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What is the flora identification tool and how do I use it?

Submitted by Peter Orchard on Thu, 15/08/2019 - 15:54

Introduction:

We have all been in a position when we have been out in the field and seen a flower we do not immediately recognise and so we get out our field guide and start thumbing through the pages looking for a picture that matches the flower we are looking at. There is more to identifying flowers than finding a picture match and this aid tries to help you by providing a series of filtering options which can be used to narrow down some suggestions that direct you to the best candidates to look at in your field guide. You can tap/click the species photograph to see more information about a species in the Nature of Dorset database which may also help.

Just to emphasise this tool is not intended to provide you with a positive identification on its own and is best used with a good field guide or other identification resource. 

Methodology:

The wild flower identification aid presents you with four questions:

  1. What colour was the flower?
  2. What month did you see it?
  3. In what habitat was it growing?
  4. What family of plants does it belong to?

You can answer as many of these questions as you feel you can and the system will then present a selection of photographs for flowers that match the answers you have given. The more information you give the tighter the choices you will receive and you may find it is best to answer just two and look at the results and then try a different combination of two answers and see if there are overlaps and if some species occur in all combinations you use!

Answers to these questions can be very subjective and your perception may not match mine and therefore be prepared to try different answers and different combinations of answers if you do not find what you are looking for with your first attempt. This aid is based on MY observations in DORSET (England!) and as a result:

  • It will not be a comprehensive list, only those 500 or so species that are most likely to be seen in Dorset
  • The data is Dorset based and may not be true for other counties in the United Kingdom but it may still be a useful tool for people living in other parts of the country
  • The data given can only be general as a single enthusiastic person cannot visit every square metre of Dorset and recoord every flower they see!

Instructions:

What colour is the flower:

Identifying plants by the colour of their flower is fraught with difficulty! To botanists it is just one of many factors taken in to account in identifying a species but a casual observer will usually only notice one thing - the colour of the flower!  Here are some of the problems encountered identifying plants by flower colour alone:

  • People interpretations of a colour will vary undoubtedly vary. Men and women see colours differently, for example, and what I see as purple may be pink to others
  • Some plants occur in different colours. Bluebells and violets, for example commonly occur in white and so in this aid I have used only their more normal form
  • Some plants have multiple coloured flowers so I have tried to use the dominant colour in this aid
  • Flowers will have natural variations in colour depending on their age
  • Sometimes the soil can create variations in colour within the dame plant
  • Sometimes you will see sepals which are different colours to the petals and give the impression that the flowers are a different colour completely (especially the dock family)
  • Some flowers are so small it is difficult to see what colour they really are, especially low growing, creeping flowers
  • Within the same colour groups I have used there will be variable shades (for example yellow, lemon, gold, etc)
  • The light can affect the colour you see and, especially, the colour in a photograph (blues photograph poorly)

To compensate for this you may need to try different options under colour to find the flower you are looking for.

In what month was it flowering:

The months in which a plant flowers can be quite variable. 

  • Months I have used will reflect what happens here in Dorset in a usual year and this may not reflect the position elsewhere in the country
  • The months listed can vary each year weather (especially frost in autumn and early winter)
  • A plant in a sheltered, sunny position may flower much earlier than elsewhere

If you see a flower late in the year you may need to start searching in earlier months to find what you are looking for. Remember, in Dorset plants will flower much earlier than in the north.

What habitat was it flowering in?

Some plants only grow in specific habitats and conditions but other can be quite ubiquitous and grow in the most unlikely places! This can be as a result of diverse factors such as the dumping of garden rubbish in the countryside or perhaps a plant is a remnant of the way the habitat once was before being changed by human intervention. However, habitat is an important factor in species identification.

What family does it belong to?

I appreciate that the casual observer may not readily know the characteristics of the family groups of our wild flowers but I have included it as a parameter as it is an essential part of wild flower identification and if the observer can select a family group then it will help.

Status:

For each species I include this because statistically you are more likely to see a common flower than a rare one! The status is my opinion and based on my recording of a plants in Dorset.

Alternative:

If you are at one of the nature reserves or nature 'hot-spots' featured in the Nature of Dorset you may like to look at the species list for that site to see if anyone has reported what you are looking at previously. To do this, go to the option to "Identify a species based on where I am now".

Finally:

Just to reiterate:

  • This is a guide to possible candidates for identification and NOT a definitive guide to flower identification
  • All the information is Dorset based and may not apply to other parts of the British Isles
  • The data in this guide is open to interpretation in different ways by different people so use with care
  • Tool is available for use free of charge and intended to help budding nature lovers and not established enthusiasts