Encouraging the Next Generation into Botany

It's a relatively quiet time for wildflowers now, so I thought I would write a short blog on sharing the joy of wildflowers with my Grand Daughter, JJ. She is just 12 years old but has been coming out with me and her Nan for a few years now.

Given that many of our days out are botany related, she has now amassed a fair amount of knowledge of identifying wildflowers - and fungi, butterflies and bugs of course.

JJ admiring thousands of naturalised Narcissus cyclamineus at Hilly Wood, Kent.

JJ is like most other children, usually glued to a tablet or TV, but she does like to go outdoors as well, in particular to woodlands where she has seen far more of nature than her whole class at school put together has seen.

She has learned the names of many common wildflowers, including most Dead-Nettles, Groundsel, various Buttercups and so on.

On a school trip to a woodland camp when she was about to leave primary school, she surprised the teachers by knowing all the plants they pointed out as well as the fungi. This was all down to her accompanying us on our nature walks and absorbing the information given about everything we found.

JJ with a Large Puffball she found on the Scotney Estate.

Shepherd's Purse was one of the first wildflowers she identified herself and is a favourite. She picked a heart shaped seed and gave it to her Mum when we took her home.
Use a bit of imagination when describing wildflowers to children and the information sticks with them.

Cow Parsley is another plant she can successfully identify  and she got to see some lovely swathes of them on our walks. This is Rectory Meadow at Hartley, North Kent. Incidentally, this tiny reserve also harbours Man and Pyramidal Orchids, White Helleborine, Dyer's Greenweed, Slender Bedstraw (see Kent RPR species account for this discovery on BSBI county pages) and a host of more common wildflowers.

JJ helping me find wildflowers and beautiful orchids on Anglesey's Cors Bodeilio nature reserve last June.

Knowledge of nature isn't the only benefit. Exploring nature keeps children fit and healthy and sets them on course for good health in later life. Here's JJ on the foothills of Mount Snowdon. She found some nice Round-leaved Sundews and Heath Spotted Orchids for me as well.

This is another of JJ's favourite plants, the humble Red Dead-Nettle.

It's very common and most children should be able to find this plant.

Just like adults, JJ finds orchids fascinating and has seen virtually all of the species found in Kent and East Sussex. Here she is posing with a Lady Orchid at KWT Park Gate Down, also home to Early Purple, Fly, Monkey, and Common Spotted Orchids and more.

I remember her excitement when we found a colony of Lizard Orchids near Rye in East Sussex (thanks to Owen Leyshon for directions). We had been looking in the wrong place for some time so when I eventually found them she rushed over full of enthusiasm.

I'd like to say her photos were stunning, but as is often the case her excitement got the better of her and they came out a bit blurred due to camera shake.

Here's one I took at Sandwich, Kent the same year (2017)

Another fantastic and much rarer orchid only found in Kent that JJ has seen, is the Late Spider Orchid, like a big red furry oversized Bee Orchid, they are a stunning wildflower. Showing plants like these to children gives them a realisation of nature's beauty and the threats that nature faces in the modern world. The more children that realise this, the better the possible future will be for these species.

When one knows a species, one values it and doesn't want it to become extinct. That's my theory anyway.

As the season moves into high Summer in July, there are still orchids to be found.

Here's JJ all excitable again at finding some Violet Helleborines in a wood on the North Downs in Kent.

We have "trained" her to look where she treads and not to go rushing up to a flower, to avoid trampling unseen plants. A point worth bearing in mind when taking children to see rare plants.

Of course, botany doesn't just keep the children fit and healthy, it keeps us older folk on the go as well.
My partner and a Frog Orchid in Sussex.

It's a great feeling seeing JJs' little face light up when we find an interesting or beautiful plant (butterfly, bug etc) and so much more rewarding for the child than being in front of a screen all day long. My hope is that this bodes well for the future both for the child and for the state of nature and environmental issues that she will grow up with.

So come on you parents and grandparents, get off the sofa and get outdoors. It really doesn't matter if you can't identify what you find at the time. Take a few photos (on your phone or camera) and extend the fun at home by looking up what you have found. There's a whole new world of nature out there waiting to be re-discovered.



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