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Beginner's Diary

The Wild Flower Society is a charity whose main object is to help people, especially young people, to get to know wild flowers better. One way it does this is through its printed diaries. There are two kinds of diary; this one is for beginners, the other has a lot more names printed in it, in alphabetical order of their scientific names.

There are many different kinds of wild flowers around you, even if you live in a city, a lot more than there are of birds for instance. As with birds, not many of them are brightly coloured, but all are interesting. You cannot expect to learn to recognise all of them at once very quickly, but with a teacher always at hand to help you may hope to learn a few in the first year, more in the next year and so on. 

The Diary is a way of communicating with a teacher, a little at a time. You write what you have found on the page of the diary, and where and when you found it, day by day as you find them. Some flowers have their names printed in for you, but there are a lot more which you might find which are not there, and if you are quite sure of what you have found you may write the name in for yourself wherever you think best. There is an example of how to fill in the Diary inside the back cover. 

At the end of October, or sooner if you are sure you are not going to be able to add any more, you send or take your Diary to your Branch Secretary to be checked. (You will be told who your Branch Secretary is when you join the Wild Flower Society). You can also of course get in touch with your Branch Secretary at any time during the year if you want help. In the following year there will be a report by your Branch Secretary on all the branch diaries, in the Society's Wild Flower Magazine. You must tell your Secretary if you don't want yours to be mentioned. 

Next year, you must start again with a new Diary. It is by your filling in the Diary over and over again, with more flowers each time, that the Wild Flower Society helps you to learn about them. As soon as you can do so easily, you should change to using the larger Diary mentioned at the top of the page, which is arranged so that you can use the same Diary for two years. 

You will need a book to help you identify the flowers you find before you can put them in your Diary. There are lots of books in shops, but the following are particularly aimed at beginners, the last three especially for young beginners: 

  • The I-Spy Guide to Wild Flowers
  • The Wild Flower Key, by Francis Rose
  • Wild Flowers of the British Isles and Northern Europe, by Pamela Forey
  • Observer's Wild Flowers, by Francis Rose
  • Clue Books - Flowers, by Gwen Allen and Joan Denslow
  • The Easy Way to Flower Recognition, by Kilbracken
  • Usborne Spotter's Guide - Wild Flowers
  • I-Spy Wild Flowers
  • Hamlyn Tracker Guide - Wild Flowers
Most of these have pictures of wild flowers, but you should never identify them from pictures alone. Always read the words about the flower illustrated as well, to check what it says about the plant and the parts of the country and the sort of place it grows in. For instance if you have found your plant growing in a lake in Scotland, and the book says that it grows in hedgerows and woods in southern England, then you have probably got it wrong. None of the books mentioned contains all the wild flowers you can find in the British Isles. Once you start finding flowers which are obviously not in the book you started with, you will probably want to progress to a book which does have them all, and for this the obvious choice is New Flora of the British Isles, by Clive Stace. By this stage you will have discovered that you need to look closely at plants, using a hand lens magnifying ten times. 

The flowers in the Diary are grouped according to colour, starting with yellow flowers, then white, then red (including pink and purple), then blue (including violet), then green or brown. Most of the red and blue flowers sometimes have white flowers instead, and some of the white flowers sometimes have a pinkish tinge; this must not be taken to mean that you have found something different which may be put in the Diary separately. 

For all the colours except green/brown, flowers with five petals come first, then flowers with four petals, then pea-flowers, then the rest. Included in the five and four-petalled flowers are those with petals slightly joined together, as long as the number of parts is obvious. Pea-flowers have a special arrangement of the petals, which is illustrated. 


For each flower listed, there is its common name(s) in English, its scientific name, its botanical family, the sort(s) of place where it usually grows, and sometimes some notes about similar plants, or uses, or other features of interest. If you are writing in extra names you do not have to put in all this of course, just a common or scientific name to make it absolutely clear which species you mean. 

There is a note about scientific names and botanical families at the end after the index. 
The sort of place where a plant usually grows is called its habitat. The plants listed here are mostly grouped into eight different kinds of habitat:

  • arable fields
  • grassland (including the special sort of grassland which you get when the rock underneath is chalk or limestone) 
  • gardens, waysides etc.
  • hedgerows
  • moorland, including mountains and heaths
  • the seaside, including cliffs, dunes and salt water habitats
  • woodland
  • wet places, such as ponds and riversides.
You should try to find flowers in all the different habitats which you can get to easily. 

Also you should try to visit your local habitats at different times of year. This is especially important of woodland, where most of the flowers are out early in the year before the leaves of the trees make it too dark on the ground underneath them. You should also try and find the same plants both in flower and later when it is setting seed and you can look at the fruit (this means any kind of container for a plant's seeds, not necessarily a fleshy one like a berry or an apple).

Scientific names and botanical families 

The technical word for a particular kind of plant (or animal) is species

There have to be ways in which all the plants of  one species are always different from all the plants of another species. If  a plant sometimes has red flowers and sometimes white flowers, but  there are no other differences between the red-flowered ones and the  white-flowered ones, they are probably all of the same species, and should only be  entered once in the WFS  Diary. But if there are other ways in which the red-flowered  plants and the white-flowered plants are different, for instance if the red ones always have narrower leaves than the white ones, then  they may be different species. Sometimes red deadnettles have white flowers, but they are still red deadnettles! 

The scientific name of a species is always in  Latin, so that it is the same in all countries, and it always consists of two words, the first of which has a capital letter. Similar species will have the same first word, and very often the second word is one which describes it, so Lamium means deadnettle, album means white, purpureum means red, the white deadnettle is Lamium album and the red deadnettle is Lamium purpureum

The deadnettles have other plants which are a bit  like them and are in the same deadnettle family. There are  also bugle, ground-ivy, water mint, selfheal, wood sage, woundwort and  yellow archangel in this family. These are all plants with square stems and leaves  arranged two-by-two up the stem, and most of them have flowers of a similar  basic shape, and a definite smell.

Other large families of plants are the pea family;  the daisy family, represented here by burdock, daisies, mayweed,  thistles, knapweed, dandelion, coltsfoot, groundsel, ragwort,  pineappleweed, sow-thistle and yarrow; the rose family with tormentil, cinquefoil,  silverweed, agrimony, avens, blackberry, hawthorn, blackthorn, meadowsweet and strawberry; the figwort family with brooklime and other speedwells, foxglove, mullein and toadflaxes; the cabbage family with charlock,  Jack-by-the-hedge, lady's-smock and shepherd's-purse; the primrose family with cowslip and scarlet and yellow pimpernels as well as primrose; the borage family, the buttercup family, the cabbage family.

It is not always easy to see what brings the plants in the same family together. What botanical family a species is in does not  have any bearing on what it is called, but most books on wild flowers put all  the ones in the same family together. If you can recognise what family a species is in, these books are easier to use. The families have scientific names, e.g. the primrose family is Primulaceae.