© 2005-2017 R.W. DARLINGTON
|Last Updated: Yesterday||Taxonomy: APGIII 2009|
This resource for wild flowers occurring in the UK is searchable by colour, month, habitat, number of petals, flower symmetry and all manner of other parameters by which identification of a flower may be narrowed down. It includes 1000's of photographs. Plus the structural formulae of hundreds of plant compounds: dyes, herbs, poisons, pharmaceuticals, smells, etc. There is also a wealth of extra information and other resources at hand.
Make sure you stretch the site out horizontally such that you can see the fourth column entitled 'SUBJECT INDEX'. If the site is too wide to fit on your screen, an alternative is to invoke the 'scale view' option present on all good web-browsers, and adjust it to something less than 100%. If not, there is another alternative (although not as easy to use) pull-out Subject Index which you may invoke; which is to be found near the foot of the APP(endix) which can be instigated via the button at the top of the second-column super-selector.
A sub-set of the Wild Flower Finder website can be run on a PDA's narrow screen just by using the SEARCH function. This is an extremely powerful search function especially suited to searching and helping identify wild flowers in the field on narrower screens. To help you enter the URL, simply photograph the Mobile QR code at the top with your mobile device, possibly into Google (the mobile app) [which accepts images, rather than Google > images which does not]. 'Puffin' is web-browser capable of independent scrolling of frames on mobile phones and tablets; most other mobile browsers cannot do this.
The wild flowers which are presented on these pages are growing daily in number due to liberal watering.
All photographs shown with the credit ©RWD are copyright the author, R.W. Darlington.
All photographs by other contributors are credited with their name and copyright symbol under the photograph in question, plus a personal profile on the contributors page. Anyone can contribute wild flower photographs.
FOREWORD by : The Author
Many naturalists seem to be over-concerned about whether or not a 'British wild flower' really is wild and native to this country or was introduced by humans and naturalised. What they often fail to recognise is that many of what they think are true British wild flowers could (and probably were) introduced by man in the past, sometimes in the very far and distant past. Before the ice age, which ended only 12,000 years ago, Britain had as many wild flowers as did Continental Europe. The ice age affected Britain more that Continental Europe; the British glaciers scoured the native land bare of nearly all the wild flowers and other plants. After the ice age, only about a third as many of the 'once native?' wild flowers returned to Britain (or were re-awakened after 160,000 years dormancy in the soil, for that is how long the last ice-age lasted). [It should be noted that some seeds don't even survive 2 years dormancy in the soil, and any that last as long as 160,000 years are indeed extremely resilient!]
So why all the fuss about introduced plants? Plants have been introduced to Britain by mankind and other creatures for thousands of years; so long ago, in fact, that no one really knows which plants were really native or introduced.
Of course, there have been many very recent and well documented non-native introductions to Britain. Kew Gardens has a lot to answer for. They have imported quite a few plants that are now classified as notoriously invasive weeds (er, sorry, there are no weeds, I meant wild flowers). Japanese Knotweed, once brought over to Wales for its highly praised form, threatens to destroy all other plants in Britain. It is now illegal to grow it intentionally; pity it wasn't so before someone imported it. Japanese Knotweed is virtually in-eradicable, its roots can extend down two metres below ground, and its underground stolons spread horizontally up to 7 metres underground, to appear in next-doors garden. And, if dug up, just a one inch length of any part of the plant that is missed will re-generate. [It can now be treated by cutting the stem off a foot above ground level, slicing downwards through the stem to the root, and then injecting it with a herbicide, but this treatment needs repeating every year for 10 years, and is very labour-intensive. (In the UK all Japanese Knotweed is female, and does not reproduce sexually, but only by vegetative propagation. That does not seem to have hampered its spread; how much faster could it spread if it were sexually active?).
