Once you have examined the tree carefully (see previous sectionX and have material in hand, you are ready-to begin the identification process. The following steps will enable you to narrow down ihe possible species to w hich a sample may belong,
I* The trees in this book have been classified into 43 groups based on easy-io-observe vegetative features. Beuin with the key on page 16, This key consists of pairs of choices (leads), and employs easily seen vegetative characters, some of which are illustrated in the Glossary ipages 516-522), Start at the first choice and establish w hich description matches your plant. At the end of each choice, there is cither the name of a group, or a line leading to the next pair of choices. After arriving at the name of a group, turn to thai particular section in the book.
Lach group starts with a concise statement of its diagnostic characters. This statement is essentially a summary of the most important choices you have made in the key. You will appreciate, however, thai it takes just one incorrect choice to arrive at the wrong group. So it is important that you verify the group's identification by checking that it agrees w ith the group characters. If there is any discrepancy you must, at some point in the key, have gone astray.
In addition, the icon accompanying each group is a pictorial representation which summarizes some of the group s diagnostic features* With a little practice you should be able to recognize the group simply by looking at the icons - which will save you having to work through all the choices. For convenience, all these icons are reproduced, in the form of a quick-re fere nee key, on the inside hack cover of the book.
2. Having established the group into which your plant falls, geographical distribution becomes the next clue to its identity (unless, of course, you know its family; see iiinher on). Each species entry in the main section of this book has its range map. Concentrate only on those species likely to occur in the area from which your plant comes.
3, Compare your plant carefully w ith the photographs of those species with a relevant geographical distribution. Once you have found a picture thai seems to match the material in hand, compare it carefully with the accompanying description. lJay particular atteniion to those diagnostic features which are highlighted in bold. Check the specimen against the family description (pages 19-33). If you cannot find a matching picture, check the cross references listed at the beginning of some of the groups,
If you cannot identify the species, don't be disheartened, With so many different irees in southern Africa, even seasoned botanists are quite often totally baffled. Remember also that this book does not feature every southern African tree. Ask a li>eat expert, or try some of the books listed here .is references (page 523). If the tree lacks fertile material, rev isit it during a different season. You can also send your material to a herbarium thai undertakes the naming of plants. Always write or phone to ask if the institution would be willing to help (contact addresses are listed at the hack ot this book i iestablish u hether there are any costs involved, Some herbaria charge a so-called handling fee, whereas others provide a free service. Make sure you send your plants in the form ot good, properly dried, properly packed herbarium specimens, together with all the relevant data you have
Knowing the family to which your plant belongs will obviously help a lot to speed up the identification process, but family recognition requires some experience and botanical knowledge and. in any event, it should be possible to identify most specimens without the use of family features. Nevertheless, novices arc advised to familiarize themselves with the diagnostic characters of the principal tree families in southern Africa tsee pages 19-33),
Mastering this skill, indeed, is an essential step towards becoming truly competent in the field of plant identification. Naturally it will involve practice, but you might be surprised how quickly you w ill be able to recognize families on sight. Most of our trees belong to a relatively small number of families, and il is of course much easier to recall the names of families than those of species.
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