SW Book Report

Southwest Book Report

Plant Identification books used from
February to March 2004


The Books
1.Trees, Shrubs, and Woody vines of the Southwest- Vines
2.Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas- Correll and Johnston
3.Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country- Enquist
4.Texas Wildflowers- Campbell and Loughmiller
5.Wildflowers of the Big Bend country Texas- Warnock
6.Plants of Big Bend National Park- US department of the Interior
7.A Falcon guide- Northern Chihuahuan Desert wildflowers
8.Cacti of Texas and neighboring states- Weniger
9.Flowers of the Southwest deserts- Dodge and Janish
10.Arizona weeds- Parker
11.Arizona flora- Kearney and Peebles
12.Flora of the Gran Desierto and Rio Colorado of NW Mexico- Felger
13.Flowering Plants of New Mexico (2nd ed.)- Ivey
14.Native plants for Southwestern landscapes- Mielke
15.A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona- Epple and Epple
16.Desert wildflowers of North America- Taylor
17.A Falcon guide- Mojave Desert wildflowers- Mackay
18.The Jepson Desert manual- many
19.Vegetation and flora of the Sonoran desert-2 vol.- Shreve and Wiggins
20.A Falcon guide- Sonoran desert wildflowers- Spellenberg
21.Colorado Desert wildflowers- Stewart
22.Pamphlet- Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
23.Baja California plant field guide- Roberts

This review discusses the above resources brought on a 45-day journey through the United States Southwest and northern Baja, Mexico. The destinations that received the most attentions were Austin, Texas (late February), Big Bend, Texas (March 3-5), around Tucson, Arizona (March 13- 14), Anza-Borrego state park, California (March 18-20), and Northern Baja, Mexico (mostly around Erendira, Catavina, and Bahia de los Angeles) (March 22-29). The dates are important, as there were few flowers in which make plant investigations and of course weather matters. I want to make a reckoning of which books were most helpful for future explorers.
The plants were blooming most prolifically in Anza-Borrego state park in southern California. There were also a variety of flowers around southern Arizona. For this reason and the fact that a lot of our time was spent flower gazing in southern Arizona and California, and northern Baja, the books most turned to are numbers 14- 23 with varying degrees.
The books that were used the most often were
1)A Falcon guide- Sonoran desert wildflowers- Spellenberg
2)The Jepson Desert manual- many
3)Colorado Desert wildflowers- Stewart
4)Baja California plant field guide- Roberts
5)Pamphlet- Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
6)Desert wildflowers of North America- Taylor

Again, this has as much to do as where we spent our time and where the flowers were as anything

Books I used less
Because there were few flowers while in Austin or Big Bend I rarely used
1.Trees, Shrubs, and Woody vines of the Southwest- Vines- I just used a few times and it seems useful, especially with the black and white pictures. It seems like a useful book when its weird region. The remarks are interesting.

2.Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas- Correll and Johnston- I tried just once of twice-it seems obtuse and unwieldy. A lot of time must be spent to decipher what seems a herbarium written flora.

3.Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country- Enquist- The black background takes a little time to get used to, but for the Hill region it is the best both for its photos and its clear concise descriptions.

4.Texas Wildflowers- Campbell and Loughmiller- Pretty, but I didn’t get a chance to really use it.

5.Wildflowers of the Big Bend country Texas- Warnock- Old school photos- murky and yet here are photos of the area. I used it and then tried to verify by the Manual. It is still useful due to its regionality.

6.Plants of Big Bend National Park- US department of the Interior- Again, old school but useful for its regionalness. Used with Warnock, a lot of good guesses can be obtained.
I would probably take at least these books if I went back to Texas and include a number of other regional guides. There’s a Central Texas flora now that looked good at quick glance.


1.Flora of the Gran Desierto- Felger- this looks like an excellent flora but unfortunately I did not get a chance to use it.

2.A Falcon Guide- Northern Chihuahuan Desert- West. In general I have really liked this series of field guides (see below), but again I just used this scant few times, but when I did it was generally helpful.

3.Flowers of the Southwest deserts- Dodge and Janish- While this old school book has some interesting features (black and white illustrations of characteristic parts, a stick figure next to the plant comparing height, small size of book with plenty of common plants) and yet I do not use this series often. Skimming thru it now, I would still consider using it, though it has very brief written descriptions of the plant causing one to rely on the pictures for identification.

