Identification

Graphene’s high-rise meadow

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Green roof on the roof terrace of the Graphene Institute

Back in June, perhaps some of the Graphene Week 2015 attendees spotted this little patch of wildness on the roof of the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. This green roof was installed as the building was nearing completion in 2014 and is part of the commitment to improving the University’s campus as a habitat for wildlife. The University’s green roof policy can be found here, along with the other University policies about environmental sustainability.

Bee on Birdsfoot trefoil

Ahead of Graphene Week, the Biodiversity Working Group put together some information about pollinators, their requirements and the urban environment in order to have a sign in place for the delegates to read. This roof is particularly designed to attract bees, both wild bees and the honey bees from hives on roofs of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery.

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The roof was created with a ‘sedum and wildflower’ mat made up with 21 different species. The low-growing sedums are now most visible around the sloping edges of the meadow, and taller species seem to dominate towards the middle. However, perhaps that’s not true; the sedums may be just hidden by the taller growing plants.

Maiden pink flower

This summer, the Faculty of Life Sciences has arranged for a student to survey the roof to see how the plants are distributed.  The Biodiversity Working Group will be continuing to monitor the roof’s progress to see how the composition of plants changes from this baseline. Some plants are likely to thrive, some will struggle and other’s will arrive as seeds blow over the roof or fall off people’s clothing.

Ladybird pupa on Sedum reflexum
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Coralroot orchid and Walney Island geranium

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Geranium sanguineum var. striatum (Walney Island geranium) found only on Walney island, to the west of Barrow-in-Furness, was spotted flowering this week on sand dunes by one of our botany volunteers.  Image

 

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The coral root orchid (Corallorhiza trifida) is a parasite growing in association with a fungus.  It grows on the creeping willow at Sandscale Haws. It was found after arranging a visit with the warden, as it is endangered.  Last year no plants were seen at this location but this year over 70 plants were counted.

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Manchester Herbarium

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looking down the corridor

A lovely review of a visit to our herbarium from the blog of Tim Body: Manchester Herbarium. Tim is an MMU ecology student and his blog From here to ecology is well worth a read.

Buttercups at Cambridge

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The course I attended (Flowering Plant Families) is run by Cambridge University staff.  This is Dr Tim Upson introducing the course at the Botanic Garden, by the lake. We had just seen a grass snake and joked about how plants often get upstaged by animals!

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Ranunculaceae is the Buttercup family, which contains many ornamentals.  Well known members are the buttercup (obvs), Delphinium, Aquilegia and Thalictrum.  The plants are mainly herbs, with a few climbers (Clematis).  It has a world wide distribution and plants in this family contain alkaloids – some are poisonous, like Aconitum.

The family name Ranunculaceae is pronounced ran-un-queue –lacey.

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A buttercup pulled apart: this family is not characterised by the number of petals and sepals as they are variable.  Linking characters for Ranunculaceae: flower parts are free and not fused, and spirally arranged along the elongated receptacle. There are numerous stamens and carpels.

Buttercups are actinomorphic which means they are radially symmetrical, as opposed to zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical).  Think of a cup and saucer – the saucer is actinomorphic (symmetrical along 3 planes) but the cup is zygomorphic (symmetrical along 2 planes).

The following three illustrations of Hellebore varieties are taken from our cultivated collection. Despite names such as ‘Christmas Rose’, this plant is not in the rose family but the buttercup family.  The first is from ‘The Garden’ the monthly magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society, 1879. The second was from another horticultural magazine: Edwards’s Botanical Register by S.T. Edwards & J. Lindley, 1838, and the third illustration was taken from Paxton’s Flower Garden, 1850-53 by J. Paxton.

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A herbarium sheet of Anemone nemorosa (wood anemone), from the buttercup family, collected by Lydia Becker in Whalley Wood, April 1864 for the British Botanical Competition. Lydia Becker was a suffragette and was born in Chadderton, Manchester.Image

Brassicaceae at Cambridge

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Last summer I spent a wonderful week in Cambridge, on the Flowering Plant Families course at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  It was a warm sunny week, and around 20 of us sat at microscopes in a classroom, the windows open to let in a summer breeze.  We had tea, biscuits and fresh plant material in jam jars around us.

