John Poland running through the Vegetative keys

John Poland running through the Vegetative keys. Photo: Andy Harmer.

Cotton’s Hotel at Knutsford provided the backdrop to CAN’s botanical workshop with John Poland (of Poland/Clement vegetative key fame) and this proved to be a good choice… The chairs were leather and the coffee machines were built to last the whole day.

The day started with refreshments because some of the little lambs from the CAN flock hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was nearly ten o’clock! Cereals, fruit, and biscuits were available and without wishing to malign the membership, I’ll just say that the biscuit barrels had about as much peace as a mouse in a room full of cats.

Poland, a thoroughly nice guy, and obvious pioneer in his field, bounced in with bags full of plants and with an uncanny visceral feel for his audience, and he soon had them hanging on his every word. What was obvious was that most of the members had tried the key to a lesser and greater extent and many had reached a type of ‘key constipation’ through an unfamiliarity with the terminology. John tackled each point and proved to be the enema for each blockage.

John showing CAN member ID tips

John showing CAN member ID tips. Photo: Andy Harmer.

As the day progressed, the glossary was dissected and the critical identification features of many plants were shown; the ignorance tonnage became lighter by the hour. Anecdotes regarding different aspects of the key showed an insight into how this superb tome took shape.

John has an obvious passion for natural history, not just botany, and perhaps intuitively has the ability to navigate his students through their own particular blind spots concerning identification. He wrapped up the day at four o’clock but hung around to answer the residual questions, promising to come back and entertain us with another workshop, possibly on winter twigs, at a later date.

This blog post originally appeared on the CAN Facebook page, and was written by Andy Harmer on 2nd January 2015.