4.Flowering Plants of New Mexico- Ivey 2nd edition. Since there were few flowers to see when I was recently in New Mexico, this book didn’t get its due. But previous excursions have made this book a useful ally and I would suggest it to anyone doing field work in New Mexico or in border neighboring states. Since there are just a few sparing words for each plant (i.e.; “covered with matted white hair”) there is no way to make accurate species (or even genera) identification. And it is far from inclusive, making id’ing that much more ambiguous. What it does have going for it is black and white illustration that often capture the basic details that help get on track, if not know outright, what plant you have in hand. To be used in conjunction with a technical field guide (though I didn’t even bring my New Mexico Flora- Stanley, it just doesn’t work well). I like this book. For what it is it is a charm.

5.An Illustrated Guide to Arizona Weeds- Parker. This book has many good features including; clear black and white line illustrations, which have a good habit drawing of the plant along with a close up illustrations of characteristic features. And since it limits itself to ‘weeds’, one realizes that it is not inclusive but these will be the plants more commonly seen in disturbed habitats. It also includes the general areas in Arizona where it may be found and other close looking relatives on the same page. That said, I haven’t used this book in any serious fashion and so feel unable to give it a thumbs up or down based on its usability. In Arizona I would carry it again to test. The illustrations are really quite handsome.

6.Cacti of Texas¬ an Neighboring States- Weniger. A handsomely photographed book covering its subject well. And while the author may be a bit of a revisionist of genera etc, he explains the reason shifts some categories around which are useful and informative. It is a bit dated botanically speaking (1988) but the photos and info still convey a lot of information. I have not used this book much (again!) due to my lack of trying to learn the cacti. But with the photos and info, this seems a useful field guide.

7.Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes-Mielke. While the title of this book suggests more of a gardening theme its photos and descriptions come in quite handy when out the field. The reason for this is that the photos the author takes are from a bit of a distance thereby giving the plant a whole plant picture which is less common with field guides as they are properly flower focused. The photos are handy for gardeners wanting to see the shape of the whole plant. These photos are particularly useful for shrubs as this is way they are viewed in the field initially.  And sometimes they so not have flowers. So this book did occasionally come in handy as it also covers a wide-range of Southwestern plants. The quality of the photos is also good with balanced color and a good eye for capturing the essence of the plant.  Problems concern that it is focused on plants that would make good garden specimens, which are many plants of various forms by this author. The book is quite exclusive and so one would not be able to rule out related looking plants by the descriptions. This is a useful book. Bring this book along for the whole photo picture of shrubs and good close-ups photos of flowers. Don’t bring it to key out plants.

8.A Field Guide To The Plants of Arizona- Epple. Basically you are going to want to have this book with you in Arizona and outlying areas. While it has its drawbacks it is also an excellent layfolks field guide with 853 color photographs. And yes color photographs too have their problems (very static; one plant-one part-one place) these are reasonably good. What is particularly notable is quantity of good quality photographs giving one a good chance to chance upon the plant or close relative in hand.  The descriptions are good but typical of not inclusive (complete) floras, one cannot be sure of the species in hand. Each plant monograph has a useful comment section, which while short does include how many species of a particular genus are in Arizona. It also says where and when the photo was taken, a useful feature. This book is just so goddamned handy due its reasonable size, good descriptions, quantity of fine photographs and info included. Bring it to Arizona.

9.Desert Wildflowers of North America- Taylor. This was a very useful for a variety of reasons a major one being that it covers all the deserts in the United States. And while a small lay field guide like this will miss many of the plants habituating the deserts, the author picked many of the more commonly seen plants and hence a useful book.  The photos are well executed and the information on the individual plants is written well. And so while this book’s 348 pictures are limited in how many plants in can cover in its exhorted region (the four US deserts) it does a good job in trying to cover them. I also like the authors’ occasional opinionated descriptions. My favorite (page 268) on Cheese bush (Hymenoclea salsola) a common shrub “This is a common and dominant shrub in sandy flats and washes of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. Aesthetically, however, it is a loser.” Whew, good phraseology. The photographs are of a good quality with a picture taker with a good eye for capturing the plants gestalt. Also sometimes there are useful insets photos. Take this book if you like good photographs, you are going to a few US deserts, with a wide cross-section of common plants. Do not take this if you are concentrating on a tightly defined region and you have room for only a few books. I also like that the plants are grouped by families rather than by color or some such. While it makes it harder for the beginner without a good understanding of families, it makes it easier for the long-term plant geeks.

