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I think the greatest difficulty for the beginner is how this


There’s grasses and buttercups but what sort?

relates to this


They all look the same!

In other words its very difficult to find a particular species (even if you know which family its in), partly because you are presented with all the members of the family on the one page. What’s not clear to the novice is that most of the plants in the family are probably quite restricted in their distribution and you don’t need to worry about them.

So when I came across this book by Averis (2013) it struck a chord.


Perhaps this will help with the confusion

The current trend is to teach people the families of plants starting with the most common. This is great up to a point, but what the beginner doesn’t have is experience of different vegetation types which could provide useful clues as to where their plant belongs. Averis attempts to put the individual plants in context and while parts of it work really well the tables can be a bit too long.


Too much info in one table?

So I think the answer for me is to merge the approach of Francis Rose (2006)(to do a vegetative key by habitat type, see p47) with Averis and to use the detailed information available on vegetation available through the National Vegetation Classification (NVC). (I look back to when I first started using keys to look at trees and shrubs and these proved useful because they restricted me to looking at a few recognisable habitats in that case, woodlands and hedgerows).

Because I live on the upland fringe of Wales I decided to start with one of the more easily identifiable vegetation types, that is heaths. These contain relatively few species so should be relatively straightforward to start with, and are well documented in the NVC. The idea is then to look at wet heaths, then acid grasslands so broadening my knowledge and recognising the context in which plants grow. I thought it better to start with a recognisable vegetation type such as a heath or a wood because something like urban wasteland or grassland would be just too daunting.


In South Wales dry heaths can occur on old spoil heaps

I like to think I know roughly what a heathland looks like so I started here with an area apparently dominated by dwarf heathy vegetation, in this case Calluna vulgaris and Vaccinium myrtillus. This is a dry heath (probably H12, see page 501 for the floristic table in Rodwell ed 1991 Vol 2) and the most likely dwarf shrubs, according to this NVC and The New British Plant Atlas( Preston. C.D; Pearman, D.A; Dines, T.D. 2002) are

Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea, Vaccinium myrtillus.

I have a good idea from the plant atlas that Empetrum, V vitis-idaea and Arctostaphylos uva-ursi don’t grow around here but that E tetralix is fairly common in wet heaths so I’ll stick that in for good measure. C vulgaris and V myrtillus are most common so I’ve put them first.


Vegetative Key for dwarf shrub plants of dry heaths (where I live)

1 Leaves less than 2mm or more than 10mm

Many tiny often overlapping leaves(1-2mm) C vulgaris

Leaves more than 10mm, oval pointed and toothed. Stems green and ridged, obvious if leaves not present  V myrtillus

2 Leaves greater than 2mm but less than 10mm long, leaves in whorls

Leaves (5-7mm) usually in whorls of 3 Erica cinerea

Leaves (2-4mm) usually in whorls of 4 Erica tetralix (usually in wet heaths)


[O.K it might be a bit too tied to where I live and could easily be broadened to include some of the rarer species. Grasses next!]