Mike’s Field Guide to Stuff Growing Outdoors

The Idiot Photographer’s Definitive Guide to Stuff that Grows – easily identify at a glance all that weird “Nature” stuff

Note: This is a “work in progress” that may be modified, amended, changed, enlarged, shortened, hacked about or otherwise rendered incomprehensible. Or even deleted entirely. Without any warning whatsoever. So… er… be warned! All depends on how the mood takes me. Or how much abuse I receive!

Wilstead Wood, Bedfordshire _G103909


The first skill to master is being able to differentiate between stuff that’s growing and stuff that isn’t. Some stuff may just have been stuck in the ground by some malicious passer-by.
Master this basic but essential skill and you’ll be well on the way to becoming a proficient Nature Photographer. Neat!

Well, if you see stuff you think may be growing but aren’t sure (cos it could be stuff that’s been stuck in the ground by that mischievious passer-by to fool the unwary… unless they’re “gardeners”. Gardeners are a strange breed of people with a magical ability to make things grow. And they stick stuff in the ground. But the stuff they stick in the ground generally does grow!), here’s an almost foolproof way to make sure…

First thing to remember though is that stuff growing takes time. Doesn’t happen overnight. Well, sometimes it does. But that’s obviously some sort of exotic plant that grows in one of those strange foreign lands (basically, anywhere that isn’t England; i.e., Scotland, Wales, Ireland; and… er… lots of other places) so we don’t need to worry about them.
(Plant = generic term for anything that grows and isn’t something else; i.e., animal or human or… er… monsters or something. Unless its a tree. We’ll get to those later. But even those are really just very very big plants.)

So, finding out whether or not something’s growing. Well, best way is to pitch a tent near the thing you’ve spotted then sit and watch it for about six months. And make sure you have a really big flask of coffee with you cos you’ll need the caffeine to help you stay awake.
If, after this time, it looks to be quite a bit bigger than it was six months previously then its almost certainly something that’s growing.

You could also take a picture of it every 24 hours or so. Then, if it does turn out to be a growing thingie you’ll have become a Documentary Nature Photographer!

Trees however are a bit different. They take bloody ages! I’ve been watching some things that I’m fairly sure are trees for about 18 months now and they still don’t seem to be much bigger. Yet I’m convinced they’re trees cos some country-type person said they were. And he seemed to know what he was talking about.

Right! Having mastered that basic skill the next stunt (that’ll really impress all your friends and suchlike) is to know how to classify all the growing things you’ve snapped.

Which, coincidentally, is the very reason I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into creating this absolutely essential and definitive taxonomy. (That’s a fancy word for a list of… er… other words. Something else you can fling around to impress people!)

