Friday, 27 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017: the first of the prizewinners

Seeds in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank
Image: L. Jennings
In recent years we have started the tradition of awarding prizes to New Year Plant Hunt recorders - the prize is a chance to tell people about your Hunt and/or to share your three botanical wishes for the year ahead.

This year, several people spent up to three hours hunting in their local patch and found absolutely nothing. But records of absence are just as valuable as records of presence so we are delighted to offer recorders who found nothing in bloom, the consolation of a BSBI Valiant Effort Award. First up is Laura:

Group from Kew assessing 
Prunus avium seeds for collection
Image: L. Jennings
"Many thanks to BSBI for granting me the chance to share my three botanical wishes for 2017 as a prize for achieving a score of zero in the New Year Plant Hunt. I went plant hunting on New Year’s day around the National Trust’s Ankerwyke site, which is a mix of woodland and grazed grassland next to the River Thames, and most notable for the incredible, 2500-year-old Ankerwyke yew tree.

Plants are my day job as well, as I’m a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. My work is part of the huge, global, Millennium Seed BankPartnership which is aiming to collect seeds from 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020. The many seed banks around the world are an ex situ insurance against extinction for wild plant species, and they are complementary to in situ conservation work in species’ natural habitat. Both types of conservation are becoming more important than ever with so many plant species in danger of extinction. My job is to identify the herbarium vouchers which are collected along with the seeds to species. We need to make sure that the seeds stored in the seed bank at Wakehurst Place in Sussex are linked to the current, accepted name for that species, otherwise they are just a load of very attractive seeds in jars.

Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia 
at a perfect stage of ripeness
Image: L. Jennings
So, I would like my first botanical wish to be connected to my work: I wish for a successful field season for us and our partners all over the globe, to find and safely bank seeds from as many species from our target species lists as possible. It’s a huge amount of effort to make a single quality collection, so good luck to all the seed collectors out there, I hope that the weather is kind to you and the plants are at the perfect stage of natural dispersal!

My second wish would be for a complete cure for plant blindness, the cognitive biases that cause many people to ignore plants. As reported by Balding and Williams in 2016, for many people plants are a blurry green backdrop to the furred or feathered creatures they’d rather focus on. However, plants are the vital life support for most land-based ecosystems, and deserve more attention, and more funding for their conservation.

My third wish would be for BSBI to ask their members to look out for a rare UK chalk grassland plant, the fringed gentian, Gentianopsis ciliata. Personally, I’ve only ever seen herbarium specimens, as it was last recorded in Buckinghamshire in the late 1980s. The team at the Millennium Seed Bank would very much like to collect seed from a UK population, because we have almost completely banked the UK Flora and just the very difficult to impossible species remain. I don’t have any photos of this species, but there are some excellent ones here.