An alternative approach to controlling Japanese Knotweed 'forests' is to infest the area with specialist insects that feed only on Japanese Knotweed. However, this method still needs approval from the authorities on the release of the non-native and jumping plant lice, Aphalara itadori, a Japanese psyllid, into the environment: still pending. These sorts of non-native introductions have always previously led to even greater environmental disasters in unforeseen ways. Such biological interventions often fail miserably to take a holistic view of the whole ecosystem. The old song 'She swallowed the Spider to catch the Fly' springs to mind in this situation]. Trials will establish whether this lice can be safely released into the UK environment to control Japanese Knotweed. But according to BSBI distribution maps, it is already in retreat, occupying fewer hectads than it did the previous decade. Compare the BSBI distribution of Japanese Knotweed in the period between 1987-1999 with that of the decade later 2000-2009, although the difference could just be an artefact caused by the possible under-reporting of a boring, ubiquitous well-known plant. [By a similar, but inverse token, rare-ish plants might be over-reported].
The author wonders who brought bracken into the country, for the way it is now spreading, can it really have been here once before? That too threatens to 'destroy' much of upland Britain. But what do we mean by destroy: upland Britain is not the same now as it was before the massive deforestation of Britain for firewood by our forebears.
Should we care if a plant is recently introduced or is an ancient relic or is possibly truly native to Britain (whatever that may mean)? For instance, Astrantia is a nice flower upon which to gaze. It was naturalised in Britain as a garden escape relatively recently. But was it one of the European plants that was actually here before the last ice-age but failed to re-colonize Britain naturally after the ice-age? (For 'Astrantia' read 'any plant'). And what of the dozen or so previous ice-ages? These are basic questions, but answers are not easy to determine in the field. Vegetable matter easily decomposes, even seeds which are more resistant, but under the right (natural) conditions, can be preserved as evidence for surprising long durations. Encapsulation in amber results in exceptionally long preservation. In 2012 a mite was discovered which had been encapsulated in amber for 230 million years. And in 2014 a 100 million year old lump of amber preserved the oldest evidence yet for sexual reproduction in a flowering plant (an angiosperm) from the Cretaceous period (though not in the UK). The flower was named Micropetasos burmensis; a new genus and species. But preservation in amber is a rare occurrence, especially in the UK.
The fact is, with or without human intervention, all lands change over time. With human intervention, it is possible to maintain a land in its present state against the forces of changing environmental factors around it, such as to ultimately preserve the land in a state which is very far from its normal equilibrium, or at least for a short while. But lose the human intervention factor and the land will quickly revert back to its preferred state, possibly via a number of intermediate steps as various plants vie for domination. But although it may eventually settle into a state that it was in originally, it may just as likely find a new state that it prefers over the original, and settle in that state: the ball at the summit of the mountain may roll into a different valley. Such are the consequences of taking a land far from equilibrium. That which was fertile could become desert. Once a land is taken out of equilibrium, other factors can come into play, such as increased rainfall, or increased updraught winds leading to erosion or deposition, which can change the character of the top-soil. If that happens, reversion to its original state could be impossible for millennia.
As global warming takes hold, the temperate regions will warm up, but the polar regions are becoming warmer still. The warm polar air is melting the permafrost and ice-sheet, which when white was reflecting the heat, but when gone are darker and absorb even more heat from solar insolation. This positive feedback ensures even faster melting of the polar ice and ever higher polar temperatures. This increased temperature differential with latitude is already leading to an increase in wind speeds, as normal meteorological effects try unsuccessfully to restore the ever increasing temperature differential. The consequences for British plants are, that as Britain gets warmer, the plants migrate northwards through the different land regions. This may sound fine; for they have over a thousand miles to travel from Lands End to John o Groats before they run like lemmings into the North Sea. But all regions from South to North are not the same. There are isolated Limestone regions and isolated peat-bog upland reaches, for instance, with each region supplying the needs of particular plant species. Species which grow only on mountains are being forced higher and higher and eventually will reach the summit where they can climb no higher. Any particular plant specific to one region could find itself pushed into an incompatible region, and thus die off altogether, or be forced, by natural selection, to change into something that can survive the new conditions. However, natural selection requires millennia to accrue advantage, a timescale not available for plants during rapid global warming.
But, all this and much more has happened many times before in the vast ages of the Earth, and all without human intervention. It is mankind that is now taking the Earth far from equilibrium. If pushed too far, the Earth itself could suddenly switch to a new quite unwelcome state as did Venus.
