Plant Recognition

Yesterday was a cold damp day, with sleety showers moving in from the east. Don had laid out two lines of leaves for me to practice plant recognition (I had mentioned this was an area where I needed to do a bit of work).Cold day on Loch Ness My strategy was to say what I thought I knew, and try to do some deduction from there. The initial recognition criteria were – these are evergreens, some have spines, some have shiny green undersides and others are matt and pale buff. I also pointed out some opposite and alternate leaves which I was quite pleased about.

The first was a line of mostly hollies and the second was mostly olearia. I recognised the hollies (big wowee) but had no idea about the olearia – the daisy bush group I should definitely get more familiar with.

Most holly leaves are simple and alternate, with spine-toothed, spiny or entire margins. Olearias have a very pale underside and a waxy surface.

Don had included some ‘false friends’ to test me, including Desfontania spinosa (Chilean holly) and Olearia macrodonta (New Zealand holly), neither of which is holly at all but both have spiny leaves. One rogue addition was in fact a bush honeysuckle (Laurissa nilida) whose leaves go golden in the summer. Other surprises put in to confuse me (no sorry, to improve my plant recognition skills) were Berberis darwinii (spine-toothed, glossy dark green leaves) and Lonicera nitida (bushy evergreen honeysuckle). The honeysuckle has opposite leaves which was a bit of clue for me that it didn’t quite fit. Olearia virgata var.lineata ooks a bit like rosemary but is an olearia all the same.

From memory, helped by photos and the RHS encyclopedia, the hollies on the table were:

The table-top testIlex ‘Camelliifolia (broad, deep green, smooth leaves)

I. pernyi (diamond-shaped leaves

I. crenata (dwarf shrubs with black berries)

I. scotica (curled-up leaves)

We discussed the functions of leaves (this is not the answer to an exam question, but it could form the basis)

  • photosynthesis and respiration of course

  • repel moisture

  • retain and absorb moistre

  • protection from wind and salt

Spikes offer protection from predators (although deer have been known to munch through holly leaves when there’s little else available). Spininess tends to diminish higher up trees out of the way of predators.

Olearia macrodonta underside

Desfontania spinosa


Berberis and Lonicera

Through the sleet showers we went for a winter tour of the garden. Lots of things still in bloom, and some (like mahonia and the hellebores) just coming into their peak bloom period. Lovely warm, colourful, textured barks are in view now that most of the foliage has died back.

December colourDecember colour 2

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