Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Review: Wildflowers in the Field and Forest

Last year, the "Through Binoculars" series by Oxford University Press published Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States by Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie. Beth and I bought it at the tail-end of the wildflower season, so we didn't get to make much use of it. Recently, I finally sat down and really looked through it and also used it to ID some plants.

The introduction of the book discusses the structure of flowers, some terminology, and wildflower gardening. The authors also introduce the identification key. A plant field guide is only as good as its key. The key uses color and plant structure to narrow down your choices. Your initial choices take you to a specific set of species accounts where additional features help you narrow your choice (hopefully) to your final answer.

The species accounts use photos as opposed to illustrations found in other popular guides like Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and Peterson Wildflower Guide. For the most part, the photos are crisp and each shows a small line dictating the actual size of the flower. Many photos have inset photos showing leaf shape or other important features. The descriptions of the flowers are short and to the point. They describe all of the parts of the plant and the key features are bolded. Endemic and non-native plants are labeled accordingly. (And in this author's opinion, there are too darn many non-natives!)

A key feature that sets this book apart from other wildflower guides is the range map included with each entry. Most other books include descriptions of range, but don't get as detailed as these maps. The maps are also color coded to indicate blooming season (Spring, Spring-Summer, Summer, Summer-Fall, Fall, Spring-Fall).

Despite these great features, this book does have a few flaws. First, there are many terms used in the descriptions of the plants that are not properly defined in the glossary or elsewhere in the book. I was forced to reference other books in order to understand these terms. Second, it seems that the book was rushed to print. There are some typos and some page references that are missing page numbers (it says "p. xxx" instead of a number). Third, some of the plant names, both common and scientific, are different from other books. This is by no means a problem with this book specifically, but a problem as a whole for any book dealing with plants. There is a constant change in naming as scientists learn more about each plant. Plants with scientific names that have changed are listed under both names in the index, but do not have those same references in the species accounts. It would have been helpful to include that in both places. Finally, the book is printed on glossy paper for the photos which does make it a bit heavier than other guides. To me, it's not a big issue, but some may feel otherwise.

Overall, this book is a great addition to any naturalist's library. Until I use this book more, I'm not sure if I can give up my Newcomb's guide 100%. With the range maps and photos in this book combined with the detailed illustrations in Newcomb's, I have a great one-two punch for identifying almost every wildflower I encounter.

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