Showing posts with label nature books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nature books. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review

The Best Weed Field Guide for the West I've Seen


I just discovered the best field guide I've ever seen for identifying weeds here in California. I'll finally be able to properly name all those I find and photograph while out walking and on my own property. The book was sitting on the shelf at my local public library. At almost an inch and a half thick, Weeds of the West includes almost every weed I've seen in my area. It's published by the Western Society of Weed Science. Its seven authors all have advanced degrees and specialize in weeds. I'm reviewing the 5th Edition published in 1996, but there are later editions I haven't yet seen.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
Wild Cucumber with Grasses and Mustard, Photo © B. Radisavljevic


What I Love about This Reference Book


It's more like what's not to love? The picture quality is excellent. The arrangement of listings is logical. The descriptions provide all the information farmers, campers, gardeners, or hikers need to identify the weeds they encounter. Finally, the pages at the back make everything easier to find and understand.

The Photographs

Poison Hemlock

There are three photographs for each plant listed. Let's look first at the poison hemlock plant listed on pages 22-23 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West. It's a weed found almost everywhere in San Luis Obispo County that's not cultivated. Each listing has three images like this.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review. This book has all one needs to identify weeds growing in the Western United States.
My scan of pages 22-23 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science)
First we see the overview of the plant in bloom in its habitat. We can compare its height to the other weeds near it. The opposite page shows a close-up portion of the stem, covered with the purple spots that help one distinguish poison hemlock from similar looking plants. We also get a close-up of the leaf. It's a much more detailed look that one would get from the overview shot.

In Roadside Plants of California, Thomas Belzer has given poison hemlock a playing-card size color photo of the top of one flowering stem. It has a good shot of the flowers and a couple of leaves, but the descriptive paragraph doesn't even mention the purple spots. It does mention that Wild Celery is a near look-alike that is not poisonous. Weeds of the West does not mention that.

The Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver's photos of  poison hemlock are so small they are almost useless. You get an overall idea of what one section of leaves and flowers looks like, but no view of the entire plant or its surroundings. You have to rely on the written description of the purple spots because the inset photo is only an oval of 1" x 1½."  It's a good book as far as it goes, but it's purpose is more to help gardeners identify the weeds so they can manage them.

The large full-page photo in Weeds of the West shows as much of an overview as possible, and if a plant is too tall for a photo to hold it all, you will see as much of it as possible for identifying its form. The two smaller photos on the opposite page under the description zero in on the two most important plant characteristics for identifying it. For poison hemlock you see the purple stem and a leaf. For western waterhemlock the smaller photos are a branch with leaves and a split distinctive root, its most poisonous part.

Matt Ritter in California Plants and Plants of San Luis Obispo County has photos with the same high quality, but the book lacks the overview shot. The book also has fewer plants included than Weeds of the West, since it's more specialized. See Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter for a more thorough review of his field guides.

Jointed Goatgrass

When I work in my garden, it seems the weeds that bother me the most are the grassy weeds. So far I've had only the Ritter books and the Sunset Western Garden Problem Solver to help me identify these pests, and they haven't helped as much as I'd hoped. But Weeds of the West identifies at least twice as many of these grassy weeds as the other books. I'll admit it covers more than just California, and that may be part of the reason why.

My scan of pages 408-409 in the 5th edition of Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science)
Look at the right page of the photo above. The top photo on that page shows the part of the plant where the leaf joins the stem -- something people like me might not even notice. (I do now.) This leaf juncture often provides key identifying information, but many books only show the grass blades or spikes and the flowering part of the plant (inflorescence) or seeds with or without a pod. I like that the photos in this book show a close-up of this juncture when important. The text also points it out so I know what I should look for.

The Arrangement of the Listings


Weeds of the West entries are arranged by plant families. Many other books are arranged by habitat. Both arrangements are useful, but I find the arrangement by family helps me see that plants I never would have suspected are related to each other. Since related plants don't always need the same growing conditions or share a habitat, having them together in a book section make the relationships more obvious. 

If you look at the tops of my scanned pages above, you will see the left page has the common name for the weed in boldface at the top. Under it is the scientific name in italics. On the page on the right we see the common name again followed by the plant family's scientific name. Under that is the common name for the plant family. I'm not surprised that poison hemlock is related to wild carrot and wild caraway. I am surprised that the bull thistle is related to the sunflower. I'm amazed at all the cousins the sunflower has.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
This photo I took in my yard features the wild cucumber (also called manroot.) Weeds of the West will help me  identify the wild grassy weeds that surround it. Photo © B. Radisavljevic


The Text Descriptions


The text that accompanies the photographs in Weeds of the West provides any other information it takes to identify the plant. It points out where to look for what in the photos. It tells you where the plant is native, its size, and its growth habit -- tall and erect  or prostrate and sprawling. Words describe the color and the odor of each plant part if it's a factor in identifying it..

