Members Reports and Photos

SATURDAY 1st FEBRUARY  2014            



Morning: Local and County Floras of Britain and Ireland :  Declan Doogue

Afternoon: Flora of Howth, Recording Projects and Use of MapMate -  Declan Doogue, David Nash & others


An attentive group of members assembled on Saturday 1 February at the Praeger Centre, to hear Declan Doogue’s narration of the history of the progress of floras of Britain and Ireland (and beyond!) since the pre-Linnaean era in the 16th century up to the Irish county floras of the present day. During his talk, those present had the opportunity to view his collection of Floras spanning the period, many of them original versions.   

Declan structured his account around the central figure of Linnaeus, whose contribution he described as “staggering.”  In ultimate support of his statement he displayed a copy of Linnaeus’ bibliography – in itself a volume of staggering proportions!  

The pre-Linnaean era is represented by the floras of Fuchs, Boccone, John Ray and Threlkeld and the work of the Royal Society of London, the Dublin Philosophical Society and Hans Sloane, an Irishman whose collection later formed the basis for the Natural History Museum in London .  

The early floras were herbals. Fuchs, the German physician and botanist, published his Stirpium Historia Commentarii (Commentaries on the History of Plants) in the mid-16th century.  His contribution is honoured in several plant names, for example Fuchsia.  Boccone, an Italian botanist who travelled widely, described the plants of Sicily , Malta , France and Italy in his 1674 Icones et descriptiones rariorum plantarum Siciliae, Melitae, Galliae et Italiae.  

The mid-17th century also saw the arrival of the scientific societies.  In 1670, John Ray - often described as “The English Linnaeus” published his Catalogus plantarum Angliae et insularum adjacentium (Catalogue of the Plants of England and the Adjacent Islands) within which he gave place names in English. Until then, floras had been almost universally in Latin.  John Ray also wrote the first county flora, the Flora of Cambridgeshire, published in 1660.  

The Irish context came into play during the second half of the 17th century.  Thomas Molyneux, who was a Fellow of the Royal Society and Chief Medical Officer for Ireland was involved with the establishment of The Dublin Philosophical Society.  His botanical work contributed to the early knowledge of the Irish flora. During this time, other famous botanists, including Sherard (Rosa sherardii) travelled and worked in Ireland .  Declan noted that amusing accounts of one Welshman’s experiences on the Dingle Peninsula (the botanist Lloyd), remain.  

During this period, Hans Sloane from Killyleagh, Co. Down (where his memorial still stands) was assembling a large herbarium in London, persuading collectors who returned to him from around the world with specimens and descriptive accounts.  Sloane’s collections were later to become the foundation for the Natural History Museum in London. [Sloane ’improved’ the Jamaican cocoa drink by the addition of milk and by the 19th Century Cadburys were selling tins of Sloane’s Drinking Chocolate.]  

As the pre-Linnaean era drew to a close, the first Irish Flora, Threlkeld’s Synopsis Stirpium Hibernicarum, was published. It was written in English, with plant names laid out in alphabetical order, Irish names in Irish type and with local place names.   Mark’s Alley West off Francis Street , Dublin where Threlkeld lived remains extant.  

Prior to Linnaeus and as evidenced in all the early floras, multiple names for species existed. Linnaeus created the binomial system of nomenclature we use today, as in “Bellis perennis”, the first part of the name describing the genus and the second, the species.  He built up a major herbarium through collections and botanical expeditions and, to bring order out of chaos, he did two things: firstly, he devised a system of classification of plants and secondly he named them.   

Linnaeus grouped plants into genera which were arranged according to the number of a plant’s male and female parts and in 1737 he produced the result of this work in his Genera plantarum.   

Linnaeus applied his new binomial system in his Species Plantarum, which included all the old names and it went to many further editions. His original system continued at local flora level into the 1840s.  

J.E. Smith, a wealthy Englishman, bought Linnaeus’s herbarium and library (now at the Linnean Society in London ) and translated his work from Swedish into English, thereby popularising it.  The era of the “Linnaean Flora” starts with Smith’s Flora Britannica, first written in Latin later on evolving into English Botany.  Other “Linnaean Floras” of the early 19th century include Thuillier’s Flora of Paris, Davies’ Welsh Botanology and Lady Kane’s Irish Flora (1833).  

The primary phase of plant identification and description had ended and from then on most botanical field work concentrated on local floras.  

Lunch was declared.  



Local and County Floras of Britain and Ireland (conclusion)

Flora of Howth, Recording Projects and Use of MapMate

After lunch, Declan concluded his talk with a look at early Irish county floras and a selection of modern local floras and their authors’ connections with the Field Club.  He demonstrated a continuity going back through the Club’s membership to its foundation in 1886:

Colgan - a founder member of the Club - co-authored Cybele Hibernica II, (A.G. More, Colgan and Scully, 1898) and wrote the Flora of County Dublin, (Colgan 1904);

Scully - wrote the Flora of Kerry (Scully 1916) and was the mentor of Club member Brunker, who wrote the Flora of Wicklow, 1950;

Praeger -  who wrote Irish Topographical Botany (1901).  

In the modern era, floras produced by members (collectively and by individuals) include:

Supplement to the Flora of Dublin (Anon. (DNFC) 1961);

Flora of Carlow (Evelyn Booth 1979, assisted by Club member Maura Scannell);

Flora of County Dublin (DNFC 1998);

Flora of Cavan (Paddy Reilly, 2001, Club member);

Flora of Waterford (Paul Green);

Flora of Limerick (Sylvia Reynolds, 2013, Club member).

The next part of the afternoon session focussed on Club projects and was chaired by Declan.  Work is in hand this year towards the conclusion of the Howth Flora project, making it timely for the Club to discuss future field club recording projects.  

We discussed the possibility of a Club project to do a Supplement to Brunker’s Flora of Wicklow, with a view to gauging the level of interest there might be in doing this.   The Supplement would be similar to the Supplement to Colgan’s Flora of County Dublin published by the Club in 1961.  

A good level of interest, including offers of help with field work, was shown by those attending and it was agreed that field outings for the 2014 season would include outings to record in relevant areas of Wicklow.  

Subject to approval by the Committee of a formal proposal, the project will proceed.

David Nash gave a short session on the use of databases for storing biological records which included an introduction to the MapMate programme and an opportunity for those attending to discuss any questions they had.   This programme is now in wide use and has the benefit of allowing recorders to maintain their own database and also send on records electronically and in “batches” to relevant colleagues.  MapMate includes useful features such as enabling the originator of the records to edit them ongoing and update them to those to whom they have previously been sent.  Good “Help” support is available online for the programme.  

The day concluded with the President, Pat Lenihan, thanking Declan, David and othersfor their contributions.


                    Boccone's Sicily                    Linnaeus' Lapland & Illustration


Linnaeus' Genera      Kamchatka's Plants         Ray's Catalogue


Ray's Synopsis         Ehret's Paintings         Thuillier's Paris


Part of Declan's Library


Smiths English Botany with Sowerby Illustrations


                      Threlkeld's Flora              Reynolds's Limerick Flora   Lady Kane's Flora

Photos ©  P Lenihan 

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