The potential of taking more photos of each plant


JOHN NORTON, WHO WAS WITH ME ON MY FIRST EXPEDITION (TO LADAKH) FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON BACK IN 1980, HAS RECENTLY PUBLISHED ON THE INTERNET SOME PAGES ABOUT THE GENUS RUBUS (BRAMBLES) IN THE UK.  TAKE A LOOK, AS THIS WELL-PRESENTED EXAMPLE, SHOWS HOW MUCH MORE INFORMATIVE  SEVERAL QUALITY CLOSE-UPS IMAGES COVERING THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS OF EACH SPECIES ARE, COMPARED WITH OLD-FASHIONED WRITTEN DESCRIPTIONS (IN THIS CASE OBSERVING THE STEM PRICKLES AND UNDERSIDES OF THE LEAVES ARE CRITICAL - NOT JUST THE FLOWERS). SEE, 'THE WORLD OF BRAMBLES': http://www.jnecology.com/brambles.htm .  THESE PAGES TRANSFORM THE UNDERSTANDING OF THIS DIFFICULT GENUS.

I MYSELF HAVE CHOSEN 'HIMALAYAN BALSAM' (IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA) AS A SUITABLE EXAMPLE (SEE BELOW) -  TO ILLUSTRATE JUST WHAT A LOT OF DETAIL CAN RAPIDLY BE OBTAINED FOR JUST ONE SPECIES OF PLANT, USING A MODEST DIGITAL CAMERA.  THE IMAGES BELOW REVEAL SO MUCH MORE THAN A SINGLE GENERAL PHOTO (EVEN CLOSE-UP, IN SHARP FOCUS) WITHIN A PRINTED BOOK OR EVEN THE MOST DETAILED WRITTEN DESCRIPTION IN A FLORA!  IT IS NEITHER AFFORDABLE NOR PRACTICAL SIZE-WISE, TO PRINT 5, LET ALONE 10  OR  20 PHOTOS FOR EACH SPECIES WITHIN A PRINTED GUIDE OR FLORA.

MY THINKING IS THAT THIS NEW APPROACH OF USING 10-20 (OR MORE) IMAGES PER SPECIES, ALLOWS PLANT IDENTIFICATION TO BE MORE RELIABLE, QUICKER, EASIER AND BETTER (MORE SCIENTIFIC) THAN USING TRADITIONAL METHODS - WHICH IN THE MAIN, FAIL IN THEIR OBJECTIVE - THE CORRECT IDENTIFICATION OF PLANTS!  TOO MANY PEOPLE MISIDENTIFY PLANTS - INDEED MANY ARE TRYING TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE, WITH TOO LITTLE INFORMATION/TOO FEW CLUES. 

WIDESPREAD ADOPTION OF TAKING MANY IMAGES OF EACH PLANT (AND HAVING MANY REFERENCE IMAGES FOR EACH SPECIES AVAILABLE ON WEB-SITES) WILL HELP  IMPROVE THE STANDARDS OF FIELD BOTANISTS AT ALL LEVELS (FROM EXPERTS TO BEGINNERS) ALONG WITH INTERESTED AMATEURS AND ENHANCE THE TRAINING OF A NEW GENERATION. 'A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS'............

SERIOUS STUDENTS CAN QUICKLY BUILD UP THEIR OWN DIGITAL, PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE COLLECTION (THE EQUIVALENT OF A HERBARIUM OF PRESSED SPECIMENS - BUT IN MOST CASES, MUCH MORE INFORMATIVE). MAY I REPEAT MY ASSERTION THAT PLANT IDENTIFICATION SHOULD BE VIEWED LIKE DETECTIVE WORK - WITH A FORENSIC APPROACH.  THE MORE CLUES OBTAINED, THE MORE THAT 'MATCH', THE GREATER CONFIDENCE ONE HAS WITH THE DESIRED RESULT - AN ACCURATE IDENTIFICATION.  IN ESSENCE,  TAKING MORE, QUALITY, CLOSE-UP DIGITAL PHOTOS OF A WIDE RANGE OF PARTS OF EACH PLANT , THEN COMPARING/MATCHING THEM WITH REFERENCE IMAGES IS MORE SCIENTIFIC. 

IT SHOULD BE A PRIORITY TO HAVE EXTENSIVE ON-LINE PHOTOGRAPHIC FIELD GUIDES TO WILD PLANTS FOR ALL REGIONS AND COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD AND OF PLANTS IN CULTIVATION (IT IS NOT FEASIBLE/ECONOMIC FOR THIS NUMBER OF IMAGES/PHOTOS TO BE PRINTED WITHIN BOOKS)

THE ENORMOUS, INDEED REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF THIS SEEMS CLEAR-CUT TO ME.  FUNDING AND RESOURCES NEED TO BE PUT INTO THIS - ALONG WITH A RECOGNITION OF THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF PLANT IDENTIFICATION SKILLS TO BIOLOGISTS AND HORTICULTURISTS, WHICH HAVE BEEN NEGLECTED, EVEN DISMISSED FOR DECADES.  MANY PEOPLE THINK THEY CAN RELIABLY IDENTIFY PLANTS BUT THE ARE MISTAKEN!