Britain is already changing, and there is virtually nothing that mankind can do about it. Earth is already committed to 150 years' worth of man-induced global warming even if the whole World stopped emitting man-made carbon dioxide tomorrow; such is the global residence time of atmospheric CO2. If we continue to release carbon dioxide at present rates, drastic change could come about much sooner. Against the forces of change, we can try to keep British lands in limbo, in their status quo states, but ultimately this can be disastrous as the land is taken very far from equilibrium, and it could eventually suddenly switch into new preferred states that may not be the state had we left well alone in the first place~
Change is upon us. All we can do is let nature take its own course.
In England, it was reported in 2011, the comma butterfly has moved 220km Northwards from Central England to Edinburgh in just two decades to keep cool. They can also move upwards, however, they can only keep moving upwards until they reach the summit of a hill or mountain, where they can get no higher out of the heat. They then die, or evolve.
Other research indicates that in Southern UK regions, each one degree Centigrade of warming lengthens the growing season by about 3 weeks. It is half that for Northern regions, i.e. about a 10 days longer growing season. In the year 2000, the 30-year-average growing season (for Central UK regions), was 243 days. The 30-year average is increasing by approximately 1.7 days per year since AD 1980 and has increased by about 24 days over the last 30 years. The year to year variation is quite large, varying from about 190 days (about AD 1980) to 308 days (AD 2000). To some plants this means earlier flowering, delayed leaf fall, over-winter flowering, and near continuous growth of lawns (which stop growing only when the temperature falls below 7C). To other plants it could mean two flowering seasons in the same year rather than just one. Those plants that are able to vary their flowering times in response to climatic changes are the ones likely to survive whilst less adaptable plants may perish. However, there may be some plants which have been able to do this in the past, flowering earlier and earlier in the year to the extent of now flowering in the depths of Winter only; any more global warming may drive those extinct too since there is no earlier month than January! Such plants have reached the buffer stop.
Above a certain temperature, which varies from species to species, the plant shuts down genetic machinery and stops growing. For plants growing wild in the UK, a typical shut-down temperature is 30C. Tropical plants will have a much higher shut-down temperature, arctic ones probably lower.
Species also have a minimum temperature at which they will grow, which again varies from species to species. For 'lawn' grass (in the UK) it is, as mentioned above, 7C.
Similar to the way that the liquid range of elements varies from element to element (gallium is liquid over a temperature range of 2174°C, whereas mercury only over 395°C, and water just 100°C) some species of plants will have a large range of temperatures over which they will grow, whilst others will have a much smaller range.
GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY and EXTINCTION THREATS
In 2010, Kew Gardens predicted that up to 34% of the total world-wide number of plant species is under threat of extinction, primarily in rain forests. This seems to be half the estimated number as reported by others in the same year, 2010, but both are just estimates; no one really knows. (Now, in 2016, Kew estimates that 21% of the 2015 World Wide count of 391,000 are at risk of extinction)
The current extinction rate (2011) (of the Worlds whole biodiversity) is already somewhere between 100 fold to 1000 fold higher than the background rate of extinction, so we may already be witnessing the next mass extinction event. Indeed, it has been confirmed that we are in a mass extinction event; by 2100 10% of all species may be extinct (and major extinction events may last much longer than 100 years).
In the UK, it was reported in 2011 that there has been a 97% reduction in the number of wildflower meadows over the last six decades, a tremendous decline (although this is due to policy, rather than natural causes). There are now a total of just 4 square miles of upland wildflower meadows left in the UK. Lowland meadows are in much the same predicament; there are now less than 10,000ha (25,000 acres) left according to Michael Way of Kew Gardens in 2011.
In 2016 conservationists have counted 4979 species of plants which in some places (mainly not their home countries) are invasive and pose a great threat to biodiversity in the countries they are now growing wild and uncontrolled within.
It is now thought that the Permian Mass extinction of 251 million years ago, where 95% of all plant species (and 90% of all species on Earth) were made extinct, was caused by a fungus in the soil acting on plants and trees whose health had been severely compromised and weakened by vast volcanic eruptions of that era. The fungi, possibly belonging to the group of fungi called Rhizoctonia some species of which are still extant today, took advantage of plants so weakened by heat stress, drought and acidification brought on by the volcanic eruptions. Such an extinction scenario is unique; no other mass extinction can be found in the geological strata where a fungus was involved on such a global scale. It is thought at least plausible that the same thing could happen to plants under the extreme stress of global warming today.
