Wendy Hitchcock Fynbos plant identification workshop
On Thursday, 17 July, an American group of students arrived in Nature’s Valley from the Wildlands programme. They joined the Nature’s Valley Trust and we put together a programme full of all our research projects and some of our education programmes so that the students could learn what we do as well as gain some important field work skills. As part of this programme Wildlands arranged for a Fynbos plant identification workshop which is run by Wendy Hitchcock.
Wendy Hitchcock is a free-lance environmental educator, a flower artist as well as a trained botanist who runs a Fynbos plant identification workshop for people of all ages from Kirstenbosch gardens and elsewhere. She is very knowledgeable about how plants function and has an easy, non-complicated way of teaching people how to start identifying plants as well as how flowers function. The workshop began on Friday afternoon and went on through the weekend until Sunday late afternoon.
The American students along with some members of the NVT team (Mark, Minke and Kellyn) joined Wendy to learn more about Nature’s Valley’s Fynbos and the key aspects to help us identify the plants we have. Day one began with everyone in the group introducing themselves so we could all get to know each other followed by us dividing into groups to list the things we knew about Fynbos and the things we would like to know. Once our lists were shared with the group we then set out into the Nature’s Valley Fynbos Reserve to go and collect some plant samples to bring back. When we all returned to the church we placed our samples on our table and Wendy began to tell us what things you could look at to start to separate and put like with like with samples we had. Wendy explained how things like the smell, shape, size and texture of leaves could help you separate the samples along with the shape of the flowers and whether they were woody or not. The day ended with everyone learning about the difference between monocots and dicots and placing all our samples in their appropriate group.
Day two saw us learning to document all the characteristics we could see when looking at some samples of plants Wendy provided us. Wendy showed us how to put together a plant identification sheet where you first draw what you see and label the different plants and then to pull the plant apart into its different parts. We first removed the sepals, then the petals followed by male and female parts of the flower which we stuck to our info sheets. This helped us all to look at more than just the outer surface of the plant and also showed us how in depth you must go to try to identify plants of the Fynbos. Wendy then pulled out the dissecting microscope with a camera and showed us all the bits of some small false buchu flowers. It was fascinating to see the male and female parts of the flowers up close and gave you a new appreciation for just how complex yet amazing plants can be. Once our mini dissecting show was over Wendy taught us how to do a flower formula and floral diagram to record plant information in the field, a nice quick way to record loads of information. The day ended with us taking a whole lot of samples and pictures of flowers and placing them into their families using the skills we had learnt earlier in the day.
The final day was used to test how well we listened and how much we learned about identify Fynbos plants to at least family level and if possible species level. We divided into pairs and took to the Fynbos reserve where we were to find two plants and “interview” them. This task was to help us with plant identification but also an opportunity for us to see what terms we still did not see and whether or not we had more questions. Once that was done Wendy brought our focus from plants to trees as well as how to use dichotomous keys. As one of our tasks we were handed a draw full of kitchen utensils and asked to make a dichotomous key for the utensils. This let us all know how difficult it is to develop a key, but after lots of arguing as to what should be considered key traits we ended up with a pretty decent key. Wendy then divided us into groups and handed us a number of tree branches and asked us to make a dichotomous key using the leaves as our main focus. Once our keys were completed we were giving the chance to use different tree books to try and identify our tree species based on the keys we had made. This was our final task for the workshop and turned out to be a fun one too.
Wendy is a lovely woman who brings her passion for education and nature across in everything that she does. Instead of throwing big science terminology at you from start to finish, she first finds out how much the group knows and works from there. Her manner of teaching is simple, visual, hands on and easy to follow making you learn more than if you were just sitting while someone gave you a presentation. We would like to thank Wendy for taking the time to come down the Nature’s Valley to give us this plant identification workshop and what we all learnt will stay with us when we out-and-about in the field again.