Leaf descriptions include whether they are dull or shiny, how their edges look (smooth or sawtoothed), whether they are divided and if so how many times, how they are arranged on the stem (opposite or alternating), and anything special about how they are attached. Flowers and seeds are also thoroughly described.

The last paragraph explains where you are likely to find the plant (habitat.) It also mentions any other important  information you may need to know. Is the plant poisonous to humans or animals? If it's poisonous, does it resemble closely a plant that is safe?

Handy Helps in the Back of the Book


Many listings use terms laymen may not understand. So there is a Glossary at the beginning of the back matter. Next is an  easy-to-use "Key to the Families in Weeds of the West." It describes what the plant families have in common and what distinguishes them from one another. The final  aid to readers is an index that includes both common and scientific names.

Used editions of this book vary in price.

Should You Buy This Book?


If you live in the American West and garden or spend a lot of time outdoors where wild plants grow, I think you would find this book a helpful addition to your home library. I take a lot of photo walks in parks and I also garden. I like to be able to identify what I photograph, and most books don't supply the information I need. This book is more complete than any of the others I have seen or have on my shelf. The print is large enough for even me to read easily, and the publisher did not skimp on the photos.

 There are bound to be a few mistakes in a book this large -- 630 pages. I don't have the scientific background to judge the facts, but the authors certainly have academic credentials that indicate they know these plants well. I did find one omission quite by chance. I wanted to see if Queen Anne's Lace was listed in the book, since I hadn't seen it with others in the parsley family. It was in the index, but the name of the plant on the page I was directed to only said  "Wild carrot" with Daucus carota L. under it. Nothing in the page for Wild carrot mentioned that Queen Anne's Lace was another common name for it. I had to find that out on the internet.

As soon as I can afford it I will probably buy this book. I'm interested in nature and especially in wild plants, so for me it would be worth it. I like the convenience of a handy reference book when I have a question.



Buyers should be aware that this is not exactly a field guide. It's too large and heavy to take hiking. It does, though, draw attention to parts of plants you should remember to photograph to identify at home later. I have never realized how important it is to observe how the leaves are attached to the stem, for example. If you have found other books for identifying wild plants too limited, I believe you will find this book is different. I believe it's worth buying for the presentation and completeness of the information.




As I was finishing this review I saw another book that may be even more complete. If you're interested in California weeds, you may also like Weeds of California and Other Western States (in two volumes.) I used the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to check it out and it, too, looks like a book I'd like to own.

Weeds of the West: A Field Guide Review
Photo © B. Radisavljevic

More I've Written about Common California Weeds


Poison Hemlock: Lovely and Lethal: a photo essay with original photos from my property and my nature walks.

Milk Thistle and  Hemlock: The Prickly and the Poisonous: A Photo essay that shows both these common western weeds at all stages of growth so you can easily identify them.

Oak and Poison Oak in Photos: Can You Tell the Difference?: This will help you recognize poison oak  during all stages of growth and in any season. Our local police department asked to use parts of this to help train their search and rescue teams.

Weeds I Love to Hate: Photos of my worst weed enemies and why I hate them

Vetch Runs Wild: Short post from my gardening blog with many photos of vetch I took while hiking

The California  Weeds You Need to Pull Now! If you get them while they are young they won't cause as much trouble later.





Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


FOLLOW US ON:

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter

Who is Matt Ritter?


Matt Ritter is a biology professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, very near my home in Paso Robles, California. I'm very interested in the plants that grow in my area, the ones I see in the streets, in the parks, and in the yards of my neighbors. I like identifying them and photographing them. That's one reason I decided to take a guided tour of the trees in City Park at the art festival there a few years ago. Matt Ritter led that walk. I saw how knowledgeable he was.  Afterward I visited the native plant booth where his book, A Californian's Guide to the Trees Among Us, was for sale. I purchased it. I've never been sorry. I've owned the book since 2011 and I use it several times each month.

Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter


Why I Like Dr. Ritter's Trees Among Us


I have many field guides for trees. So why did I buy yet another one? Dr. Ritter's book has gorgeous overview color photos of most of the trees. You see the tree's shape and usually a closeup of the bark, the leaves, and even the fruits or seed pods. Most tree pages have an inset that gives information about other trees that may be confused with the tree pictured. If a tree has many different species living in California, there may be an inset that helps you see the differences and identify the individual species.