The level of oxygen in the atmosphere 251 Million years ago was higher than it has been since then, so much so that wild fires in vegetation ran rampage around the Globe, burning fiercely even when damp in the raised oxygen levels. This decimated the conifers cycads and ferns that were rampant at the time. 95 Million years later, (145 million years ago) the flowering plants suddenly recovered, and, growing faster than the competition, conifers, cycads and ferns, and came to dominate the flora. Thus, flowering plants are relatively recent in Earths history, which began c. 4540 million years ago.
Another theory has it that the mass extinction was brought on by a microbe belonging to the Methanosarcina Genus. Carbon dioxide levels seemed to have then surged far too quickly to have been emitted by a Siberian volcanic eruption, but instead a methanogenic microbe that required huge amounts of nickel*1 in order to flourish on such a grand scale was able to multiple very quickly in the nickel supplied by the volcanic eruption, and was then able to emit copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere. In the atmosphere the methane would oxidise fairly rapidly to carbon dioxide, giving rise to the high global temperatures and the mass extinction even that we observe as having occurred 251 million years ago. The Methanosarcina microbes are still present on Earth today, and are responsible for most of the biogenic methane still emitted.
Another source of methane is generated, not biologically, but geologically in the subduction zones of deep oceanic trenches, where two tectonic plates on the Earths surface collide, and one sinks beneath the other. The methane is generated in exothermic reactions of serpentinic rocks with sea water. A number of reactions are involved, some liberating hydrogen such as by the reaction of Fayalite, an iron silicate rock, with water:
Whilst others liberate methane by the action of water and dissolved carbon dioxide on olivine rocks:
Many other reactions between sea-water and serpentinic rocks take place. but the point is that the methane released deep underwater is under such enormous pressure that it forms a clathrate compound with water, where the methane is physically trapped within a caged compound consisting typically of 75 water molecules arranged in a cage similar to that of Buckminsterfullerene, C60. The resulting compound is commonly called methane hydrate, and is a solid similar to ice under the enormous pressure deep within an oceanic trench. There it is quite stable and safe if kept at below zero Celsius. However, if the ocean were warmed as would occur in global warming, the methane would be released from its trapping cages. There are enormous sub-sea deposits of methane hydrate; released into the atmosphere the methane is sufficient to raise global temperatures dramatically. Thus releases of methane hydrate deposits result in positive feedback - air and sea temperatures rise releasing ever more methane hydrates. If global temperatures increased sufficiently to release all the methane from the vast deposits of methane hydrate, then global temperatures would soar ever higher. The greenhouse-gas effect of methane is much higher (25x) than that of carbon dioxide. Somewhat fortuitously, the atmospheric residence time of methane is quite short at just 12 years whereas that of Carbon Dioxide can be much longer. (Unlike Methane, Carbon Dioxide does not decay exponentially in the atmosphere at a constant rate; it's decay is grossly non-linear with a with about half being removed in 5-10 years, 1/3rd remaining for ~100yrs and 1/5th remaining for 1000yrs). This behaviour is because sources and sinks of CO2 respond differently to any sudden increase. At the moment the atmospheric concentration of methane is, at 1.82ppm (2013) (it has increased from 1.69ppm in 1987), just over 200 times less than that of the 402ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The methane concentration varies with a yearly cycle over a range of about 0.04ppm, usually reaching a minimum about October. Methane which reaches the upper atmosphere is oxidized by the ozone up there to carbon dioxide and water (which is the main source of water up at that extreme height).
*1 Nickel, of course, can also be supplied in vast quantities world wide by iron-nickel meteorites impacting upon Earth. There are many such meteorite strikes that have been discovered from the past, and many fossil meteorite impact craters are still likely to be discovered, (although if it fell into the sea discovery is far less likely using current satellite observation techniques). Such meteorite impacts are identifiable from the unique Widmansätten patterning of the nickel-iron alloy visible when specially treated. Since the NiFe crystals only grow so large when the molten material is cooled slowly over several million years; an extraterrestrial origin is certain.
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