28 June 2010

The Perils of botanical identification

On the 8th of July last year I went up Cnoc Coinnich

In crags just below the summit I saw and photographed what I took to be an undersized Starry Saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris). It never occurred to me until after I had returned home, that it could be the much rarer Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis), though it didn't quite match the descriptions in the books, and I had never seen this species before.

I returned with the botanist responsible for maintaining the records for the area as he had an old record for this species on this hill. Unfortunately there had been a lot of rain and it appeared that the plant had been swept away, so we were never able to come to a definite conclusion.

Last week after I had been up Ben Dorain, I posted the image below on this blog, to show what I took to be Roseroot (Sedum rosea), Scurvygrass (Cochlearia sp.) and Starry Saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris). I had taken it to help in the identification of the Cochlearia species, and sent it to the same botanist.

After I had sent it, I had a closer look at the picture. The little saxifrage on the right didn't look quite right. I sent the full-size image of it to the same botanist who confirmed that this time it really looked like Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis).

I could scarcely believe that, having made the mistake once of failing to notice this species, I had managed to do so yet again, and had to confess this to the same botanical recorder on both occasions!

To see the difference between the two species, see the online Skye flora

Thanks to Carl Farmer for his help with this one.

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