10.Arizona Flora- Kearney and Peebles. This is the technical flora for Arizona, so this book is a must as it is the flora for the state. That said the AF is one of the most annoying and hard to use flora’s I have tried to use. Why? While I do appreciate the efforts of the authors to create this book, it is clearly written from herbarium specimens. This is apparent quite often as many of the plants I looked left me frustrated as I would find that the AF would constantly ask for parts that were not apparent or developed on the plants on hand. Disappointing and more so, since we are shotgun wedded this book in Arizona. The language is a bit obtuse even by geeky standards. Oh well, at least it exists and it does work well every once in a while.

11.Vegetation and Flora of the Sonoran Desert-Shreve and Wiggins- Volume 1 & 2. While I was relieved that there was a technical flora for the upper half of Baja, Mexico, this is a hard flora to use. I feel like I say this with most floras and maybe it is true but some of the more modern floras I use (Jepson’s, Gleason and Cronquist) are easier both on an intuitive and intellectual level. So in Baja I employed the VFSD a few times, and it helped determine sometimes whether I was on the right track or not. But like the Arizona Flora, it seems Shreve and Wiggins used many a herbarium specimen to make their determination. Volume I has a wealth of information on the area it covers, with site maps of some conspicuous and conspicuous plants including Larrea, Franseria spp. Holacantha emoryi, and Bursera microphylla.  These of course are mighty helpful when searching these beauties out. I was only in Baja for 1 week and so I didn’t give these books a fair shake, but the few times I did I was disappointed by the difficulty in trying to determine the plants identity. With more time it would probably yield better results. There are also 37 old-school plates of the plants and zones of the Sonoran desert, one with a photo of Holacantha stewartii. You can find these 2 books on the internet for about 100 books on a good day. Hopefully your copies are as musty smelling as mine. Another useful feature for the readers amongst you is the lists of plants associated with certain terrains, which can be helpful in determining the most common species in a given ecosystem.

12.The Jepson Desert Manual- Baldwin et al.- This is the book to beat. While not all aspects are hunky-dory this flora kicks ass. First the fickle. The index. In both this and its mother ship-the Jepson Manual- there are inconsistencies in the index. Basically if you look for an item in the index and it is not there, still go to its family page and look there, for there it may be. Don’t know why, guess it’s gotta have some flaw. Now on to the positive. What a splendid idea, taking a big book and cutting it up into areas, updating and adding more information and additional photographs. This plus the normal goodness of the Jepson Manual. It strikes an excellent balance between technical and layfolk language so the it still has the conciseness of botanical speak, but where a more recognized word would work and not take up a lot more room, it is used. Brilliant. Also having a small black and white line drawing for all genera and many species is an inspired touch. More goodness. The glossary in the beginning is well-done and some really nice illustrations detailing plant parts such as leaf shapes and margins. It is reasonable size and well made and yet not too expensive (I paid $22 new on-line). The color plates are also useful and small plant I was having a particularly hard time deciphering, one of the color photos was a relative with enough similarities to get me eventually to the genera. I was disappointed in that there are only four color photos per page. It may be that to put more on there would make the book more expensive, but it seems they could have shrunk and added 2 to 4 more pictures per page and increased this usefulness. It is also clear that the sections were generally written from live plant specimens and so they don’t jump from part to part that don’t exist simultaneously. Another useful aspect of Jepson’s is that the families are in alphabetical order. While this does make looking up plants easier (especially for beginners) I sorta miss the having plants in phylogenetic order. I think learning the relationship amongst plants while looking thru a flora is helpful to students to see how plants are related. It’s a trade-off for convenience. I’m glad to have learned with books that stress evolutionary relationships while I was flipping thru the channels. I say it again, let there be a Jepson’s type manual for every area. 