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jars of fresh material and suggested reading

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This is the first in a series of plant identification blog posts, based on what I learnt at Cambridge.

One of the simplest plant families to start with is the cabbage family – Brassicaceae (pronounced brass ick ay see).

This is one of the simplest families to recognise as it has distinctive characteristics which are repeated.  The characters are

Sepals (calyx): 4

Petals (corolla): 4

Androecium (stamens): 6 (2 short, 4 long)

Gynoecium (carpels): 2 fused

The fruit is a siliqua – a pod like capsule with 2 united carpels.

I pulled the flower apart and laid it out so the parts are easy to see:

Rocket - Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae

This plant family is also called Cruciferae. This name comes from the cross (or crucifix) shape made by the four petals. It is easier to see in some species than others.

It is a family of annuals or perennial herbs, which contain mustard oils (glucosinolates) which give cabbage and Brussels sprouts their strong flavour.  Leaves are alternate and can be simple or toothed/lobed.

There are many economic uses – food like cabbage, rocket, broccoli and cauliflower, plus mustard and cress.  Oil is obtained from oil seed rape.  Other family members are grown as ornamental garden plants, such as honesty, stocks and wallflower.

eruca sativa

This is a herbarium sheet in the Manchester Museum of Eruca sativa (rocket). It was collected in St-Anne’s-on-the-Sea, Lancashire by Charles Bailey, one of our big collectors, in 1907. The handwritten number starting with EM, just above the printed label, is the database number we give each of our specimens.

This is a good, simple guide to the parts of a flower http://www.amnh.org/learn/biodiversity_counts/ident_help/Parts_Plants/parts_of_flower.htm

Challenging fruit

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Markets in the tropics offer a remarkable variety of fruit for sale; a lot of it unrecognizable to the UK based shopper! A recent enquiry from a Sudanese gentleman illustrates the point… he had four fruits in bag and wanted to know what they were.

“Gongoleze”

This was the most difficult specimen to identify. It looks like a piece of white polystyrene with a few rootlets in it! It tastes acidic with a bit of an apple-ey note. And the word isn’t in any search engine. Gongoleze is the fruit of the Baobab tree, Adansonia digitata, which is found in sub-Saharan Africa. The Baobab fruits are filled with a pulp that dries and disintegrates into powdery white chunks. The Baobab is a traditional food plant in Africa. In Sudan, the tree is called Tabaldi. The fruit can be dissolved in milk or water and used as a drink. The seeds also produce an edible oil.

A difficult identification, part of the fruit of the African Baobab tree, fortunately it came with a sketch of the shape of the fruit!

Lalob

The lalob is a fruit of the tree Balanites aegyptiaca, in English it is sometimes called the Desert Date and in Arabic it is also known as hidjihi or heglig. The fruit is edible, but bitter. In Africa; the leaves are eaten raw or cooked, the seeds are boiled to make them less bitter and eaten mixed with sorghum. The flowers are also edible. The tree has many medical uses, for example, the fruit is mixed into porridge and eaten by nursing mothers, and the oil is used to relieve headache.

Lalob fruit

Doam

The Doam fruit comes from a type of Palm tree, Hyphaene thebaica, which is commonly known as the Gingerbread tree. The tree was originally native to the Nile valley (it was sacred in ancient Egypt), and is common in sub-Saharan Africa. Tea made from Doum is believed good for hypertension. Doam also grows in southern India where it is known as Hoka.

The fruit of the “gingerbread tree” effectively a large date… wish I could get these in my local supermarket!

Nabug

The Nabug was the only one I recognised immediately, it is commonly called jujube, and comes from the tree Ziziphus zizyphus which is in the buckthorn family and is able to tolerate very hot climates. The immature fruits taste a bit like apples. It ripens to a wrinkly and red or black. Jujube tea is used to treat sore throats. The fruits are boiled for several hours and the extract used to make herbal tea. Jujube fruit is eaten widely, in a lot of different dishes in Africa, India and southeast Asia.

Nabuq fruit, more commonly called jujube, these are slightly under-ripe and have an apple-ey taste. A very widespread tropical fruit. There is a good botanical story about the Latin name, but that’s for another day!