Showing posts with label outdoors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label outdoors. 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.”


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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Stop Littering: How to Keep Your Community Beautiful

Let's review how we might apply spring cleaning to the great outdoors and stop littering in the process.
Photo from southpaw2305 via Creative Commons 2.0 

It's springtime, that time of year when most of us do at least a cursory "deep cleaning" of our house, maybe even our yard, and call it spring cleaning. But what about the bigger picture? Could our surroundings, our communities, use some spring cleaning? How about the litter and other trash that's accumulated along the roadways and waterways since last summer? Let's review how we might apply spring cleaning to the great outdoors and help make, and keep, our communities beautiful in the process.

Take this quiz: You're standing at a bus stop with an acquaintence when she pulls a candy bar from her purse, opens it, eats it, then drops the wrapper on the ground. What would you do:
A. I'd pretend I didn't notice.
B. I'd ask her to pick up the litter and dispose of it properly.
C. I'd pick it up myself.
D. I'd ignore the wrapper. It's just a piece of paper, after all.

I'm not going to tell you how you should have responded, but I can tell you what I did when this exact scenario happened to me. It was many years ago, when I was a very young adult and hadn't yet learned to stand up for what I knew was right. Because of that, I have to answer "A" on the quiz. Even though I had been raised during the "Don't be a litterbug" generation of the 1960s and took that philosophy seriously, I remained quiet and pretended not to notice. Shame on me.

Where Does All That Litter Come From?


I think these days most people have a pretty healthy respect for the environment and probably would either pick up and dispose of the litter themselves or ask the person to pick it up. But if that's the case, where does all the litter that accumulates along our nation's highways and byways come from? Well, it starts out as just one piece of paper (like the candy wrapper mentioned above) or one water bottle, soft drink can, plastic bag, or fast food bag-full-of trash, and it accumulates.

Here's a video that I found quite interesting. These garbage trucks weren't just hauling trash to a landfill, they were losing litter along the way to the tune of an average 15 plastic bags a trip. Watch the video to see how quickly that adds up. (Happily, that problem in the Raleigh area has been resolved.)



Littering Is Illegal 


Cleaning up litter is an expensive proposition. Most states have laws against littering, but someone still has to clean up the mess. Chasing down drivers who throw trash out their car windows isn't the best way for a law enforcement officer to spend his or her time, but have you ever seen someone throw out trash and wish you had a badge? In some states, citizens are encouraged by road signs to report littering from cars. In Arkansas, where I live, the state uses the program as a positive approach, educating those driving through our state about fines for littering and the importance the state places on the subject. Hopefully the signs alone help people think twice before they throw that candy bar wrapper out the window.

Three Ways to Stop Littering (Litter Prevention)


1. Teach children to respect their surroundings by not dropping litter anywhere except in a designated litter bag or trash can. Pick up other people's litter if they miss (or ignore) the container. Participate in community or neighborhood clean-up events. Can't find one? Contact your local city or county. Many have websites and participate on social media to keep their citizens informed.

2. Keep litter bins and bags handy in your car, truck, and even your boat, at your campground, and at public parks and gathering places. Be sure to use a lid to keep the trash contained. Container getting over-filled? Close and dispose of the old trash bag liner and replace it with a new one.

3. If there's an accepted method of doing so, report littering. Some states have "report littering" phone numbers on signs along highways and byways. Some people honestly don't realize how quickly trash accumulates and the damage that it causes to wildlife, not to mention the tax money that it costs to clean up the mess. Education and prevention combine to create a better, cheaper choice. 

Resources To Help Stop Littering


Here are just a few links that I found when reading up on the topic of how to stop litter and littering. To find more that are relevant to you and your state, simply search "keep [insert your state's name] beautiful."


New River Gorge in the Author's Birth State of West Virginia - Photo in the Public Domain
A pristine New River Gorge in the author's birth state of West Virginia.
Can we each do our part to keep it that way?


~ Susan




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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Summertime Learning Fun

Summertime Learning Fun happens when you spend some time together, exploring our world and answering all those questions that come up.  Like what's that Noise?  

If your children are anything like mine, and I'm sure they are, summertime means adventures.  It means spending a lot of time outdoors.  It means looking for things to do and exploring.  It means turning off the TV or computer games and getting back to nature in the great outdoors.  It could mean swimming every day, or going to the park, or camping.  Where ever you go, there is something to learn about!  

What else can you do?

Summertime opens up a whole new world for our children to learn.  While the kids are looking to 
relax and have fun, they are also looking for something that catches their imaginations or their need to know about their world.  To that end, most families will be spending some very special together time while on holidays. No baseball games, soccer practices, dance classes or other interruptions, just good old family time.     


Learning takes on a whole new meaning when summertime rolls around.  No "textbooks" and no real "agenda" means that learning is done on a whatever crosses my path and intrigues me basis. That can even happen at home too!  As I am writing, I can hear the toads singing in my pond. I need to learn more about them, so when my grandchildren come to visit, I can tell them some things that I'm sure they don't know.


Be Prepared!  


As parents who prepare to take our children on hikes and overnight camping trips, we need to be ready to answer questions that are sure to pop up.  Like "What's that noise?"  Even a trip to the zoo can be filled with questions that need answers.  Be prepared to either answer the questions or make note of the questions and when you are home again, look up the answers  together, so that both you and your child will  have learnt something new and you will have done it together.  This is what makes family memories.  We still laugh at some of the things that happened when we went places with our children. Now they are doing the same thing with their children and telling stories about when they were younger.  It's time to pass on family history as well as having time to enjoy nature.

Playing games with the kids can be so much fun too. We would take ours camping and find that the welcome station had many printouts for educational purposes. We would make the most out of these "handouts". One camping trip, they had a print out of all the birds that nested in the area, with hints for the kids. We would go on hikes and try to spot nesting areas and then spotting the birds too. There were print outs of the different trees and their leaves. We made a collection and even did bark rubbings. Have you ever stopped and looked at all the different types of bark on trees? It is fascinating! When the kids found what they were looking for, they would take a picture to go along with their leaves and bark rubbings, carefully noting the type of tree and all the nuances of it's growth. So much to learn, just from a tree! Birds and reptiles, amphibians and mammals of the area were all duly recorded. If we needed to learn more, a note was made in our notebook to look it up when we got back home. The kids loved their nature hikes, because it wasn't just walking through the woods, it was stopping and seeing what made up those woods. The trees, birds, bugs, flowers and everything that was in our path, was food for our "Discovery Book".


Guide to Free Campgrounds: Includes Campgrounds $12 and Under in the United States (Don Wright's Guide to Free Campgrounds)

So What Can you Do to Prepare for a great Outdoor Adventure?

Well first and foremost, check out the link above, to find some low cost campgrounds. It's a great way to pinpoint where your family will spend some quality time together, without breaking the bank.
This guide will help you look for a place that has some great outdoor adventures, be it hiking in the mountains, camping by a lake, or visiting a beach somewhere new. Go with the eye of an adventurer. Take along a "Discovery Book" a journal where you can make notes, tuck in leaves or flowers, keep a daily diary of what you saw, whether it was birds, bugs, beetles or trees. Answer the questions that you know the answers to and make a note to find the answers to those questions that you don't know the answers to. When you are finished your holiday, you will have a great little diary on what everyone saw and learnt about during your time in the great outdoors.



My Travel Journal

Above all, be ready to have some fun, make some memories and enjoy each others company in the great, beautiful and special outdoors.  Happy Summer Everyone!


Pictures courtesy of Pixaby, free stock photos. 





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