Jul 08 2012

Favorite Wildflower Guide

Published by at 6:00 am under Books & Events,Plants

Early this month I received a request:  “I am trying to be a naturalist and your information about plants and trees has helped me better recognize my world here in Michigan,” wrote Matt LaMore.  “Can you recommend some reading for me to better identify the plants I see throughout the woods and fields? ”

As I prepared my answer I realized a lot of you may have the same question.

Last winter I wrote a series about trees and recommended the Winter Tree Guide but I’ve never discussed wildflower books. Here’s my favorite.

If you want a single field guide for identifying wildflowers in northeastern North America Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide is the one for you.  First published in 1977 it covers 1,375 wildflowers, vines, and shrubs —  from southern Canada to Tennessee, from Maine and the Maritimes to Wisconsin.

Instead of grouping flowers by color, Lawrence Newcomb guides you through a unique key system to help you identify the species.  You examine the flower’s symmetry, count its repeating parts, look how the leaves are arranged on the stem, and determine whether the leaves are smooth-edged, toothed, or have multiple leaflets on one main stem.

After you’ve answered these few basic questions the key guides you to the appropriate pages.  There you find pen and ink illustrations with descriptions to narrow your selection.  Often the plant you’re seeking is right there on the first page. The black-and-white illustrations are more helpful than color photos.

With practice you’ll identify nearly every flower you see.  I am so well-trained by Newcomb’s that I now think of plants in terms of his key so I can look them up later if I don’t have the book with me.  (I’m not a botanist so my field notes include cryptic references like “5, alternate, divided” which I look up when I get home.)

This is a book you’ll want to own and carry with you.  Click on the book cover above to buy it at Amazon.

(image of book cover from Amazon.com)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Favorite Wildflower Guide”

  1. Kristenon 08 Jul 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Thank you very much for this information! I don’t comment often, but I really appreciate all the work you do on this blog.

  2. Jameson 01 Apr 2013 at 9:10 pm

    We used this book for a field biology class I took in southern ohio. This guide is THE resource for identifying wildflowers in the Northeastern US. I loved wandering through the fields and forest counting leaves, looking at stem structures and petal patterns to identify a flower. And finding that one flower in the book that you’ve been trying to identify for an hour is so satisfying!

    Highly recommend this book. And that comes from a 30 year old guy that plays video games most of the time. It’s nice to get out in the woods every once in a while, and when I do this book is wih me.

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