Why do we need to identify plants?
In the past, identifying plants was a skill that human beings had to develop in order to stay alive – eating the wrong kind of plant or using the wrong medicinal plant can be fatal. Nowadays, most people do not bother with plants because they can buy what they need at the shop…..
As a species, we are very good at sorting and classifying but we have to learn what to focus on and practice the skill. Identifying fynbos plants is a wonderful challenge because there are so many different species. This diversity can be daunting but if you attend a Fynbos Identification course you will have a better idea of where to start…….and it is a fascinating life long journey!!!!
Making sense of diversity
To make sense of diversity you need to start by looking for groupings that make sense and are easy to see. Size of plant, leaf size and shape, venation and arrangement of leaves, woodiness and flower colour and type are all useful characters that are not difficult to notice.
Walking with knowledgeable folk in the veld is daunting because they appear to just ‘know’ what the plant is by the ‘GSS’ (general size and shape) but they are actually running through a mental set of options. The guidebooks never seem to adequately explain these characters – or we instantly lose interest because the terminology bogs us down.
Botanical Teminology is alienating
Different plants have slightly different sets of options and terminology. Flowers usually consist of petals and sepals where the petals are colourful and attract a pollinator and the sepals are green and protect the flower when in bud. Some flowers have petals and sepals that look similar and in this case they are called tepals. Petals, sepals and tepals are also called perianth segments……..Are you confused?…… Budding Fynbos Fundies, don’t despair. Listed below are a few pointers
Ten tips to identify fynbos plants
1.Buy yourself one of the plant guides (Manning Fynbos Guide is best for general fynbos otherwise get the local botsoc guide for your area)
2. Flip through the book and look for pictures that look similar to the plant you are trying to identify. Flipping through the book is a good start
3. Is your plant a monocot or a dicot? (NB you SHOULD know this from school biology – if you don’t here is the first thing to look up) Look at the flowers, leaves, fruits and stems for clues.
4. Record what you find by drawing, dissecting and taking notes. Does this plant remind you of any other plant?
5.Take photos and put them on ispot to get a name .
6. Once you have got a name use the books to consolidate and cross reference information so that you can remember it.Look for other similar plants
7. Use a hand lens or a microscope to see the really small parts
8. Join CREW and become part of their amazing group of people who go out looking for plants. They are the best self- trained botanists and if you stick with them you will learn a lot
9. Work with other people – it is more fun comparing what you see or don’t see. Join the next ID course
10.Most importantly, go into the field and enjoy yourself botanising and being outside
If you are keen to join the next course, click here.