Here we go then…

  • ALGAE If its green and floating on water and looks a bit like a carpet but isn’t moss and you don’t want to call it aquatic then its algae. Although its green its quite nasty…its slimy and seems to cling… especially to cameras. See Warning #4.
  • ALIEN SPECIES If it won’t fit into any of the other categories then its an alien species and requires photographing from every conceivable angle. Either that or ignore it completely and pretend it isn’t there. Unless its very big and scary-looking. Or moving. In which case its probably best to go somewhere else… rapidly. Cos it could be a triffid. Which is also an alien species but merits a category of its own cos its really nasty.
  • AQUATIC If its green and floating on water its aquatic. That’s good enough. Unless there’s been serious flooding. In which case everything’s floating on water and you can stop being a Nature Photographer and start being a Photojournalist. Wow! Unless you’re also floating on water, in which case you’d better start getting rid of anything heavy (like camera bags). And start swimming. Straight away. Just let me know where you’ve dropped your camera kit. Thanks.
  • BERRIES Round shiny things that grow on other growing things. They look really neat to photograph but get quite boring after a while. Very often found in clusters. Sometimes green but usually some other colour.
  • BLOSSOM Stuff (generally fairly pretty stuff, and sometimes quite colourful, though not very often green) that grows on trees but isn’t leaves and looks a bit like flowers. But not flowers. Leastways, I don’t think its flowers anyway. Cos its growing on trees while flowers grow out of the ground. Mostly. And sometimes it smells. Blossom that is, not the ground. Though that can smell too if a cat’s been peeing all over it. Flowers do as well. Smell that is. Not pee all over the ground. Well, I’ve never seen any doing that. See Warning #8
  • BRAMBLE If its green and pretending to be a bush (or even a hedge) and has really long things that reach out and grab you and prick the hell out of you, leaving really nasty scratches, and you can’t get away, then its bramble. Its about the only green thing that doesn’t really understand the whole spirit of greenness. Bastard stuff. Closely related to triffids, with which its conspiring to take over the entire world. And its got really nasty evil-looking roots that are quite clearly… er… evil. Really does need exterminating (you’d be doing the world a favour… particularly me cos I’ve got loads of the bloody stuff in my garden). Napalm works best. See Warning #6.
  • BUSH If its clumpy and mainly green and looks a bit like a hedge but nowhere near as long then its a bush. Some bushes can be mistaken for short trees (and vice versa) but short trees tend not to be as clumpy around their feet. Most of them aren’t really all that photogenic. Bushes that is, not trees. Which are very photogenic. All of them. See Warning #5.
  • CACTUS Strange looking things, very often with spikes. Though sometimes not. Part of the immigrant population (but don’t tell the immigration people cos they’ll just round them all up and bung them in a detention centre somewhere… then do really horrible things to them… cos that’s what government people do) but they can be quite interesting looking and they are green. Well, most of them anyway. Come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In case of doubt its probably best to use the much more accurate term “Strange cactus-like thing though it could be something else”.
  • CROPS If they’re largely green (particularly the bits near the ground) and there’s lots of them all together and they’re in a field that’s obviously being looked after by someone, and more particularly if there’s lots of them all together in rows and they’re in a field that’s obviously being looked after by someone then they’re crops. Crops being things that farmers grow. Generally quite boring. And if you’re in the field with them then you’re probably trespassing. Get out very quickly before some nasty person comes after you with a shotgun. That’s the problem with people with shotguns. They don’t understand the questing spirit of the true Nature Photographer. And they’ve got a shotgun… that’s the other problem.
  • EXOTIC PLANT If it looks weird, unnatural, or even vaguely rude then its likely an exotic plant. Particularly if its far too colourful (prob’ly been processed with some sort of HDR gizmo). Most often found in people’s gardens. And what the hell are you doing photographing stuff in people’s gardens without their permission? That’s just plain discourteous.
    Unless its your own garden of course. Then you should already know what it is. Unless you’re like me. I’ve got loads of strange stuff growing in my garden, and haven’t a clue what it is. I didn’t put it there either. Buggered if I know where it all comes from. Apart from the brambles. They’ve obviously been smuggled in by the triffids.
  • FERN If its mostly green and there’s lots of it in a real untidy mess and its a funny sort of shape with strange curly bits and it looks like it could be something from prehistoric times with dinosaurs romping through it if it were really really really big and there’s loads of trees loitering about then its fern. Never quite been able to make up my mind whether its friendly or not. I think it is but there’s a sort of “maybe not friendliness” about it. Nice and soft to lay on though. Its got a bit of a funny smell as well, but not too strong. Sort of a greenish smell.
  • FLOWER If its anything other than green, and its stuck on the end of a stalk thing, and it isn’t seeds, its a flower. Especially if its sort of pretty-looking. And its definitely a flower if it won’t stay still when you try to photograph it (well, they never seem to stay still for me, anyway). Though it could be a butterfly if it flies away when you try to photograph it. But that’s another taxonomy entirely. And sometimes they smell. Flowers that is, not butterflies. Don’t know about them. They’ve never stayed still long enough for me to sniff them. Come to think of it, nothing ever stays still for me. I think its a conspiracy.
