#30DaysWild 1: Wild rocket/bad botany

Intro: 30 Days Wild is the Wildlife Trusts’ month-long nature challenge which runs from 1 – 30 June every year. Its aim is to get people to engage more closely with nature – both for the benefit to them of doing so and also in a spirit of inspiring people to feel connected with nature. (Because we’re more likely to protect something that we value).

It’s the sixth year the Wildlife Trusts have run the initiative – and I can’t believe it’s taken me that long to decide to take part. Then again, I already spend a lot of time looking at wildlife and close to nature.

Anyway, my aim this month is to write/post something wild for every day of the challenge.

Here’s the first…

Wild rocket?

A variety of wild rocket

You might be familiar with the concept of ‘bad birdwatching’ as invented by the writer Simon Barnes. He introduced the idea in his RSPB magazine column (the mag was then known as BIRDS and is now called Nature’s Home) and it got one of the biggest responses of anything they’d ever published. It boils down to this: watching birds is fun, you don’t need to know what species you are looking at to enjoy it and it’s ok not to care what a bird is – you can just enjoy watching it.

That’s not usually my attitude to watching birds – because I get added satisfaction from knowing what bird I am looking at. But it is my attitude to botany – or it can be. Even though flowers can’t fly away when you are trying to work out what they are, they can still be bloody awkward to identify. Many species look very similar and if you want to tell one from another you need to look at leaf shape, flower shape, number of petals, whether it’s hairy or not… and a seemingly endless list of other ‘diagnostics’.

I enjoy it when I do it in collaboration with someone else – especially if they are ‘better at plants’ than I am (Remember that Hemlock water dropwort, Frances?!). But sometimes I’m content to take a bad botany approach and just enjoy looking at plants and flowers.

Wildflowers: just enjoy them! Pic by Kieron Huston.

On the first of my 30 Days Wild though, I’m somewhere in between. On a morning walk, I spotted a plant I’d not noticed before. It had leaves that looked like rocket, so I crushed one to see how it smelt – a good botany ID trick for some plants. It smelt like rocket! I snapped a photo (see small pic of yellow flowers under heading of this first post). It was lovely sunny morning. I was fantasising about seeing a crossbill in the conifer trees at the edge of the golf course. A dream made more real since I found out crossbills sometimes pass through the area and a couple of little flocks have been seen recently.

I forgot to look at the rocket’s stem to see if it was hairy. Nor did I pluck a leaf to compare with the pictures in my wildflower book. (There’s more than half a dozen different kinds of rocket in the book I have). Did it make me enjoy the flower any less? Or make it not worth writing about? No. Spotting the rocket made me look more closely at all the other flowers growing at the edge of the path – and I marvelled at how many different kinds of plant were there. So packed in together that I often couldn’t see which flowers were associated with which leaves. “I must do some more botanising,” I thought. It was a happy thought. I left it at that and went on my way.

● Sign up to take part in 30 Days Wild (and get access to lots of free printable resources including stuff for kids) here.

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