Showing posts with label reference. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reference. 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.





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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

10 Spices That Are So Easy to Grow & Great in Recipes

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, there are so many spices that are so easy to grow!  Let's review some of these spices and maybe they might help trigger some creative cooking too!

spices, easy to grow, spice bible, tasty cooking, review, flavor bible

Gardening is about enjoying what you and the earth can produce.  Nothing tastes as good as fresh from the garden.  That's why many people decide to go out to the country on the weekends to stock up on fresh from the farm goodness.

Having a spice garden is relatively easy and when it really starts to grow, it can become bountiful.  What a tasty treat for all your home cooked meals.  Let's get on to the list of easy to grow and great to enjoy spices that are just a few steps away from the kitchen.


10 of the Most Used and useful spices:


1.  Parsley:  either curly or flat leafed.  Wonderful for dressing up salads, potatoes, stews, and more.

2.  Chives:  Great with stuffed baked potatoes, salads, soups and more.

3.  Peppers:  These can be hot (hotter than Hades) or sweet as in bell peppers.  Some can be used for a meal as a vegetable and others for spicing things up.  Be careful, some of the peppers that are being grown today are so hot, you need to handle them with rubber gloves.

4.  Basil:  There are several varieties of Basil, from large Green Leafed Basil, to Purple Basil and even small leafed basil.  One thing is certain, tomatoes with fresh basil is a little bit of heaven right here on earth.

5.  Dill:  Great for making home made pickles, but also added to salads it adds just a little bit of a different taste sensation.

6:  Cilantro:  This is one spice that you either love or dislike(dare I say "hate").  It depends totally on your own taste buds.  Some people when eating anything with cilantro will taste a "soapy" flavor.  They are sure not to like this spice.  But others find cilantro to be refreshing with a crisp clear taste!  Great in salads and stews, soups and even sandwiches.

7:  Mint:  There are all kinds of mints available and all of them are really easy to grow.  Some might even be considered invasive.  Mints can be used in cooking as well as making teas (hot or cold) to enjoy on a hot summer's day.

8:  Sage:  Pretty in green or purple sage has a very strong flavor that will pack a punch of flavor in your cooking.

9:  Oregano:  Easy to grow and will often overwinter.  A great spice for all Italian dishes from spaghettis to pizza.  Added to soups and stews it adds a lot of flavor with a tangy zesty taste.

10: Rosemary:  this spice is easy to grow and can be used not only for cooking but as a decorative plant.  It prunes really easy and can be used as small topiaries.  This spice is great for lamb and grilled or roasted vegetables.  Taken indoors for the winter months, it will continue to grow without any problems.

This is my list of 10 favorites, but there are so many more and each one will add a dimension to your cooking that you may not have realized yet.  Below you will find a "cookbook" to help you make the most of the spices you grow yourself and the ones that you need to purchase because they just need a climate that we don't have.  Either way, home grown spices will definitely make you think twice about the way you cook and the way you enjoy your meals with your family.


Guide to Using Spices


If you are looking for help in pairing spices to make your recipes pop and sizzle, then I would highly recommend this Cookbook!  I use the term "Cookbook" with a certain amount of caution, it is not so much a "cookbook" as a real guide to using spices in combinations that will make your food preparation and your family's taste buds sing.


With a rating of 4.5 stars from Amazon, and over 1,000 verified purchases (mine included), I know that you will enjoy this addition to your cookbook collection!  As with many books today, there is a "Kindle" edition.  Alas, the Kindle version does not get very good ratings at all. (This decline in ratings I'm sure dropped this from a 5 star to 4.5 star rating) With the Kindle book, there is not the same ability to skip to other pages easily and quickly.   Some books just need to be in a paper version!

This truly is a REFERENCE BOOK  that every kitchen should have.  You will use it more often than you ever thought possible.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Green Thumbs Love Day Lilies!

What grows without too much trouble, looks beautiful and makes gardeners all over the world smile?

You could answer with a multitude of plant names and I'm sure that some gardeners, somewhere, would agree with almost any suggestion.  The answer I'm looking for right now is Day Lilies!

With over 30,000 different cultivars, you know that the plant world has taken this plant and just loved it so much that developing a new cultivar is like finding gold.

