Not all botanists are gardeners but are all gardeners botanists? If you ask a gardener whether they’re a botanist most will probably tell you they know a little about plants and then name most of the plants in the garden using a Latin or a Greek tag. True you don’t need any formal botanical training to be a good gardener, but most people with an interest in plants just absorb the knowledge as they go along.
I must admit that I was taught botany before I became a gardener. I started my own herbarium collection at the age of five in an innocent age when little girls collected wild flowers, pressed them and put them in a scrapbook. It is perhaps a testament to my later formal teaching that I can still put most flowers in the correct family. However, I still come a little unstuck at times when the plant has no flower, although I can recommend The Vegetative Key to the British Flora by Poland and Clement. So when Himself presented me with a very brittle, dry, old flower stem and asked me what it was, I just raised an eyebrow. My best guess an umbellifera and probably Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium.
Two days later I was informed that the aforesaid plant was Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris. Now this came as a surprise as I didn’t know it grew on our croft, but there are obviously a few plants in a boggy bit on the far side of the headland – not an area I visit very often in the summer as this is where the snipe and redshank breed – well that’s my excuse. The jaw dropping element was that he’d managed to identify the plant from a dried up old flower stem – had I missed some key characteristic? What I had missed where some small black dots on the stem (apothecia – fruiting bodies). Himself had identified these as Heterosphaeria patella a cup fungus which only grows on Wild Angelica.
Often a clue to identifying fungi is knowing the host plant species and then looking at which fungi have been recorded as an associate. It seems more unusual to identify the plant on the basis of the fungus.