Michael Stephens

Paul Richard Green was born in Guildford, Surrey in 1967, the oldest of twins. As is often the case with identical twins, Paul and Ian have a close relationship and their lives have much in common, not least their fascination with botany. In fact ‘fascination’ is too weak a word, for those who know them well realize that their enthusiasm for botany can only be described as an obsession!

From early childhood they were aware of plants. They visited Grandfather Green who was a nursery manager and for a short while their father ran a nursery. While living at Alford, Surrey, at the age of two and a half they would often be taken by their mother to nearby Wildwood Farm to see their solitary cow being milked and to explore the meadows looking for wild flowers. They liked to gather the flowers to press and take to Play School where their mother helped teach the other youngsters the names of the flowers and such an interest was shown she was asked to take the whole Play School on wild flower walks.
The family moved to High Ham, Somerset when Paul was five years old and on moving to the smaller hamlet of Muchelney Ham at the age of eleven he became fascinated by the wealth of wildlife on the surrounding Levels. First he became interested in Lepidoptera and avifauna, particularly the wintering wildfowl that visited the flooded Levels. However plants soon became his main interest. This was largely inspired by his grandmother, Mrs E.E. Goldsmith, who moved from Sussex in 1981 to live in the “Granny Annex”. She encouraged his desire to learn more and started to take him to natural history meetings.
By the time he took his driving test Paul was a very keen botanist. On leaving school he completed an apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery, achieving his City and Guilds. However, with the building trade in recession he took up alternative employment as a milkman. This suited his botanical interests admirably, giving him many more hours of daylight to pursue his interest. This was stimulated further by completing diaries and entering competitions for the Wild Flower Society (WFS) of which Paul eventually became a Branch Secretary.
With their knowledge and enthusiasm ever increasing, Paul, Ian and a friend, Geraldine Crouch, embarked upon an ambitious scheme. They decided to compile an Atlas Flora of Somerset. Paul and Ian worked on this throughout the decade of their twenties and it is the product of enormous youthful energy. It was published in 1997, is a highly regarded county flora and won the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and WFS President’s prize for the best botanical work published that year.
Occasionally Paul would undertake botanical expeditions further afield, and it was while visiting Ireland that he made a remarkable discovery in Co. Galway. On an isolated peat bog he found a plant he had never seen before and that puzzled other botanists to whom he showed specimens. Eventually it was determined that the plant (which still thrives in its site) was Haloragis micrantha (Creeping Raspwort), a plant native to southeast Asia to Australasia and that had never been found growing in Europe before! As one botanist of advanced years remarked, all his life he had hoped to find something like this and this mere youth had achieved it in his twenties.
With The Atlas Flora of Somerset completed, Paul returned to Ireland when he responded to a request to help gather data for the BSBI New Atlas that was eventually published in 2002. As he collected information about Co. Waterford he conceived the idea of producing a Flora of that county. By now Paul was living in Cornwall and had found employment working with adults with learning difficulties. However, majority of his holidays were spent in visiting Co. Waterford and such was the lure of the county that in 2006 he settled in Ireland. He is Vice County Recorder for both Co. Waterford (H6) and Co. Wexford (H12) and joint recorder for South Somerset (VC5).
For many years Paul (and Ian) have contributed articles to botanical magazines. That they should do that and write books is a remarkable accomplishment for what many do not know is that both are dyslexic and could not read until they reached their teens. Theirs is a truly inspiring achievement that would no doubt amaze their primary school teachers.
Perhaps it is the way their brains work, or perhaps it is has developed as compensation for their difficulties with language, but both have acute powers of observation and recall of plants. Although not averse to keying out plants, they have a remarkable ability to subsequently recognize again plants they have previously seen, even though they can find it difficult to explain to others just how they make the identification. It might be added that along with this goes an extremely intelligent appreciation of factors such as habitat preference and companion species when trying to find or identify plants.
Their botanical knowledge and expertise have made them popular and respected leaders of botanical field meetings for both the BSBI and the WFS. More recently Paul has been employed to lead botanical trips abroad, including Turkey and Kazakhstan. One participant in a field meeting remarked when the identity of a certain plant was being discussed, “If Paul says it’s such and such a plant, that’s good enough for me”. But I would not want to give the impression that he is super-human; Paul shares the frustrations of most botanists when it comes to identifying difficult species such as the Euphrasia and Hieracium. Nevertheless he has become the BSBI referee for Alliums and in his garden is developing a reference collection of these plants.He is always ready to help other people who are interested in botany.
So what kind of botanist is Paul? He is ready to “twitch” a plant but that is certainly not his main interest. He also loves to find plants new for a county. Unlike a good number of botanists he is as interested in alien species as much as in native ones. He records all alien plants growing in the wild, whether they are invasive plants fast becoming part of our flora, or whether it is a single specimen of a garden discard with no territorial aspirations.
Essentially, though, Paul is the kind of botanist who enjoys recording. He never seems to tire of collecting data to build up a detailed picture of the flora of his “patch”. In this he is meticulous. Cursory visits to a tetrad will not suffice. It must be visited at various times of the year and if its habitats are varied all must be explored. When a look at the species map of the county reveals unexplained gaps a further visit must be made to check if the plant is really absent or has just been missed.
In compiling the present flora Paul has found that just as enjoyable as the fieldwork has been the extensive research into historical records and study of herbarium specimens. Much valuable data has been obtained this way and some remarkable finds subsequently made in the field.
Paul is grateful for all the records made by others and is always ready to acknowledge their contribution. Nevertheless anyone who studies this book will soon realize how much of the work has been done by Paul. His love of botany, which has continued undiminished since childhood, has been demonstrated by the enormous amount of time that has been enthusiastically spent on this Flora and the tremendous dedication it has received.