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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Plant ID Meet Up: Scott Arboretum

On May 6th of this year Women in Horticulture hosted its second Plant ID Meet Up. This time we chose Scott Arboretum as our Meet Up location. The theme for this session was shrubs and although we had three hours to look at the ten plants on the list, we only got through five of them!

The goal of these Meet Ups is to give attendees a chance to discuss with their peers how they came to identification conclusions, practice their observation skills, review botanic terminology, and have time to follow up on questions that arise.

We started the day by observing the Lilac grove across from the visitor's center. All of us were familiar with lilacs, so this was a perfect place to start. For the lilacs, and every other plant on our list we went through the following exercises.

  1. Silently examine the plant for 2-3 minutes.

  2. Continue examining the plant and write down your observations using both common and technical language. 3-5 minutes.

  3. Draw a part of the plant that interests you. This could be a single bud, the overall habit of the plant, or the leaf arrangement. 3-5 minutes.

  4. Share your observations with the group.

  5. Discuss how observations differ within the group. Were these differences due to natural variation on a plant or something else?

  6. Using resources, look up any questions that arose. Example: Do roses have thorns, prickles, or spines? What is the difference?

Rosa 'Marie Pavie'

Next, we ventured into the Rose Garden where we were met with an abundance of roses in full flower! Rather than choose one rose to focus on as a group, we each chose a different rose and shared our observations with each other. It was charming how each of us seemed to grow attached to our particular rose. Our main conclusion from observing the rose garden was how remarkable the variation in just the one genus can be!

From there we observed Clethra alnifolia, a native clonal shrub, with tiny white flowers in panicles that bees can't seem to resist! This gave us the opportunity to review our compound flower structures. We discussed the difference between panicles, racemes, cymes, and umbels.

Our final plants of the day were both Viburnum. We chose Viburnum opulus and V. dentatum as they were close in proximity to each other. Viburnums are typically shrubs or small trees with opposite leaf arrangement. They are native in North America, Europe, and restricted parts of South America, Africa, and Asia. Examining these plants allowed us to see another plant with opposite leaf arrangement, as in the Lilac, and to see another form of compound inflorescence, as in Clethra. The lobed leaf shape of Viburnum opulus was the only leaf shape we observed that was not simple or simple leaflets on a compound leaf, as in roses.

Sculptural detail of the Rose Garden Fence

After we finished observing the above plants, we sat down with the resources we brought and reviewed some of the questions that came up throughout the morning. It was wonderful to have time to be able to answer these questions and study plants in such detail. There are a lot of plant species in the world to learn (about 390,000 is the latest estimate). Often classes attempt to get through as many plants as possible. So, this Meet Up was a nice change of pace. It felt like plant meditation mixed with a college science laboratory mixed with an art class. I know for me it was a perfect way to look at plants!

I hope by sharing the format of this Meet Up, that others will be inspired to take a closer look at the plants around you in a similar manner. We hope to host similar Meet Ups in the future, so keep an eye on our social media and website for details!

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