Monday, 24 March 2014

Plant identification

Identifying plants can be a minefield. It’s one thing when you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re looking at, but quite another when you have a sneaking suspicion. Nine times out of ten, you should probably go with your gut.

Last Friday, I found myself in such a situation, up to my eyeballs in creeping buttercup, and faced with something that initially felt not altogether different. Perhaps if I’d stuck with the same family, Ranunculacae (admittedly quite large, including buttercups and anemones and celandine but also –perhaps less obviously – hellebores, poppies, aquilegias and clematis, amongst many others), I’d have identified my mystery plant more quickly. But unfortunately I allowed my brain to get in the way, which sent me off on quite another route. With no tell tale flowers to help me, I became distracted by the cut leaf and stubbon, longish single root, which reminded me of something like cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris, and although I knew it wasn’t that, I wondered if perhaps it was a member of the same umbellifer family, the Apiaceae.

Just to add insult to injury, I elected to live tweet my mental process as I painfully worked things through. In verse. Nothing like public, self inflicted humiliation. But for those of you who missed it, here’s an account of events, more or less as they unfolded. You need never feel bad about misidentifying a plant again.

Ode to an Umbelliferous Thing

O Umbelliferous Thing, it’s my belief
your great tap root and compound leaf
should lead me, ’fore the morning's old
to cry your name out, loud and bold.

More numerous than buttercup
and twice as tricky to pull up,
why is it not so plain to see
the truth of your identity?

Not Hogweed, then you would be hairier.
P’raps Aegopodium podograria:
Ground elder? No, the root’s all wrong
You clearly sing a different song.

Not knowing irks me; hands all clammy.
Maybe you’re spawn of summer’s Ammi?
Can’t be, that really would be queer
We planted none of that last year.

A brutish Carrot? Here? How raucous
would be the cries. Daucus –
in the flower beds – how fey!
It’s not a bleedin' pottager!

So neither chervil, parsnip, parsley...
but here a thought intrudes-how ghastly!
A nagging doubt, at first quite small...

This one here has a thing quite odd;
A longish stem and seeded pod...
Umbellifer, this plant is not.
If that’s the case, the question’s: WHAT?

There’s many a plant – family, to boot –
compound of leaf and long of root,
I clearly was too quick today
to take the Apaiceaen Way.

I’ve really been supremely soppy
It’s Meconopsis – a Welsh Poppy!

Meconopsis cambrica, via a very circuitous route