13.Colorado Desert Wildflowers- Stewart. Another handsome color photographic book. And a must have if you are within it’s region. I consulted it often when I was in the Anza Borrego State Park and it was very helpful. The Colorado Desert is a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert and so shares many of its flora. This year when I was in Anza-Borrego it was well flowered out and many of the obvious flowers are included in here. It has one large color photo per page, and well done shots they are. The descriptions could use a beefing up as they give little information but enough to lend a hand to the photos which are the main value of the book. It cannot be used to make any positive species identification since it covers 115 plants, concentrating on the showy ones. And so the most common plants can be probably accurately named, the rest could be placed into genera as with the Camissonias. It is one of those books that fun to leaf thru and then when stalking plants begin to recognize the ones seen on the pages. It is pretty. Get this book if going to Anza-Borrego or nearby and learn the more common and showy wildflowers. And for no ones sake-bring your Desert Jepson’s.

14.Pamphlet- Wildflowers of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park- produced by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association. This is a foldout brochure sold around A-B. It was excellently helpful to learn to recognize the more common showy wildflowers at A-B. I used it daily as it is geared for the park and it does a good job of helping one know what is blooming around them. It is of course no flora. Not even a field guide. But generally you will know that pretty desert thing in front of you. And then you can double check with Stewart (above) and Mr. Jepson. Buy it. Use it.

15.A Falcon Guide; Sonoran Desert Wildflowers- Spellenberg. As with the other Falcon guides I found this book very helpful. They have their weaknesses, mostly in too brief descriptions, but hey, they are meant for reference field guides not floras. So you cannot make a positive id with these books but you can certainly start to learn the flowering plants around you. I used this constantly both in the field and whiling away time on the can or in bed; these are pretty books and a good place to learn the genera of many plants. My hesitation comes as being an herbalist and worrying that other herbalists may use books as definitive floras. My advice, get thee a dichotomus key. That said’ purchase and use these lovely field guides and neglect the first couple of chapters before the pretty plant pictures. They can often be quite educational about the area and plants of the area. The photos are well construed to help recognize them in the field. While I stated that I sometimes found the descriptions wanting, they often are of value.

16.A Falcon Guide; Mojave Desert Wildflowers- Mackay. Another Falcon Guide and also a fine-looking book with the same comments as previous volumes of this series. This is larger meaning more select photos. One thing I learned a little late is that I initially didn’t use this volume much as I assumed the Sonoran edition would serve me adequately, as I was in the Sonoran and not the Mojave Desert. But later on in the Sonoran I started looking thru this and realized that they have different photos I could use of the same and other plants not in the former volume. Lesson being, use nearby field guides especially written by other authors as the information and the photos are different and each helpful differently. It is a pretty book.

17.Baja California Plant Field Guide- Roberts. Ahhh the Baja Field Guide. This may be the book I peeked thru the most in my Southwestern journey for a number of reasons. First it was the only field guide I had for Baja and I had the time and inclination to look at many plants there and so this book. I did have the Sonoran Flora (Shreve and Wiggins) but it was cumbersome to use and I was identifying fast and dirty down there.  It is pretty good field guide. The author has clearly spent much time down there which is apparent from his descriptions. And I did find some plants, and relatives, that I was looking at. Which being my first trip there, the most obvious. I would suggest this book to anyone going to Baja. I was only in Northern Baja and so I don’t know whether it would be more or less useful further south. Some of the plants have quite good descriptions, interesting and colorful. Others are banal but useful. It is hard to know if other plants of a similar genus or family exist down there. So to do any real fieldwork one would have to bring along Shreve and Wiggins. I did enjoy reading through this book in leisurely hours and look at the photos, which are not bad but could easily use an updatement with a better camera and printing. Thank you Norman C. Roberts. I also used the Sonoran Falcon Guide and Jepson in Baja, which helped fill in details especially if keying out a plant in Jepson and it saying that the plant grows down into Baja. I also liked that this book gave good descriptions of locales for certain plants, which was often quite accurate. I was looking a fair bit of Dodder (Cuscuta) and the book said that is a common in a certain area and there I was and there it was

So ends my little book report. Now what will I do with it?