Friday, 8 August 2014

Views and news from the Hebrides: some oddities

Paul and Oli ignore the view and peer at a sedge instead
Image: L. Marsh
Botany can take you to the most amazing places and sometimes the views are stunning. But botanists have rather a bad habit of walking around peering at the ground. 

A fabulous view is all very well, but a tiny plant you've never seen before can prove even more rewarding. And if there's something a bit odd about it, or you have to really work at the identification, even better!

A bifid Blechnum spicant or a particularly frilly Lady Fern can become quite a talking point, and one of the nicest aspects of field recording weeks is when botanists comes together over dinner and ask each other, "What was your Plant of the Day?" 

A bifid Blechnum spicant
Image: L. Marsh
Sometimes it's a pretty flower seen in the field, like a Gentian, but there are times when a botanist has to work a little harder to come up with a truly memorable Plant of the Day. 

Last night, Nottinghamshire botanist Sally Peacock spent quite a while conferring with Claudia Ferguson-Smyth and working with microscope, camera and various bottles full of strange liquids before uttering the memorable words, "Would you like to see my quadrifid hairs?" 

We looked nervously at the top of her head, not quite sure what the most polite response would be, but a glance at her computer screen made all clear. Sally had collected a Utricularia that afternoon and, to identify which species is which, you need to look at the four-armed hairs ("quadrifids") inside the bladder. So, here is an image which I hope will be new to most of you. Not the latest wallpaper, or the fabric for a new summer frock, but the stained quadrifid hairs inside the bladder of a Utricularia.  Enjoy!

Sally's quadrifid hairs
Image: S. Peacock