Year One, Lesson Eight
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”
Our last lesson before the final! How time has flown! The two topics we will be focusing on today revolve around grouping your plants. First, we will look at some more specific details based on Lesson Three’s information, such as how much sun a plant might need, or its colouration. Secondly, we will go over a crucial facet of herbological safety: properly labelling your plants!
The first part of categorizing plants can be tricky, but is absolutely crucial: finding how much sunlight is needed. The leaves of a plant are vital to the production of flowers and the overall well-being of the plant. This need for light ties into a process called photosynthesis, where the leaves absorb rays of sunlight and turn the light energy into carbohydrates. For us, this process would be like transfiguring sunlight into a Hogwarts feast! This is where the first set of categorizations comes from for herbologists. A plant may have a designation of moonlight, shade, partial shade, partial sun, or full sun. Though, occasionally, individual cases call for special categories. For example, “darkness” is more appropriate when talking about the amount of sunlight Devil's Snare requires, and Gunpowder Gloriosas, which we discussed last week, have additional notes next to the general designation of partial shade.
When a plant is labeled thusly, it means it requires reflected light to grow, rather than light that comes from a direct source. Usually, this means that the plant thrives in the moonlight. This is different from plants that require shade, as these plants are often nocturnal and strongly linked to the lunar cycle or used in potions revolving around lunar magic.
Plants with this designation should be kept from too much sunlight. As the title suggests, a nice, shady spot is best for these. However, there is a bit of a spectrum, ranging from “deep shade” to “light shade.” Deep shade is reserved for plants who thrive on the forest floor, where the light never reaches the ground, whereas “light shade” usually just means that the plant does not do well in large amounts of direct sunlight, particularly in the afternoon, and should be planted away from the sunset, like on the east side of a hill or among taller plants.
Partial Sun or Partial Shade:
While these two categories are often used interchangeably, they have slight differences. At the core, either of these designations mean that the plant in question needs between three and six hours of sun per day. However, an unwritten rule governs when these hours of sunlight are, and this is where the difference between the two lies. For partial shade, the plant should receive the three to six hours of sunlight in the morning to early afternoon, whereas for partial sun, the plant needs more intense late afternoon sun.
A plant that needs full sunlight requires at least six hours of exposure to sunlight a day. It does not matter overmuch when those hours are, just so long as it gets them. Additionally, those hours do not have to be consecutive. That is, the plant does not have to receive six straight hours of sunlight but can get three in the morning and three in the evening.
The second part of categorizing plants is quite simple and relates to colour. Plants are categorized by both flower and leaf or foliage colour. The first has categories that are pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, and black. Obviously, some of these are far less common than others, and flowers can be colours other than these. However, these are noted as the most common and standard flower colours as of the 1384 meeting of the Herbology High Commission.1
As far as a plant’s foliage, there is also a range of possible colors, though the spectrum is much narrower. The generally agreed-upon common kinds of foliage include a vivid green, a bluish-green, a chartreuse or golden color, a grey or silver color (as pictured to the right), and a purple or dark red hue.
The third part of categorizing plants is by type. You have heard me talk about a few of these types already, such as trees, annuals, and vines. The following are standard as of the 1617 meeting of the Herbology High Commission, which is when the official categorization information was determined that is still in place today, with very few changes. Before reading through these categories, please note that it is possible for a plant to be more than one (or even quite a few) of these things all at once. For example, something can be both a tree and a perennial, or a tree and a water plant. There are also a very few additional categories, but as you are just starting out your herbological journeys, it’s best not to overwhelm you!
A plant with a lifespan of a year (or less). A large amount of plants fall into this category, such as basil and morning glory.
A plant with a two year lifespan. Forget-me-nots, black-eyed Susans, and Hagweed all fall into this category.
A plant which lives a relatively long period of time (as compared to previous categories), such as trees.
This type of plant stores energy to keep through winter, and usually does not possess seeds. Lilies are one example of a plant that is categorized as a bulb.
A plant that keeps green foliage throughout the year. We have many non-magical and magical evergreens in our Great Hall every year for Christmas.
A plant that has feathery or leafy fronds. They reproduce with spores, rather than seeds or bulbs. Shatterferns are an excellent, though delicate, example of a fern.
An herb is any plant with flowers, leaves, or seeds which may be used for medicine, flavouring, food, or perfume. This vague definition allows almost all plants to be categorized as herb, hence the reason this subject is called Herbology!
This close-growing greenery likes very damp places and can grow like a carpet. Interestingly, these plants are one of the few that do not need any soil at all to grow, and therefore can grow directly in water and on rocks. They need very little in the way of nutrients. Whispermoss is one such example, which grows in Japan.
This is a rather woody plant that is smaller than a tree, but very similar. Shrubs consist of several stems rising from the ground. Roses are an example of a shrub.
Also a woody plant, trees have one stem or trunk that grows to considerable heights and may have branches stemming from its trunk. They are always a perennial.
