Mississippi Book Report 2008


Southern Mississippi Plants
March 26-April 3, 2008

I was down in the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi for about 1 week teaching in Ocean Springs, and at Darrell Martin’s (Blue Boy herbs) in Carriere. I had some time to explore around Darrell’s place (as well as gathering some Chionanthus root he planted 10 years, the last time I visited), and along with Jim McDonald we visited the ocean front near Ocean Springs.
One difficulty with this part of the South is that there is no one really good flora for the region, so I cobbled together what I have, which is usable, but without one over-riding flora to get me to the non wet-footed plants (see wetland plant guides below) I was oft-times relying on good old judgment calls.

Book List-Field guides I brought along
1.Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States-Dicotyledons-Godfrey and Wooten
2.Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States-Monocotyledons-Godfrey and Wooten
3.Falcon Guide-East Gulf Coastal Plain Wildflowers-Nelson
4.Mississippi Atlas and Gazetteer-DeLorme
5.Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast-Foote and Jones
6.Trees of the Southeastern United States-Duncan and Duncan
7.Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses-University of Georgia
8.Wildflowers of Louisiana and Adjoining States-Clair Brown

Book List-Field guides to bring next time (maybe)
1.Flora of Louisiana-Stones
2.Seaside Plants of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts-Duncan and Duncan

Book Reviews
1.Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States-Dicotyledons-Godfrey and Wooten
This is the companion to the below book, and has all the merits of it. It is large, 933 pages, so a bit heavy to carry around. But well worth it. Please read the description for the monocotyledon volume for details.

2.Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Southeastern United States-Monocotyledons-Godfrey and Wooten
This is one of my favorite books for Southeast, along with its geographical twin, the similarly named book that covers dicotyledons. One of the reasons I rely so heavily on this book is the lack of any comprehensive technical floral key for this region. So while this book has one glaring setback -it is for wetland plants-it is an important companion to plant seekers hereabouts. It has many qualities which recommend it. It is well-made (not to be scoffed at for field guides) with very good keys, good descriptions of individual species, and some particularly fine black and white line illustrations. While the pictures do not cover all the species, they are large, with excellent detail along with defining characteristics of the plants covered. Beautiful. So, due to no fault of this book, the only thing missing is all the non-wetland plants. The problem is, that along with the Dicotyledons volume above, it is a lot of weight and space to carry with a limited number of plants. But, I heartily recommend both of these volumes for those seriously interested in learning the wetland plants of this region. And for those interested in grasses and sedges, there are many excellent illustrations covering these.

3.Falcon Guide-East Gulf Coastal Plain Wildflowers-Nelson
Like most Falcon Guides, the color photos in this book are quite nice. The trouble is, many of the plants I saw were not in here. I think they focus on the most colorful species but don’t include some obvious flowers such as found in trees and lawns. It is also missing some very obvious and common plants such as Oenothera speciosa and some Verbena species. Verdict, bring along when down there for a few reasons. First, it is quick and easy as the plants are arranged by flower color. Not the best method in the long run, but sure can speed things along, and (a big and) if I am with other people (this happened a lot on this trip), I can give them one of these color photo books to look through while I attend to the laborious task of keying (if there is a floral text with a key).

4.Mississippi Atlas and Gazetteer-DeLorme
What’s to say, it seems always worthwhile to bring along an atlas to find the smaller, less bustling roads. These days I bring along a GPS so if I get un-strategically lost, I can find my way out.

5.Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast-Foote and Jones
A useful guide to those persnickety shrubs (what is it about them that can make identification elusive?). This book has handy keys down to the species, good descriptions per plant, and color photographs. A helpful book if you are within its large geographic range. Along with Trees of the Southeastern United States (below), one can suss out the identity of many of the Southeastern woody plants.