Please note that the images of plants photographed by me which appear on this web-site were taken using MODEST, inexpensive second-hand digital cameras.  Yes, it takes practise and knowing WHICH parts of a plant are ESSENTIAL to be photographed in close-up (not JUST the 'pretty' bits). With experience one develops an eye for taking decent pictures but this "skill" can be come in time. It is NOT prohibitively expensive to take lots of photos anymore, thanks to the wonders of digital cameras.

Another important consideration is that TRADITIONALLY, accurate and reliable identification of plants was based upon gathering a pressed specimen of EVERY species encountered, then comparing with reference pressed specimen which had been dried, labelled and mounted on sheets in herbaria. Indeed very few people realise that species within genera and genera within families are still LARGELY distinguished on the basis of characteristics which can be observed in pressed specimens in herbaria.

It is MUCH quicker to take even MANY images of a plant using a suitable digital camera, than gathering and drying a specimen - with the advantage of the images showing characteristics of a living plant, rather than a dried, preserved one.  Furthermore, collecting pressed specimens is increasing frowned upon or against the rules.  Photography, providing one takes care to do a minimum of damage when taking the images, is more eco-friendly that removing samples for pressing.  There are still situations when gathering pressed specimens is justified, indeed essential.

THE FIRST FEW PHOTOS BELOW, TAKEN 5 YEARS AGO, SHOW THE HABITAT AND OVERALL APPEARANCE OF 'HIMALAYAN BALSAM'.  THE FOLLOWING SERIES of 34 IMAGES WERE SELECTED FROM 133 TAKEN ON JULY 27TH 2015. I SHALL, IN THE COMING MONTHS INSERT ADDITIONAL IMAGES TO "FILL IN" ANY IMPORTANT MISSING PARTS/STAGES OF GROWTH, SUCH AS MATURE CAPSULES AND SEEDS.  GIVEN HOW VARIABLE MOST PLANTS ARE, A CASE COULD BE MADE TO ADD A NUMBER OF PHOTOS SHOWING VARIANTS IN TERMS OF ITS LEAF SHAPE.

AT THE BOTTOM ARE EXAMPLES OF THE PHOTOS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF IMPATIENS  GLANDULIFERA AVAILABLE FROM THE 1970s-1980s, WHEN I BEGAN TO TAKE AN INTEREST IN IDENTIFYING PLANTS.   

SURELY, THE POTENTIAL TO TRANSFORM OUR LEVEL OF FAMILIARITY WITH PLANTS IN THE WILD AND OUR GARDENS, ALONG WITH RELIABILITY OF IDENTIFICATION IS OBVIOUS? YET IT SEEMS MANY STILL NEED CONVINCING!

PROVIDED WEB-SITES ARE COMPILED COVERING DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLANT AND FROM DIFFERENT PLACES/REGIONS/COUNTRIES AND CAN BE ACCESSED IN A USER-FRIENDLY WAY, THERE IS SO MUCH SCOPE.   ALPHABETICAL ARRANGEMENTS, PRIMARILY BY GENUS AND SPECIES, ARE THE OBVIOUS CHOICE.

AT PRESENT I AM DOING ALL THIS ON A SHOE-STRING BUDGET, IN MY 'SPARE TIME', WITH AT BEST, POLITE DISINTEREST FROM THE LEADING BOTANICAL AND HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES IN THE UK - NOT TO MENTION INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATION BODIES AND GOVERNMENTS.  SURELY I DESERVE  ENCOURAGEMENT AND MODEST FINANCIAL SUPPORT SO I CAN WORK ON THIS FULL-TIME?

IMPROVEMENTS (EVEN IN THE UK) ARE URGENTLY NEEDED TO IMPROVE THE POOR STANDARD OF PLANT IDENTIFICATION WHICH EXISTS.  A HIGH PROPORTION OF PLANTS IN THE WILD AND GARDEN CONTINUE TO BE MISIDENTIFIED!

