Leaves have beards!

Cichorium intybus Gulf Ave 20170723 (10)

Photo by am.zooni


While classifying at NfN, do you sometimes see a specimen that is particularly beautiful, or one that looks odd, and wonder what the living plant looks like? Or perhaps your curiosity is roused when you transcribe a label for a familiar species or location. Take hold of that thought and build on it.

There are many excellent sources of photos and information about plants online: use them. But add depth, and literally, add life, to your “book learning”, by going outdoors to observe nearby plants. You may discover a wealth of awesome things all around you, which previously escaped your notice.

Take a close look at a flower, a bud, a fruit, a leaf. A very close look. Use the zoom on your phone camera as a magnifying glass to get an even closer view. You’ll see all sorts of patterns and textures. For example, many plant are hairy creatures: fine hair, thick hair, short hair, long hair, surfaces with an even coat of hair, or a clumpy one, or with a fringe of hair at the margin. Turn a leaf over and look at the underside. Even a plant with a smooth, hairless leaf surface may have “beards” where the veins join the main rib, or at the base. Leaves have beards! Who knew? (See some examples.)

There are endless fascinating things to learn, once you begin paying close attention to plants. If you can, revisit the same plant every week or two, and observe buds as they develop into flowers or leaves, and flowers as they develop into ripe fruits. It’s exciting to see how the parts of a plant look and grow and change, through all four seasons. (Yes, even in the depth of winter, there is much you can learn.) It takes patience, but the rewards are rich.

It isn’t necessary to have studied botany, or to visit a natural, undisturbed environment. Finding a variety of plants to observe is more convenient if you have easy access to a “leafy” park or neighborhood, but plants are everywhere, even in a dense urban environment. The flower at the top of this post (Cichorium intybus, or chicory) was found on a plant growing in a crack between a paved road and its curbstone.

Give plant observation a try! You will see your surroundings with a fresh perspective, and learn a lot along the way. There are things to surprise and delight you at every turn.

— Ann (am.zooni)


[This is guest post from a NfN volunteer. We are always open to blog contributions from the NfN community. If you have a blog idea please reach out to Michael on Talk (md68135).]


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