    Seems there’s lots of different sorts of flowers so if you wanted to be really really clever and impressive you could break this down into “Red Flower”, “Blue Flower”, “Yellow Flower” etc.
  • FUNGUS If its not green and its growing on trees and has a really weird shape and looks like its sort of just sitting there and brooding and doing things in an underhanded sort of way (which, not being green, it prob’ly would be doing) then its fungus.
  • GRASS If its green and short and sort of really comfortable to sit on and doesn’t stick into you (but with a tendency to leave green stains on your clothes) and just sort of friendly-looking then its grass. Also tastes quite sweet when you chew it… but see my Warning #1 below.
  • GREEN If its green then likely its something growing. And even if it isn’t its probably best to photograph it anyway cos green’s one of my favourite colours. Except that horrible fluorescent shade of green. Or that blueish green like wot mould is.
  • HEDGE Stuff that’s bunched up in a real ragged sort of way and usually stretches for miles an’ miles around the edges of fields and stuff. Its quite painful trying to walk through them, so don’t. I know… I’ve tried it! Very often found in close proximity to ditches which should without fail be regarded as booby-traps. Particularly if someone’s standing behind you waiting to kick you into one. Particularly if their name happens to be Darren. There’s also a civilised variety (of hedge that is, not Darrens) that’s occasionally found around houses although they’re generally pretty boring unless they start growing into strange shapes that mimic other things… which is what they sometimes appear to do. But this mimic-type quality means they can’t really be trusted. They are generally green though so they’re not totally bad.
  • HERBS If its green and a bit unkempt looking and doesn’t seem to be anything else though it could be a weed but its not really nasty-looking then its a herb. Probably. They come in all sorts of shapes and some of them have flowers stuck on them. They seem to be scattered all over the place, generally in the countryside. And make it look real untidy.
    Some people put them in food. Not too sure why cos either the food ends up with little specks all over it, or tastes kinda weird. Or both. Its not as if you can eat a plateful of herbs and feel full up. Though I’ve eaten a plateful of potatoes and felt full up. But they’re not herbs. They’re… um… veg-e-ta-balls. Me now, I think I’ll stick with my Warning #1.
    Seems some of them are also quite good as medicines. So if you’re out in the countryside and you’ve got a headache and see something that looks like herbs you could try chewing it. If the headache goes then its probably a herb. If the headache doesn’t go, or you drop down dead or something, then most likely it isn’t. But at least if you drop down dead it means the headache will have gone. And you’ll know its not one of them herbs you can eat either. Bonus! Anyway, probably better to try it out on someone else first. Mates are favourite. Particularly if their name happens to be Darren.
    I ate something green once, growing halfway up the side of a cliff. Don’t think it was a herb though. Neither a food or a medicine one. Got through almost a full roll of toilet paper afterwards. But that happened before I’d come up with my rule ’bout eating growing things.
    Btw, some people pronounce it “erbs”. Not too sure why. Possibly a speech impediment. Or they think it makes them sound posh or clever or something. Dunno. It just sounds really stupid. As though they can’t speak proper like wot I do.
  • IVY If its green and climbing up walls and stuff and is a bit shiny and really clings on then its ivy. Usually found on old houses and other old things. None on me though. Not when I last looked at least.
  • LEAVES Leaves are green things (generally, but sometimes they’re other colours) that grow on things that are growing. Like what berries do but they’re not berries. Berries are generally round (like little balls… usually, though sometimes not) whereas leaves are sort of… er… other shapes. And flatish. Definitely flatish. And thin. Usually. They also fall off things. Mainly trees. After they’ve fallen off they generally turn sort of brownish and go a bit crinkly and rustly and are fun to scuff through. They’ve got veins and stuff on them, and sometimes they’re hairy. Unlike me… I’ve got veins as well, and I’m thin. But not hairy. Though bits do fall off me from time to time. Teeth mainly.
    Sometimes you can get good pictures of leaves. I wish I could.
  • LICHEN If it looks a bit like moss but may not be (particularly if it isn’t green) and if its on rocks or walls or fallen tree trunks (those big things that hurt when you bump into them) or… er… elsewhere, then its lichen. Its generally pretty small though there’s usually quite a bit of it and its sort of spread out. Any uncertainty and its probably better to use the more accurate term “Some fungus-type stuff”. Or maybe “some moss-type stuff”. Depending on how green it is. Or isn’t. I try to avoid using the word lichen too much cos it sounds a bit technical. As though I know what I’m talking about. And someone might start asking me questions. And I dunno how its pronounced either. Some people say it like “litchen” and some people say it like “lyken”. Its all a bit confusing.
  • MOSS If its green and a bit squidgy and looks like a carpet its moss.
