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Plant Identification Guides
EV shares personal experience with (or opinion of) products with links to purchase through; some of these links are affiliate links (in bold), which earn commissions that cost purchasers nothing extra.
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Equipping for plant identification:

In order to identify plants accurately, along with a field guide or two, you will need a 10X loupe (one that folds into its case and has a stud if not a hole for a cord so you can hang it around your neck while looming about in the fields and forests and other places your botanical curiosity and/or need should put you).

You will also benefit from having a short measuring rule that has millimeter markings, preferably one that is clear see-through, and also that has a hole for dangling around your neck next to your 10x loupe.

Concerning 10X loupes, there are so many to choose from, ranging in price from $100's to just a few $1's.

The high end ones are made for very demanding accuracy when it comes to being able to grade small gemstones such as diamonds, as so they are very good... so much better than anyone who needs a loupe for identifying plants would ever need, but I list them in case you want to look at micro-crystalline structures as well... or just because.

The low end ones will work so long as they don't fall apart or break... I'm not saying to avoid those made of plastic, but I would unless they are of a good reputation like the Zeiss.

Swiss Axe Triplet Hawk 10x Diamond Loupe
One of the, if not THE, very best, for the pro gemologist.
Harald Schneider
Among the very best.
Made in Japan.
Probably the very best bang for your buck.
A decent quality cheapo.
El Cheapo! One of many.
Here's one with LED and UV light


Ok, now before we get into what particular plant identification guidebooks are recommended, we need to get you a botany vernacular dictionary of some kind so you know what you are reading when the guidebook is written by anybody other than a layman. Granted, most, if not all, plant identification guidebooks that I have ever looked at have a glossary; it can be even more helpful to have a more fully encompassing dedicated dictionary, glossary, or vocabulary with illustrations.

Here are a few... and keep in mind if you are very new to botany, the more illustrations the better:

The Kew Plant Glossary: An Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Terms (2nd Edition), by Henk Beentje

A Botanist's Vocabulary: 1300 Terms Explained and Illustrated, by Susan K. Pell

Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms, by Donald J. Borror
I list this last because I only recommend this book because it is a small and concise way to understand Latin as it pertains to the sciences. But because it lacks illustrations, and does not go into any great detail, it is not a book on botany vernacular per se, so I don't recommend it for plant identification purposes except maybe as an adjunct reference perhaps to leave sitting around camp so others can see how smart you are. And... I don't recall paying anywhere near the price the link shows. Wow, our economy sucks!

Plant Identification by Family

A good way to learn about plants, both in terms of identification and in terms of qualities such as universal edibility or toxicity, is to learn to quickly recognize what plant family a particular species belongs to. These are the ones I own:

Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification (6th Edition), by Thomas J. Elpel
Although when I bought this book, it was the 4th Edition, you probably want the most recent (6th) edition... I know I do!

Guide to Flowering Plant Families, by Wendy B. Zomlefer
This is a hefty, content dense book, with a meaty glossary and lots of illustrations. You'll love it.

Vascular Plant Families (1st Edition), by James Payne Smith Jr.
I bought this as it was required for the university level Field Botany class I attended, and also, for the university level Ethnobotany class I attended and which was instructed by... guess who? That's right, the author of this book, James Payne Smith Jr. Pretty cool!

The Kew Tropical Plant Families Identification Handbook (2nd Edition), by Timothy Utteridge
I do not own this book... yet... but having spent 2 months in rural Asia years ago instilled in me the desire to get "lost" in some far away jungle and so this here is a reminder to myself to keep working toward that goal.

Edible & Medicinal Plant Identification

Plant identification guidebooks that describe and show edible and/or medicinal plants usually cover large regions such as continental regions and do not usually have a step by step key that takes the observer/reader from family to genus to species, etc. These guides usually focus on showing and describing plants that are commonly found in the large area and that can be uniquely recognized more or less easily. They do tend to point out if any of the edible species have poisonous look-alike species.