Hemorocallis is the proper name for the genus of Day Lilies and comes from the Greek words Hemera (day) and Kallos (beautiful). So the Latin name is very appropriate and a straight translation. They are called Day Lilies because each flower usually lasts only one day.  One every stem though you can have 5 to 10 buds.  So they last a lot longer than one day.  July and August are the greatest months for Day Lilies.  They are  blooming like crazy during the summer months.
                                      Picture from my garden, please don't copy.

With over 30,000 different cultivars, it is highly unlikely that you will ever see all of these beauties in one place.  There are gardeners all over the world who use their gardening skills to breed new cultivars of Day Lilies in the hopes of bringing another beauty into being.

green thumbs love day lilies
Picture Wikimedia Commons


Developing new cultivars is not for the faint-hearted gardener.  It can take 3 to 5 years and sometimes longer to develop a new strain and then it must be tested to make sure it comes true to it's cross and does not revert back to one of the parent lilies.

When I first fell in love with Day Lilies, they just happened to be the most ordinary Day Lily. Ordinary in the sense that they are common and found all over the world.  They are just plain orange, but bloom with lots of buds on each stem, so they flower for a long time.  Most people call them Tiger Lilies.  

Today I have a few more Day Lilies that are quite beautiful.  I have fallen in love with one called Devil's Delight, that is a dark red/burgundy with a green throat.  Ruffled edges on the petals make it look like a ladies evening gown.  That root cost me a small fortune and looking at my pictures I realize I have never taken her picture.  Sorry, I would have loved to share her with you.

I have neighbors go by my garden asking me for a root of that particular Day Lily, but I am not so keen to share it.  

The other one that I really like is called Moonlight Dance ( see the picture above)  and she is yellow with a halo of darker orange and the edges are also the dark orange and ruffled as well.  They remind me of ballerina tutus.

This weekend June 24-26th there is a Day Lily Festival in Tennessee.  If you are close by, I would say go and be prepared to be awed by over 200 varieties of Day Lilies.


green thumbs love day lilies
Photo by Ken Oakes 

Why Grow Day Lilies?


As I was telling you earlier, there are so many Day Lily cultivars, that I'm sure no one has seen them all in one place at one time. Why are there so many?  Well I'd like to guess that it's partially due to the ease with which you can grow this plant. While it is originally from the Eurasian area, China, Korea and Japan, day lilies have found their way around the world and can grow in a variety of settings.
They can be large flowered with multiple petals, or large with singular petals. Some have stripes or rings, some are ruffled and others are not. Colors vary from the common orange, to dark reds, violets, pinks, yellows and everything in between.

Their root systems are so strong that they will get denser and denser as the years go by.

If you leave a clump of day lilies growing without any interference, it may take a pick ax to dig it out again. I tend to let mine grow for a year without disturbance, and then the next year, I will go in and remove some of the roots for planting elsewhere or sharing with friends and family.

The large strap shaped leaves look like a giant spider plant, until the spikes of flowers begin to show in mid-July. Then prepare yourself for some breath-taking beauty.

Some are scented and re-bloom later in the year as well, but not all of them. It's hard for any plant to be this beautiful and smell nice too! Whatever you don't get in scent is certainly made up for, by the depths of colors and intricacies in this plant.

Can I make some suggestions for your garden?


If you have never grown Day Lilies I would start with this one, The Stella d'Oro is a rebloomer, meaning that it will bloom more than once.  It is beautiful in it's golden color and it smells nice too! You will not be disappointed with this plant.


25 Bareroot Stella D'Oros Daylilies--1-2 fan











Do you want to learn more?


I only made one suggestion for your garden because I could not possibly choose the others for you.
Rather,  I would suggest getting this book, for some really nice summer time reading and dreaming.

You will enjoy seeing the multitudes of day lilies within the pages and the descriptions of what makes each one "special".  It will also open your eyes to at least 1700 different cultivars that are available.

This book will become bookmarked with your choices in colors and types of day lilies.  Leave it out in the open for your children to see, so next time there is a gift giving opportunity, they will know at least one thing that you would love to have in your garden. If you are inclined you could even use some sticky notes to mark out your favorites.........Sneaky, right?



The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies: More Than 1700 Outstanding 
Selections

I prefer to be this kind of sneaky and get something that I really want in my garden than to have my kids bring me cut flowers that will surely last only a few days.  This way, your plants will come back year after year becoming more beautiful with the passing of time.  They will be a living reminder of the gift given once and enjoyed ever after.




Just one word of caution, once you have one day lily in your garden, you will want more!  




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