Joseph Chadwell photographing Himalayan Balsam (IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA) in 2010

An expanse of Himalayan Balsam with both flowers and young capsules

Flowers in racemes on long stalks

A common name is 'Policeman's Helmet' - as the flowers resemble old-fashioned London policemen's helmets; darker sepals similar in colour to petals

Note much paler sepals


Bee inside a flower - another common name for IMPATIENS  GLANDULIFERA is 'Bee's Bums'

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IMAGES TAKEN ON JULY 27TH

PHOTO 1  : Flowers - pink-red or red-purple; c. 3cm long; anterior petal orbicular-depressed, 7-8 x 12mm, dorsally crested

PHOTO 2  : Flower; showing lateral oblique cordate sepals, 7-9mm

PHOTO 3  : Glossy flower buds above a flower

PHOTO  4 : Foliage and flower buds; leaves opposite-verticillate, 6-15cm x 1.8-6.5cm

PHOTO  5 : Upper surface of leaf - according to 'Poland & Clement' the leaves typically have 24-75 serrate teeth per side; apparently at least the lower teeth tipped with red glands (which I have yet to check); petioles 3-3.5cm

PHOTO 6  : Lower surface of leaf - leaves are 6-15cm, lanceolate to elliptic, rounded or cuneate at base

PHOTO 7  : Leaf tip

PHOTO 8  : Stipular glands on leaf stalk

PHOTO 9 : Another view of the STIPULAR GLANDS at the base of leaves - Poland & Clement describe these as long and red (they are not particularly red on this plant)

PHOTO 10 : Flower opened

PHOTO 11  : Darker spots inside

PHOTO 12  :


PHOTO 13  : Dark spots

PHOTO  14 :

PHOTO 15 :

PHOTO 16  :

PHOTO 17  : Lower sepal saccate (pouch or bag-shaped)

PHOTO 18  : Lower sepal abruptly ending in a green spur, 5-6mm, incurved


PHOTO 19  : Incurved spur

PHOTO 20  :

PHOTO 21  :

PHOTO 22  : Fused petal pair

PHOTO 23  : Fused petal pair + sepals

PHOTO 24  : Lateral sepals

PHOTO 25  : Swollen node of stem, ridged; according to Poland & Clement there are reddish roots present at lower nodes (I have not checked this yet but recollect the roots previously); apparently they usually exhibit an antiseptic odour (which I have not checked yet)

PHOTO 26  : Swollen node with leaf removed

PHOTO 27   : Section of internode - according to Poland & Clement the stems in the UK are up to 2m, stout, reddish (only faintly so in this specimen)

PHOTO 28  : Section of stem

PHOTO 29  : Young capsule in my hand

PHOTO 30 : Immature green capsule; broadly clavate, 14-18 (-25)mm long, nodding - clavate means "club-shaped" (gradually thickening upwards from a tapering base)

PHOTO 31  :  The immature capsules will liberate seeds if squeezed but are not yet 'explosive' to the touch

PHOTO 32 : Immature, mostly white seeds which are nevertheless +/- fully formed; subglobose, 3mm, rugose (when mature)

PHOTO 33  : Long flower-stalks (up to 9cm); bracts elliptic-ovate or lanceolate-ovate, 7-8(-10) mm long

PHOTO 34: Capsule  with bract at based of flower stalk
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ILLUSTRATIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF HIMALAYAN BALSAM AVAILABLE IN THE PAST

Painting in 'The Concise British Flora in colour' (Keble Martin, first published 1965)

Brief descriptions of IMPATIENS in the UK from 'Concise British Flora in Colour'

Photograph from Roger Phillips 'Wild Flowers of Britain' (first published in 1977)

Description in 'Wild Flowers of Britain'

Painting by Marjorie Blamey within 'The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe' (Fitter & Fitter - first published in 1974)

Brief description by Fitter & Fitter ('The Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe')

Description from 'Flora of British Isles' (Clapham, Tutin & Warburg - first published 1952)

Description in 'Excursion Flora of the British Isles' (Clapham, Tutin & Warburg - first published 1959)


And even the page on the excellent WILD FLOWERS OF IRELAND site covering 'Himalayan Balsam', which has 7 images, they do not show the close-up detail of floral parts and foliage which can be seen amongst the (albeit) 34 images above see:
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So if the person attempting to identify British plants in the past (or present for that matter) did not have access to nor knew how to use, a herbarium (and this was not straightforward because strictly speaking, a pressed specimen would be required to compare with specimens in the herbarium - memory being a fallible thing - and this needed to have been treated to prevent any risk of pest infestation), then there was only a limited amount of information to go on and the degree of confidence they could have in their identifications.  Much depended upon experience and expertise - which took a lot of time to build up.
BUT WITH THE POTENTIAL OF DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY, READY ACCESS TO CLOSE-UP IMAGES COULD TRANSFORM THINGS - THOUGH ONE STILL NEEDS TO KNOW WHICH PARTS OF A PLANT TO LOOK OUT FOR AND PHOTOGRAPH/RECORD. 
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And what of the challenges faced by botanists ATTEMPTING to identify plants in the Western Himalaya? Take a look at the poor specimen of IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA in an Indian herbarium:


Could ANYONE name IMPATIENS with any degree of confidence using ONLY such poor specimens to refer to? Incidentally, the notes accompanying the specimen were 'copied' from a published description, not made from the fresh plant/in the field.

And how can one RELIABLY identify the awful specimen below as IMPATIENS SULCATA (which Stewart found difficult to distinguish from I.GLANDULIFERA from pressed specimens only)? See:

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