  • MUSHROOM If its a funny shape and low down and isn’t green then its a mushroom. Though it could be a toadstool, especially if there’s fairies hanging around nearby. If you’re unsure just call it a fungus cos that seems to cover pretty much everything that’s a bit strange.
  • PARASITE If its green and growing on you then see a doctor… quickly!
  • ROOTS If its sort of long and thin (but not really thin… not as thin as those stalk thingies that flowers are stuck on top of for example) and half-buried and there’s trees nearby and you’ve just tripped over it, its roots. Try to watch where you’re going in future you careless sod!
  • RUSH Long thin things, frequently pointy, and generally a sort of greenish… or bits of them are greenish at least. Some of them have sausages stuck on the end. Found by the side of rivers and around the edges of ponds and other wet places. Though generally not in bathrooms or sewers or those sort of wet places. Or swimming pools. Don’t often find them in swimming pools. You can sometimes get really super photographs if you use them as a sort of foreground to a river scene or something. Sometimes you can get some really rubbish photographs though, like wot I do. And if you’re walking around amongst them it means you’re in the water and are about to sink at any moment.  See Warning #7.
  • SEAWEED Green stuff (well, its mostly green; but sometimes it isn’t) that smells of the sea. Can be quite long and straggly. Grows in the sea. Usually found in coastal regions, especially in the sea. Very often feels a bit wet and slimy. And with bits of sea sticking to it. Which is prob’ly why it feels wet. People call it “seaweed” but I don’t think its a weed at all… I actually think its quite neat. (For those that live inland, the sea’s a big lump of water that isn’t a puddle or a river or a lake and it stretches for miles an’ bloody miles. Its also very noisy. And salty… see Warning #3.)
  • SEEDS If its anything other than green and stuck on the end of a stalk thing and isn’t a flower then its probably seeds.
  • TOADSTOOL If its a funny shape and low down and isn’t green (sometimes they’re even quite pretty colours, and very often spotty… but sometimes they’re really boring colours, like brown) then its a toadstool. Its where fairies live. The fairies won’t talk to you though. If you do hear them talking to you then you’ve probably ignored my Warning #1 below.
    Also, toads sit on them. The toadstools that is. Not the fairies.
  • TREE If its really big and tall and has stuff sprouting out from it really high up, and it hurts when you bump into it, its a tree. Usually brownish or greyish, but sometimes with a green or silvery tint. Very often has green things growing out of it. And wrinkly. Definitely wrinkly.
    If its short and wrinkly and a sort of washed-out colour and falls over when you bump into it its me. So bugger off and watch where you’re going. As I’ve already said once. How many times do you need telling?
    A lot of trees are very old so treat them with respect. In fact, all old things should be treated with respect. Um… I just happen to be old too.
    Btw, I like trees. Especially if they’ve got lots of green stuff on them. And even if they haven’t. And they’re photogenic. Very. Though not for me.
  • TRIFFID Alien species with some really nasty habits, one of which is to disguise itself as a plant! Even though it may be green that doesn’t really count cos its really only masquerading as a plant. Best avoided.
    I’ve never actually or knowingly encountered one myself (though I’ve had my suspicions once or twice) but I distinctly remember reading about them somewhere, somewhen. So they obviously exist. Probably to be found in the most unlikely places. Garden centres for example. Dead easy for some alien species to hide itself amongst all those exotic plants and stuff. And the plants move around. I’ve noticed it loads of times. Go in one day and they’re in one place. Go back a month later and they’re all in different places. Very suspicious. Then there’s the labels. Sure, everything’s labelled… but its all in some weird foreign lingo with most words ending in “ium” or something. I think its actually a dead language. And there’s the proof. All the people in these garden centre places were obviously eaten by the triffids centuries ago, not long after they first wrote out those labels, and now everything’s not what it seems. The “people” you now see in those places are most likely triffids disguised as plants disguised as people. Clever… but they can’t fool me. After all, if zombies can take over supermarkets then I’m damn sure triffids can take over garden centres.
    So garden centres? Pah. Dodgy, dangerous places. Best avoided.
  • WEED If its evil-looking and has sharp pointy things sticking out of it and you really don’t like the look of it (even if it is green) then its a weed.
    In fact, even if it hasn’t got sharp pointy things sticking out of it but you still don’t like the look of it, its a weed. However, you have to be a bit careful using this word cos lots of herbs look like weeds too. Well they would wouldn’t they, being the untidy creatures they are. Cos weeds are also very untidy. Growing here there and everywhere without asking anyone’s permission. Cheeky y’see. Weeds are definitely cheeky. No respect at all. Prob’ly come back in some future life as chavs.
  • WOOD Stuff that trees are made of. And stuff that falls off trees. Usually hurts when it lands on your head. Best to avoid standing under trees. Unless you’re wearing a helmet. But then you’re not a Nature Photographer… you’re a Conflict Photographer (or possibly a Documentary Photographer, or even Photojournalist).
    Actually wood can be quite dodgy stuff. Lots of things are made from it, especially fences. And it can break when you least expect it. Especially fences. And it hurts when people hit you with it. Especially so-called “mates“. So don’t put too much trust in it. Or mates.