Any plant that grows while having at least a centimetre of water surrounding it above ground at all times. Gillyweed is one such plant.
A plant that is woody and climbs or trails along objects, usually possessing thin stems. An example of this is Creeping Ivy -- a plant that not only will slowly creep over rocks, roofs, and fences to cover them, like normal ivy, but can also move itself via a slow crawl to a more habitable location.
The next characteristic plants are categorized by is height. For a time, there were categories revolving around height, such as under a foot, over fifty feet, etc. However, these categories were eventually abandoned in favor of the more natural urge to list the minimum and/or maximum heights a plant can attain. Usually, just the upper limit is listed, as all plants start off as tiny shoots!
Of course, there are some unique qualities that plants can have that just don’t fall into any category, but are still very important details to consider! These qualities are considered “special features.” Magical qualities can also be listed here, though they are much more benign than the characteristics of plants that fall into the W.H.I.P.S. classes. Additionally, non-magical special features are included here as well. A sampling of important or interesting features are as follows:
Spring flower - plant blooms in the spring season
Summer flower - plant blooms in the summer season
Fall flower - plant blooms in the fall season
Winter flower - plant blooms in the winter season
Reflowering - plant blooms multiple times throughout the year
Constant - plant remains the same all year (like an evergreen)
Low maintenance - plants is easy to take care of
Attraction - plant attracts birds, bugs, animals, etc. (there will usually be a list of the specifics)
Fragrant - plant has a strong smell
Solution - plant solves a common herbological challenge or problem, such as altering the consistency of dirt or helping prevent the erosion of slopes
Drought tolerant - plant can survive periods without water
Cold hardy - plant can tolerate very low temperatures without dying
Before we move onto the next section of the lesson, I would like to take this opportunity to show you an example. First I will show you a blank template for the plant profile and then follow up by filling it out with the details of the English rose.
Common name (Latin name)
English rose (Rosa)
Herb, shrub, perennial
Partial to full sun
5 - 6 feet
Flower: green, blue, pink, red, orange, white
Foliage: chartreuse or gold
Features: spring, summer, and fall flower; helps slow erosion of slopes; fragrant; low maintenance
Before we leave the world of technical details behind, there is one more thing we need to discuss: the proper way to label plants after you have collected samples. Depending on your success in your own greenhouse plots, you may have already started to do this, so the sooner we discuss it, the better. Learning proper labeling technique is, truthfully, just as important as learning about the six W.H.I.P.S. classes. Ignorance in either area is just as dangerous. Don’t believe me? Imagine this scenario, you want to make a delicious tea, but can’t remember which of the identical roots in two different containers are which. Sometimes texture, appearance, scent, and all the magic in the world isn't enough to tell the difference between two plants before it is too late. For example, the root of Queen Anne’s lace (or Dacus carota) makes a brilliant tea with health benefits, whereas the root of the hemlock plant contains the highest concentration of poison in nearly any plant, and is famed for causing paralysis and respiratory failure. Not only are roots generally difficult to tell apart even for some of the most experienced herbologists, but the leaves and flowers of the plants are also look-alikes! Certainly not an error you want to make! As an aside, the key to telling the plants apart is by the stems; poison hemlock has spots of purple on theirs, while Queen Anne’s lace (also known as wild carrot) has a fully green one adorned with fine hairs.
In any case, herbologists discovered, after the unfortunate accidents of others, that it was important to make a universal labeling system. A common form was agreed upon over time by herbologists, and in 1783 was made the lawful format for British apothecaries to use by the Ministry of Magic. Individuals not selling their plants can technically label them however they would like, and many potioneers have personal methods they prefer for their own stores. However, while you are at Hogwarts, you will use the standard form, as I do not want any accidents. More, it’s good practice!
Here is a sample template, as well as an example of that template filled out correctly, taken from my own stores.
Latin name (Common name) W.H.I.P.S. Class(es) (Level, if applicable)
Date stored (Year, month, day)
What part of the plant is in the jar
Details on classification
Based on this, anyone trained in herbology should know what they are getting into if they, for some reason, need to open a container or vial labelled by someone else. It certainly makes collaboration easier for researchers, and simplifies buying from and selling to apothecaries. On that note, potioneers sometimes include shorthand notes of common potions the ingredient may be used in, though it’s obviously not necessary. You will not be marked wrong for doing so, should you like to. In fact, should you wish to include other information, such as during what phase of the moon the plant was harvested, where it was grown, or even what strain it is (should you ever wish to experiment in crossbreeding), be my guest. The only requirement is that you have the above standard classification displayed prominently and clearly among all the rest of the information.
For now, we’ll close up shop for this week. That was a fair bit of information. I hope it wasn’t too dry or overwhelming. Next week’s lesson is our last for the year, so I hope you are ready! The corresponding assignments are available to you; please don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions or need any clarification on the topics discussed in the lesson. See you next week!