A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs (Peterson Field Guides), by Christopher Hobbs (Author), Steven Foster (Author), Roger Tory Peterson (Editor)

A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America (Peterson Field Guides), by Margaret McKenny (Author), Roger Tory Peterson (Author, Editor)

Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides), by Lee Allen Peterson (Author, Photographer), Roger Tory Peterson (Editor, Illustrator)

Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (3rd Edition), by Steven Foster (Author), James A. Duke (Author)

I did not begin learning about plant identification from these kinds of books. My first book on plant identification was not even a dedicated plant identification guide, but merely has included in it a section of brief descriptions of widely found North American plants accompanied by line drawings. This book, purchased by me when I was 12 to the chagrin of my parents who were eager to see what more than a decade of attentive and careful parenting would lead, is Tom Brown's Field Guide To Wilderness Survival, and while it does a pretty good job with its line drawings, because they are line drawings and not photos, I do not recommend using it to reliably learn to identify many edible or medicinal plants. Let me reiterate, and this is of course just my opinion, but, plant identification guides that do not have keys that provide you with descriptive choices taking you further in the direction of the correct species, need to have clear photos that show all important identifying characteristics of the plant... and this is simply to minimize any confusing the plant with similar looking plants. For example, from TB'sFGtWS...

[Image: Tom-Brown-Wilderness-Survival-milkweed-warning.jpg]

Quote:"When it comes to wild edibles, there is no shortcut to positive identification. Some publications mistakenly suggest that if you don't know a plant, you can eat a small quantity and wait for a specified time to see whether it has any adverse effects. This is a serious error. With some plants, even a single bite is enough to cause discomfort or death.

I usually require my survival students to identify and study new plants on there own. Rarely do I give them the names of unidentified wild edibles because they aften look no farther than the name. In one of my weaker moments, I remember, a student came to me asking the name of a particular plant and I said, "That's a cow parsnip." About two hours later, it dawned on me that I now had a responsibility to tell him more.

I found the student near a swamp and began warning him that the leaves of the cow parsnip can raise a rash on a person's hands. He turned to me and said, "Oh, that's alright. I've found another one and I'm holding it by the stem this time."

This time he was holding a poison water hemlock, whcih looks much liek cow parsnip, but which is fatal to most people who mistakenly take a bite of it. Needless to say, I sat the person down with good references and made him read everything he could find on both plants before he did any more foraging. The experience impressed upon him the importance of a thorough study with reputable guidebooks." (Tom Brown Jr., Tom Brown's Field Guide To Wilderness Survival)

The point being that, if you are going to learn about identifying edible and/or medicinal plants, do not only rely on these sorts of guides. These guides are helpful, but make sure they are reputable and you have other plant identification guides, at least one of which actually guides you through an exhaustive and thorough plant identification key.

Here is a list, by area, of highly rated and recommended plant identification guides...



Illustrated flora of British Columbia, Volumes 1 to 8

CALIFORNIA (by family only):

California Plant Families: West of the Sierran Crest and Deserts, by Glenn Keator
I do not own this book, and so can't recommend it based on personal experience, but am curious because I live in the region covered. Anyone have this particular title, and if so, what do you think of it?


The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California (2nd Edition) is the single most definitive and comprehensive guide to California's amazingly diverse flora. This is, by the way, a desk reference rather than a field guide you would throw into your backpack for a dayhike!

When I was in community college I purchased the Jepson Manual, although it was the 1st Edition and has a yellow dust jacket. The Jepson Manual can be daunting at first, but the completeness and strict adherence to botanical Latin only fueled my desire to learn more. It was a required book for the Field Botany class I took while earning my Interdisciplinary Studies: Ethnobotany Bachelor of Sciences degree at HSU (Humboldt State University).

Another highly recommended guide, if you are in the CA desert, is The Jepson Desert Manual: Vascular Plants of Southeastern California. I do not have this book... yet! But that is only because I am in NorCal, where I moved to from CoSoCal (coastal southern CA... I think I just made that up) when I transferred to HSU.









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