6.Trees of the Southeastern United States-Duncan and Duncan
This book (along with Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast), helped me identify many of the trees and shrubs I saw. It has good keys based on leaf characteristics, and helpful descriptions for each species. Also useful are the color photos and accompanying distribution maps. All  in all, a book I will continue to trundle with me. You may want to bring another book along with more photos and/or line illustrations.

7.Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses-University of Georgia
Ahhh yes, this little book that I purchased those long years ago while traveling through Athens, Georgia. And it has served me well since. The utility of the inexpensive little book is just what the title proclaims. Let’s start with the negative side, the photos are dated, there is no key, or b&w illustrations. But these are easily outweighed by the positive attributes. This volume makes no pretense at being anything but what it is, that is a quick look at some of the more common plants found in lawns and grasses in the South. And as such, I have made good use of while within its region. It is set up by family with 1 or 2 photos of each plant covered. And while the photos are dated, they show the authors good eye at photographing distinctive features. And since I am commonly around lawns, it is good to know the (often) smaller plants that also put up with mowing, and foot traffic. Useful for showing people what grows very close to home. It also has a short but helpful illustrated glossary, particularly for the Poaceae, which are common members of our well-tended monotypic-attempts at lawn. I will continue to bring it along when I am in its covered region, and it is small and well-made so easy enough to carry around. You will of course need a technical key as well, as this is far from inclusive, and can only lead you so far.

8.Wildflowers of Louisiana and Adjoining States-Clair Brown
This book was helpful, as the author has a good notion of which flowers are most likely to be seen while wandering around the area covered. The photos are a bit dated but good enough to give the right impression and then one could bust out their flora (if there was one for this region) and key it down the rest of the way. The plants, which have one photograph each, are listed by family order which is probably the best way for those who have a basic understanding of taxonomy. And like the Falcon Guide series, it is a good start to finding the plant’s identity. I think this book, even with dated photos, is better than the Falcon Guides for this region, as there are a lot more plants listed, and the author has a better sense of what you might run into. Bring it.

Books not brought along- but worth a consideration
1.Flora of Louisiana-Stones
This book is not a flora in that it is not inclusive nor does it have floral keys. It is instead a large book of watercolor drawings with plant descriptions. It is more of a showy thing, and while I have not brought with me for reasons to be discussed, every time I look through it I see its advantages. First, it does have beautiful and well laid-out drawings, often quite large (the book is 12”x8 1/2”). With all this space, there is a lot of room for detail, which the author capably performs. I am looking now at Quercus michauxii (Basket oak), with a picture of leaves, with excellent shading, and even showing the underside of a tomentose leaf. And then there is an acorn, male and female inflorescence, and a close up of the individual flowers. In other words, a bonanza of detail. And beautiful to boot.  The description, while not technical is also good. With a quick description of uses and notable characteristics, such as it’s obvious autumn coloration. With all this to say, why wouldn’t I bring it with me? Well, it is large and because it is on heavy stock (an advantage in another way) it is weighty. And not all the illustrations are as conducive for sorting out a plants identity. The descriptions are (by a different author) helpful but not detailed as mentioned, and it is far from inclusive, so I could not be sure if I had another species in hand. It is the kind of book that is useful if I think I know what the plant I am looking at is, and I want to make sure I’m on track (if it was included). And then I would use a technical key for further evidence of the plants identity.
So there you have it, a lengthy description of a handsome book of Louisiana flora, that I am not sure is worth its weight to bring along when visiting the region. If I lived there, there is little doubt that I may pull it out at least irregularly.

2.Seaside Plants of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts-Duncan and Duncan
I don’t know why I didn’t think to bring this along, as a large part of the time I was in Mississippi was right along the Gulf coast. Oh well, so I don’t have too much experience using this book, but looking through it, it looks good. It has keys, an illustrated glossary, a few small detailed black and white illustrations, and color photos and family and species descriptions. So what’s not to like. Not much really, (the photos are a bit dated, [1987]) but still showing useful plant characteristics) I just need an opportunity to give it a spin. I look forward to it.