FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

Branching out with online plant identification

At FSC, our usual remit is to get people outside, learning about and being inspired by the environment and the natural world. When we think of online courses, we might think of being stuck behind a computer, learning from a screen instead of from a real tutor. However, with Identiplant, an online course run by FSC and the BSBI in the field identification of wild plants, getting outside is what learning is all about.

Students learn how to identify plants in their local area by getting out and about to find examples of species that are described in the course units. The plants might be in a wall or footpath as you walk the kids to school, in a local park where you walk the dog, by the roadside as you drive to work. Plant hunting is also a great excuse to explore; you might find yourself in an idyllic patch of woodland with native bluebells, wild garlic and violets, or winding your way along streams in search of water crowfoots.

Course tutors are on hand via email or through the course website to offer expert advice on plants in your area and help with getting to grips with botany and taxonomy. The fortnightly assignments allow students to get regular feedback on what they have learnt, with tips on identifying tricky species.

Unlike our day and residential courses, which offer immersion into a subject at a field centre for a few days before returning home to put learning into practice, online courses run over several months (students have up to 2 years to complete the Identiplant course). This means that you can keep building on what you have learnt in each unit. Learning about plants becomes part of everyday life. You start out with very basic knowledge and end up really thinking like a botanist!


Next year, FSC will be branching out further with our online courses as we launch “Plants Are Green” – a new course covering general plant biology and allowing people from all walks of life to get a better idea of how plants work and why they might have evolved in certain ways.

Students gain an understanding of plant structure and function through kitchen and garden experiments, finding and describing plants, and exploring different plant habitats. For the beginner botanist, this makes it easier to start identifying plants using keys in field guides; gardeners can use these skills to understand why plants have particular requirements and teachers can explain why plants are so diverse and why they behave the way they do in lab experiments.

Over the course of several months, participants of our online courses not only build up a deeper understanding of botany, but also start to look at the world in a new way. It’s about noticing the tiny flowers on plants in cracks in the pavement, seeing how leaves of house plants behave at different times of day, appreciating the incredible diversity in just a small patch of grass or woodland. By continually learning, looking and discovering, you not only get a better appreciation of the complexity of nature, but also gain confidence in identifying different plant families and species. You learn that, as a botanist, there’s a real thrill in finding an interesting-looking plant and thinking “I know what that is!”

Applications for the next Identiplant course will open on 1st December 2017. http://identiplant.co.uk/plant2015wp/

We hope to launch a trial year of Plants Are Green in April 2018. If you would be interested in taking plant please get in touch via [email protected]

Tuesday, October 31, 2017