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) popping up from discarded sandwiches!
Wall barley is a wild relative of wheat, rye and barley and in famine times has been harvested and ground into flour when nothing else was available. It’s commonly seen at the base of walls, trampled paths and the base of trees, especially where dogs are walked as their urine adds extra nutrients. A favourite game of my sister’s and my childhoods was picking the pointed seed heads and throwing them at each other as ‘darts’.
Mosses and liverworts (together called Bryophytes) are possibly the most overlooked of all plants, being small and without flowers. They are still important and their ability to survive without soil means they can grow on roofs and walls – take a closer look at the brick and concrete around you and see how many different kinds you can find.
A common moss on stone walls and brick mortar is wall screw-moss (Tortula muralis). Like many mosses that tolerate dry conditions this species has long silvery ‘hairs’ at the end of the leaves. The reproductive capsules which hold the spores (sporophytes) are often tall and prominent, and if you look closely, have a twisted tip which gives the moss its name.
In damper areas, such as at the base of walls, gaps between paving stones, or under leaky gutters you may find the common liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha). Male plants have distinctive umbrella-like structures which produce the liverwort equivalent of pollen.
What plants can you find? The citizen science team look forward to seeing what plants grow near you. Share your findings on iNaturalist, via Twitter or Facebook and follow this blog to see the results of the Plant Club BioBlitz in mid-August!