I’ve been using the foregoing “taxonomy” (lovely word) to describe and tag all my Nature pics up until now and I have to say its rarely failed me.

Meanwhile, if you should come across some growing thing that really doesn’t fit into any of the foregoing categories best thing to do is not photograph it. You can always go back later to photograph it when I’ve expanded the categories a bit. If its still there. And if it isn’t, well, problem solved. Or your could start your own taxonomy.


#1 Generally its best not to eat growing stuff cos it can do funny things to you. Good rule of thumb is: if its not wrapped in cellophane don’t eat it.

#2 Try not to cut, break, pull up or otherwise remove growing things from where you find them growing. Long and bitter experience has clearly demonstrated to me that if you do then the damn stuff will grow back ten times bigger than it was before. And if it carries on like that it’ll get to be everywhere… we’ll be overrun with it all and have to start looking for some other planet to live on.

#3 Don’t drink the sea. It tastes horrible and its generally got things (like seaweed and stuff) floating in it.

#4 Don’t try walking on algae. Its not solid.

#5 Some bushes have nasty spiky pricky things in them, so don’t get too close.

#6 Do not turn your back on brambles cos if you do they’ll increase tenfold and grab you from behind.

#7 Don’t eat the sausages.

#8 Avoid places where cats have been peeing and definitely don’t kneel in them cos it smells horrible. I know!

Bedford Park _G104142

Feel free to print this Field Guide out and carry it with you. You’ll find it invaluable in helping you identify all that “growing stuff” out there in the wilds.
But if you reproduce it anywhere else in this wonderful cyberworld of ours all I humbly ask is a link back to here, the genuine original source.

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Page last updated 27 May 2010, 02:51hrs

15 Responses to Mike’s Field Guide to Stuff Growing Outdoors

  1. Pingback: I’ve relented « Adventures of an Idiot – occasional ramblings of a photography freak

  2. forkboy says:

    What? No pictures or diagrams or etchings or sketches?

    This sucks.


    • fotdmike says:

      Nope. Us edicated types wot’re into all this taxonomonmonomy stuff don’t need no such gimmiks. If you want picshures jest go and do your own.

      Not only that, if I done etchings and stuff some dipstick’d be bound to call me an “artist” or sumfink. Hmph!

  3. ellyukrm says:

    Absolute genius! I wish I’d had this when I did my ecology degree – life would have been so much simpler 🙂

  4. fotddarren says:

    It’s a good job I’m immortal(I’m not lucky enough to die), what with all the poison you keep feeding me, else I would have been killed a hundred times over!
    Why do they pronounce it ‘erb, can’t they see it has a bloody H at the begining, just one more thing in this world, guaranteed to piss me off.

    • fotdmike says:

      Well obviously some of the things I’ve been bunging in your coffee were real herbs cos you ain’t dead yet. (I don’t buy that immortality story. I think you’re just being bloody awkward.) Hmm. I’ll just have to try harder I s’pose.

      As for that “H” nonsense, I’ve got a strong suspicion its another of those American attempts to mangle the English language cos they’re jealous and didn’t invent it (along with all the other things they didn’t invent but nicked off someone else).

      And I do wish they’d learn that bigger isn’t necessarily better. They seem to want everything big (prob’ly result of an inferiority complex… compensating for something). Except words. Which they try to shorten at every possible opportunity (prob’ly result of being unable to pronounce anything correctly).

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