There is a tremendous range of form and colour in our wild plants - why not use some in your garden?
It is rather strange and silly that nearly all books and websites about garden wildlife concentrate almost exclusively on the animals that live in gardens - and even then mostly on the ones we like such as birds, bees and butterflies. Plants are generally relegated to the role of nectar sources or fodder for caterpillars.
The Wildlife Gardening Forum considers that wildlife gardens should be seen as a resource for wild plant biodiversity as well as for vertebrates and invertebrates. There are a few constraints, such as the fact that while insects and birds can freely migrate in or out of your garden, most plants are less mobile and need actively to be established. Your carefully maintained wildflower area will be lost when you move, if the next occupant of the house isn't keen on wild plants. Because of this gardens may not be ideal reservoirs for long-term conservation of wild plants, but that is no reason not to encourage them, and by so doing, help more people understand, enjoy and respect our wildflowers. Furthermore, propagating wild flowers in gardens is a great way to provide material for restoring wild populations and for re-wilding projects – get in contact with your local conservation group to find out what is needed.
Of all the special interests recorded by people signing on as members of the Forum, wildflowers was by far the most commonly recorded. We are creating our plants pages based on suggestions from our members as to the information they would most value.
The Background section on the menu introduces
what wild plants are, and why they are really interesting, the history
of their use in gardens, how to propagate them and where to buy them
Sorts of plants
We are dividing the plants up into standard categories based on their evolutionary relations and structural complexity.
are the most "advanced" species, and all share internal "plumbing" with special cells forming fluid conducting vessels in the stems and leaves. Xylem
vessels are pipes bringing water from the roots to all the rest of the plant. Phloem
vessels carry sugars and chemicals made in the leves to the rest of the plant including underground storage structures like tubers. In the spring when stored reserves are needed, these are brought back up to the growing parts oif the plant. Vascular plants include the ferns
and their relatives, which have a primitive reproductive system using spores and two life cycle stages, while the rest are the "higher" plants which make seeds, including the gymnosperms
(conifers) and the angiosperms
Mosses and liverworts are two groups of small land plants, sometime disparagingly called "lower plants", which lack vascular (or support) tissue, and are generally but not exclusively confined to damp habitats. Like ferns they reproduce through tiny spores which can drift long distances in the wind or be carried on birds. Because of this, there is no knowing what might turn up in your garden, and more studies would be welcome.
are the understudied cinderellas of the plant world. Largely microscopic, they abound in marine, freshwater soil and terrestrial habitats. They drive the ecology of seas and lakes as the most important primary producers
and aquatic algae produce half the world's oxygen. The term "algae" is a rag-bag word for a number of unrelated evolutionary lines, which are largely photosynthetic but not vascular or lower plants. While gardens lack the big multicellular seaweed algae, they can contain quite a diversity, especially in ponds.
Fungi aren't plants at all (see below) but are vital in all ecosystems as creatures breaking down dead matter so it can be recycled. They are in our soil, in our lawn, parasites on plants and animals - and in symbiosis with phtosynthetic organisms (mainly algae) they create hybrid organisms called lichens.
Most plants are described in their own profile pages, accessed via a grouping, such as "hedge plants". We will be adding to these as more pages are written.
References are made to former (or historical) medicinal uses of wild flowers, but please note that no part of any plant should be taken internally without consultation with a qualified herbalist. See National Institute of Medical Herbalists
Page written and compiled by Steve Head