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Monday, May 7, 2012

Wildflower Field Guides: Tried and True

With more plant species coming into bloom every day (well, maybe not today, with our fresh snow), it’s time to dust off the field guides. There are lots of newer books available for wildflower identification, but here are a few suggestions from the tried-and-true category. 

Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center
For the Hard-Core Plant People:
For serious wild flower enthusiasts, the only all-inclusive book about Wyoming vascular plants (no mosses or liverworts) is Vascular Plants of Wyoming, by Robert Dorn (third edition, 2001). Keys are provided to every taxon in the state, along with indications of where in the state each is found. The glossary at the back of the book will help with the vocabulary, but there are very few pictures to let you know if you’re getting close. To see many of the traits used in the keys, you’ll need a hand lens or a microscope.

For the Aesthetically-Minded Plant People:
If getting a species name is not a necessity for you, Diantha and Jack States’ book, Wildflowers of Wyoming (2004), will get you quickly to the correct family or genus. A key to families is provided, as are pictorial guides to plants based on flower color and shape. Many common species are included, with great photos (and common names!), and mention is made of similar species.  

For History-Buff Plant People:
Another book to consider is Ruth Ashton Nelson’s Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants (fourth edition, 1992). The newest edition is called A Guide to Rocky Mountain Plants, by Roger L. Williams (2002), who revised the previous edition of Nelson’s book. Nelson was the wife of Aven Nelson, Wyoming’s first botanist, UW’s first faculty member, and president of UW from 1918 to 1922, so using her book puts you in a direct lineage with a very well-known botanist! When you tire of identifying plants (as if that ever happens!) you might want to pick up Aven Nelson of Wyoming, also by Roger L. Williams (1995). 

Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center
For High Altitude Plant People:
Another lovely picture book, useful for plant identification when you travel to the high country, is Alpine Wildflowers (Dee Stickler, 1990). It’s also useful for making you wish you were traveling to the high country when you’re not, or that it could be summer, when it’s still winter.

For Low Altitude Plant People:
And if you’re in the low country, consider Weeds of the West (Tom D. Whitson and others, 9th edition, 2006). In this case, “weed” means a plant that “interferes with management objectives.” While many of these plants are weeds by any definition, some are quite lovely native wildflowers that happen to be successful in disturbed and dry habitats. 

By Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center 

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