This purple iris flower shows that if you look at plants in detail you can see every feature.
look at bit closer, find out more

Plants in detail

I like looking at, growing, and finding out about plants. They are beautiful and fascinating to look at, interesting and sometimes challenging to grow, and intriguing to study.

Why are they named as they are, to what family do they belong, where do they grow in the wild, who first introduced them into cultivation? These and many, many more are questions that I try to find answers to.

Then, if and when I find some answers, I write about them in my posts.

If you’d like to see some plants in detail go to Plant Portraits and look at some posts.

Or carry on reading.

What’s in a name?

When you start looking at plants in detail, it makes sense to begin with a name. People have always given names to plants that were important to them for food, medicine, clothing, building or decoration. Over the centuries these vernacular names have been added to, corrupted and variants devised. The history of these sometimes strange names is fascinating and a subject worthy of study.

From the 16th century onwards, with greater global exploration and, in Europe, a renewed interest in the more scientific study of the natural world, plants, and their names, became more important.

When there is only one of a kind, in our case one kind of plant, a single name will suffice but, if other similar ones are discovered, a second name becomes necessary to distinguish one from the other. This binomial system of naming must go back a very long way but it is Carl Linnaeus who is credited with formalizing it with the publication of Species Plantarum in 1753. Since then many thousands of plants have been given names.

A name can tell us a lot about a plant. It might indicate what a plant looks like, where it comes from, or after whom it’s named.

Sometimes a name is easy to understand but for some of the more obscure ones we need to delve a bit deeper.

Where’s it from?

We can have the whole world in our gardens with plants from every corner of the earth. Although here in the UK we have a very small native flora, our benign climate means we can grow a very wide range of plants. But sometimes they need a bit of help.

Finding out where a plant grows in the wild helps us to know what conditions we need to provide for it to thrive in our gardens. Does it come from a cold area or from a warm wet jungle, from high on a mountain or next to the sea, from a dry, hot dessert or a marshy area that remains wet all year? Which plants will grow well in our gardens and which might need some very special treatment to survive?

This essential information helps us decide what we can grow.

A narcissus has found a pocket of soil in solid rock in southern Spain

Who are the people involved?

Theophrastus, Leonhart Fuchs, John Gerard, Carl Linnaeus, Joseph Banks, Hans Sloane, Robert Fortune, Ernest Wilson are just a very small handful of the many thousands of people from all over the world who have played a part in what we grow in our gardens. Today’s plant hunters are still finding previously unknown species, and collectors, nurseries and keen amateurs are finding and developing more and more cultivars. As soon as you start researching a particular plant it isn’t long before you come upon a personality who’s had a hand in its cultivation.

These interesting people often have a story to tell.

What does it look like close up?

We can appreciate the beauty of a plant from a distance. We can see the colour of the flowers and the way the plant stands. We might be able to see the shape and colour of the leaves but if we can get in closer we might be able to see a whole lot more. How the petals are arranged in the bud and how the flower opens, the stamens and the style and how the plant attracts pollinators, how the leaves are held to collect as might light as possible and how the seeds form are all there for us to see.

To see plants in detail we just need to take the time to look.

Seed of Leuzea conifer in the family Asteraceae

How should we cultivate and propagate it?

No matter how interesting a plant is the ultimate enjoyment comes from actually growing it, seeing it in every season and watching it develop. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes not but it’s great fun to try and a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when we see a plant we have nurtured in all its glory.

To find out how to grow and propagate a plant the best people to ask are gardeners who have grown it. Sometimes we can do that in person but, otherwise, we can look in books or on the internet. My first port of call is The RHS Encyclopedia and website for a basic understanding. Then it’s out with the books, and my favourites are Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto. After that it’s a matter of trawling through the litereature for any snippet of information and, then, just having a go to see what happens.

Of course, when we succeed in growing a plant, the next thing any plantsman wants to do is propagate it. Again the internet is a wonderful source of information and how-to videos, but my favourite author for propagation is Peter Thompson. His books are very detailed and give a good understanding of the processes involved.

However, nothing beats just having a go!


Now see some plants in detail – find out more

Names, how and where to grow, structure, family, and lots more besides. All illustrated with super photos.

Here are some resources you might find useful

Plants of the World Online – an international collaborative programme that has as a primary aim to make available digitized data of the world’s flora gathered from the past 250 years of botanical exploration and research. It’s the best place to check for up-to-date plant names.