Whereas my Peterson Field Guide to Western Trees has maps, color photos of trees and fruits, and detailed plant descriptions, it doesn't have the same kind of photos of entire trees. Trees Among Us shows photos of some of the large trees next to buildings so one can better see their actual size. The descriptions of the trees also are more interesting to those of us who are not botanists. In some cases we learn about the tree's history in California -- how it got here, how it's been used, or something else special about it. The introduction provides classification and other scientific information. If you live in California and love trees, you really need to get this book.

Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter
A Catalpa Tree I Identified with Help from The Trees Among Us


California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora


Our Country Registrar has an office above the Atascadero Library, and my husband decided to fill out his early ballot in the library and then take it to the clerk. I had already turned my ballot in, so I checked the new books on the shelf. That's how I found Matt Ritter's California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora. I was quite excited and checked it out immediately to look it over. I fully intend to buy it when I have to return it.

This book describes the native flowers, trees, and shrubs one will be most likely to see when exploring California's forests, trails, and scenic routes. Habitats range from shrublands to beaches, desert, forest and everything in between. Plant entries are arranged by their habitat.  There are over 1000 color photos and photo collages (showing various parts of plants), along with maps showing the range of most pictured plants. You may see a field of wildflowers along with a close up shot of a single plant. As in Trees Among Us, there are stories and background information on the plants and their origins (if non-native) and their uses by native peoples. I did not find a lot of duplication between the trees in this book and the trees in California Plants. Trees Among Us concentrates more on urban and suburban trees than those that are uncultivated.

Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter
California Plants has a lot to say about this wild mustard.


 At the back of the book there's a section featuring non-native plants. It includes many of the weeds I've found in my garden. You will also find a glossary, bibliography, list of online resources and botanical gardens, a tree identification flowchart, a wildflower identification color chart, and an index.

Although I have other wildflower books, The Audubon guides cover too much territory, have smaller photos, and separate photos from their descriptions. The Peterson Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers is arranged by color, form and detail. Most of its drawings are not in color but black and white. There aren't any photos. And there aren't any trees or shrubs. Dr. Ritter's book has everything -- not just flowers.

Plants of San Luis Obispo: Their Lives and Stories


This is similar to California Plants but limits itself to 206 plants found in and near San Luis Obispo. Like Ritter's other books, it has full-color photos, but no range maps. I have compared the entries for some of the plants that appear in both books, and they are not identical. Others I have compared are identical but an identical photo may be of better quality in one book or the other. In some cases the photos are different. If you have to choose, I'd go with California Plants, since it's more complete.




My Recommendation 


These books are all wonderful additions to any California nature lover or gardener's library. I'm a nature and gardening blogger and find them the most useful books I have for identifying what I see when I go on photo walks. These books are beside me when I start trying to figure out the names of the plants I've seen and photographed. These books would be welcomed as gifts by California hikers, campers, nature photographers, and gardeners who like understanding what they see.

You may also be interested in my review of Nature's Everyday Mysteries. See all Book reviews on this site here.

Review of California Plant Field Guides by Matt Ritter
I identified this redwood by using The Trees Among Us




Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


FOLLOW US ON:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A Book Review

The Mysteries of Nature


I've always loved learning more about nature. My library is full of field guides and other references to help me learn all I can about the natural world I see in my yard and in the wider area around where I live. That's why I couldn't resist picking up Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A field guide to the world in your backyard when I found it at a thrift store. It's part of The Curious Naturalist Series, and I'd like to get the rest of the series because I enjoyed this book so much. Let me tell you why.


Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A Book Review


Let's Consider Porcupines


I have never personally seen a porcupine up close. I've never seen one at all except in a zoo. Most of my information on this interesting animal came from reading The Adventures of Prickly Porky by Thornton Burgess when I was a child. Learn How I Learned to Love Thornton Burgess Books . That work of fiction was written by another naturalist. In his animal stories, the animals were dressed in human clothes and talked to each other, but their animal habits were accurately portrayed. Usually the animals interacted only with each other, with an occasional human encounter.

Sy Montgomery, in her Curious Naturalist Series, shares her own research and animal interactions. She says we can tell individual porcupines apart by their faces, just as we tell humans apart by theirs. This makes them easy to study because it's easy to follow individuals. Also, they won't run away from you unless you seem to threaten them.

Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A Book Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Ever wonder how porcupines mate? Montgomery reveals that mystery. Did you know that porcupines can not only quill other species, but also themselves and other porcupines. They can quill themselves when they fall out of trees. And, yes, they do occasionally fall out of  trees. God protects the porcupines from such incidents by putting a natural antibiotic in their quills so their injuries won't get infected. This also helps people who get quilled, not that you want to experience that. Montgomery tells you how to safely remove a quill if you need to.

