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A video game garden: the delights of virtual botany

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December 08, 2020 at 11:01AM

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Can rich video game worlds introduce us to nature? A forager, a programmer and a botany professor discuss the educational possibilities of simulated plantlife

Something is afoot in the sleepy Shropshire village of Yaughton. The locals have vanished into thin air, and the roads throng with murmuring golden lights. Most unsettlingly of all, the local pub sells beer at 50p a pint. There’s a mystery to unravel, but when I visit with author and educator Adele Nozedar, we’re most interested in the plants.

Nozedar, who runs Brecon Beacons Foraging, is a font of botanical insight. As we amble past eerily abandoned cottage gardens, she points out leylandii conifers and Japanese hostas. In the woods above the village, she sends me squelching along streambeds in search of wild mint and bulrushes. She also calls my attention to anomalies: the presence of both rose and tulip flowers, for instance, that typically appear at different times of year, and the absence of common plants such as fat hen, hogweed and greater plantain. Some plants appear to be a collage of species; others resist identification altogether. We spend 10 minutes poring over one specimen with delicate white flowers. It could be Queen Anne’s lace, a kind of edible wild carrot. Or it could be a variety of hemlock, the poisonous herb fed to the Greek philosopher Socrates at his execution.

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