Porcupine quills can kill. They do it by working their way farther under the skin by means of microscopic barbs until they puncture vital organs. Some African porcupines have quills a foot long.  One naturalist found 600-pound tigers that porcupines had killed this way. These are just some of the things I learned about these creatures from this book.



How the Book is Arranged


This book is arranged by season. The chapter "A Porcupine's Private Life" was in the spring section, where one can also learn about bird courtship, ferns, frogs' mating rituals, and the life that can survive in various types of dry mud that come to life when rains liquify them to wet mud again. The author also discusses various kinds of edible wild plants here

One of my favorite chapters in the summer section was "Messages in Spiders' Webs." It seems that E.B. White wasn't as far off as we thought when he wrote Charlotte's Web, but it's only garden spiders that leave these messages in their webs. I didn't know all the other ways spiders use their webs until I read this book.

Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A Book Review
Spider Catching Fly, © B. Radisavljevic


Another fun summer chapter was "Never Sleep with a Skunk." This section also suggested activities kids can do with fireflies. In addition I discovered a lot I didn't know about tide pools, mosquitoes, fossils and rocks, invasive plants, and lightning.

The autumn section actually has a chapter "In Praise of Flies." As I wrote in another post here, I'm more interested in How To Trap Those Flies That Drive You Crazy than I am in observing them, but I still learned some interesting information. I enjoyed the chapters on mushrooms, animal migration, fall flowers, beavers, chipmunks and squirrels, and wild turkeys more.

Nature's Everyday Mysteries: A Book Review
Squirrel at San Miguel Mission


The winter section features many subjects I'd not thought much about before. Did you know that you can discern the history of some regions by looking at the trees in the landscape? I didn't. I was more familiar with what I read in "Tidal Treasures: Exploring the off-season beach." What I learned about the crow and the snowy owl was fascinating to me. I've never seen a snowy owl, but I have certainly seen crows. I didn't know how intelligent they really are.

The winter section finishes off with information on reading animal tracks and sign, how small mammals like the shrew survive winter, and the life below pond ice. I've never lived with ice and snow, so these chapters were all new to me.

My Review of Nature's Everyday Mysteries

Although the book calls itself a field guide to the world in your backyard, its illustrations are sparse -- only eight pen and ink drawings in its 152 pages. The drawings are detailed and of high quality. Since no other illustrator is credited, I'm assuming Montgomery illustrated the book herself. The book is actually a compilation of a series of nature journal columns Montgomery wrote for the Boston Globe

Rather than being an actual field guide in the usual sense of the word, the book is actually an aid to understanding the sights we normally don't think much about as we pass them. In the Introduction, Montgomery explains how she came to write the chapter on mud (originally a monthly column). One March the sights outside seemed boring. It would appear almost nothing interesting was happening to write about. Everywhere she turned she only seemed to see mud. She thought of visiting her friend's farm in the next town, but then she remembered that her friend's steep driveway was probably all mud. It was then she remembered how full of life dried mud became when water was added and got the idea for her column. When you read it, you will  never look at mud season the same way again. 

I recommend this book to anyone who loves nature and wants to look beyond the surface one sees. Its short chapters were just right for entertaining reading when I only had short amounts of time to spend. Like most nature books, it helped me better understand the intricacies of God's creation. I plan to read as many other books by this author as I can afford. 

You can find these books by this best-selling nature writer at Amazon.





Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


FOLLOW US ON:


The Review This Contributors

Cynthia SylvestermouseCynthia SylvestermouseDawn Rae BDawn Rae BMary Beth - mbgphotoMary Beth - mbgphotoBrite-IdeasBrite-IdeasBev OwensBev OwensWednesday ElfWednesday ElfBarbRadBarbRadOlivia MorrisOlivia MorrisRenaissanceWoman2010Renaissance
Woman2010
Lou16Lou16The Savvy AgeThe Savvy AgeTreasures by BrendaTreasures by BrendaMargaret SchindelMargaret SchindelBuckHawkBuckHawkDecoratingforEventsDecorating
forEvents
Heather426Heather426Coletta TeskeColetta TeskeMissMerFaeryMissMerFaeryMickie_GMickie_G

 

Review This is Dedicated to the Memory of Our Beloved Friend and Fellow Contributor
We may be apart, but You Are Not Forgotten

Susan DeppnerSusan Deppner

“As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from purchases.” Disclosure Statement

X