Wyoming Book Report 2008

Wyoming Book Review
June 26-July 15, 2008

This Book Review is based on my travels to Wyoming for the 2008 National Rainbow Gathering and a field trip to southern Wyoming afterwards. The Rainbow Gathering was near Big Sandy, Wyoming at about 8,800 feet. As with most Rainbow Gatherings, I didn’t have much time to key out plants, but took advantage of a few hours in the parking lot before heading in, as well as a general downturn of health needs on July 6 (along with the camaraderie of fellow botany friends-Frank Cook, Marc Williams and Holly Poole-Kavana).
Our field trip was to the beautiful and beautifully wildflowered Aspen Grove Ranch. Owned and operated by the Johnson clan with Caroline Johnson as our main ranch guide. It was a relaxing and gorgeous place at the north end of the Medicine Bow National Forest. The ranch was indeed in an aspen grove surrounded by prairie and mountains. According to Caroline it was an exceptional wildflower year, whether it was or wasn’t, it was. I got a chance to use a number of the below field guides; in particular, Dorn, Scott, Nelson and Harrington.
As the ranch was near to the Medicine Bow National Forest, we went in a few times near Arlington, Wyoming. The ranch is about 1½ hours north and west of Laramie.

All Books I Brought Along
1.A Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains-Schreier
2.Alpine Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains-Duft/Moseley
3.Colorado Flora-Eastern Slope-Weber
4.Colorado Flora-Western Slope-Weber
5.Delorme Wyoming Gazetteer and Atlas
6.Falcon Guide-Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers-Phillips
7.Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants-Nelson
8.Lone Pine Field Guide-Plants of the Rocky Mountains-Kershaw/MacKinnon/Pojar
9.Manual of the Plants of Colorado-Harrington
10.Peterson Field Guide-A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers-Craighead
11.Rocky Mountain Flora-Weber
12.The Alpine Flora of the Rocky Mountains-Volume 1-The Middle Rockies-Scott
13.Trees and Shrubs of Colorado-Carter
14.Vascular Plants of the Grand Teton National Park and Teton County (Booklet)-Shaw
15.Vascular Plants of West-Central Montana-Identification Guidebook-Lackschewitz
16.Vascular Plants of Wyoming second edition-Dorn
17.Weeds of the West-many authors
18.Wildflowers 2-Sagebrush Country-Taylor/Valum

Books Used Most Often
1.Delorme Wyoming Gazetteer and Atlas
2.Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants-Nelson
3.The Alpine Flora of the Rocky Mountains-Volume 1-The Middle Rockies-Scott
4.Vascular Plants of Wyoming second edition-Dorn

Books Rarely Used
1.A Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains-Schreier-(Still, it has nice color photos)
2.Alpine Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains-Duft/Moseley (Also with nice color photos)
3.Colorado Flora-Eastern Slope-Weber
4.Colorado Flora-Western Slope-Weber
5.Peterson Field Guide-A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers-Craighead
6.Vascular Plants of the Grand Teton National Park and Teton County {Booklet}-Shaw
7.Vascular Plants of West-Central Montana-Identification Guidebook-Lackschewitz

Books Reviews
1.Delorme Wyoming Gazetteer and Atlas-of course, bring this each time. And make sure to mark on the book cover when this map was used for future reference.  This is useful after purchasing a newer edition, and to see that the former atlas has the details of past travels and moving them over to the new atlas.  These days I combine these maps with a GPS.
2.Falcon Guide-Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers-Phillips
As is seemingly typical of this series, I found it only partially useful. First, the positive.  One feature I really like is the ‘Index of Family Names’ which lists the plant families covered and all the species of that family, which is very useful when I see a plant I don’t know, but can guess the family. Also, the color photos are quite good. This said I only used this book occasionally, as many of the aspects of this type of wildflower guide are covered better elsewhere. And typically of this series, it does not cover what seem to me some of the most obvious flowers/plants of a region. If I didn’t know how to use a floral key, I would probably rely on it more and leaf through the photos laid out by flower color. So, I would continue to bring most Falcon Guide series along for quick reference, good color photos and if I were trying to suss out an unknown plant I could give this book to a fellow traveler as we tried to quickly determine a plants identity, double booking it.

3.Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants-Nelson
I found this book very useful while in Rocky Mountain Wyoming. There are a number of reasons; it has generally well-laid keys, it covers a limited ecosystem, it has a small number of black and white illustrations, and a helpful illustrated glossary for beginners. Its limits are, it is not inclusive of all the plants in the Rockies and only some of the plants have descriptions besides their listing in the key.
So given these parameters, it is clearly a book I would use regularly in the Rockies. One of its best qualities is how the keys are written. While parts of them are obviously purloined from other sources, there are useful differences. It seems the authors have taken pains to make it more accessible than other more ‘formal’ technical floras. As long as you have a more inclusive key, this is a goodie. And while it may not have all the plants listed, it has the ones most commonly encountered. If your going to the Rockies (and know how to read a dichotomous key) pick up this book.

4.Lone Pine Field Guide-Plants of the Rocky Mountains-Kershaw/MacKinnon/Pojar
There are aspects I really like about this book, and other parts frustrate me. It is many of my botany-minded friend’s favorite book (and series) for the regions it covers. I don’t have the same inclination. It is useful as it covers a broad array of plants of the Rockies, but the information for the specific plants I encounter are only tardily covered in this small-print book (how the deficits of age have me looking at different book aspects than yore). Okay, what is good. Well, it is small and well-made. It has plants grouped by families, always a plus in my book (which is not written yet by-the-way). It has lots of pretty good (if a tad small) color photos and occasional black and white line illustrations of important characteristic details (more would be nice). And there are well-done (though abbreviated) keys to the plants.
I don’t really know why I am sniffy about this book. I have nothing against the authors, I guess I just don’t find it as useful as many of my cohorts. I reckon if it was one of the only books I had of the region, I would be psyched. But frankly, I find the other books I have highlighted as favorites to be more useful. I appreciate the keys (yea keys!) but the plants I often am looking at are a ‘secondarily-covered’ plants and so may not have a photo and only a small amount of information.
But I would still carry it with me, and perhaps with further use I will find it more useful. It does have a lot of plants in it, and it keeps to such a carriable format, and sticks to an ecosystem. It is a good book to toss in the backpack and then correlate its information with a more technical and inclusive field guide.

5.Manual of the Plants of Colorado-Harrington
Now this book has some of the most unreadable typeface and style for a flora. This tome employs a very cumbersome way of underlining and just general poor lay-out. But yet, yet, it was a most helpful book especially for the Aspen Grove Ranch field trip which was just about 60 miles north of Colorado. And while it is easy to dis the set-up style, it works okay as a flora. Harrington uses some different methods of getting to a species than some of the other floras. This made it very handy when I was stuck at some hard to identify group of plants (i.e., the Alliums). He clearly has a lot of personal experience with the plants which often lends an air of authenticity and usability to a floral key.
It is a large, but has descriptions of the individual plants. I was quite glad to have brought it along, especially after I busted out my reading glasses and got used to its old school font, with no spaces between plants. A useful field guide.

6.Rocky Mountain Flora-Weber
I used this just a few times, and in these instances it was not too helpful. I was hoping it would pull me out of a jam with difficult plants (as with the Alliums) for Weber seems to make up aspects of his own keys, so they would work well with other floras. But on this trip, I did not find this the case (and I can’t say it gave it much of a chance either). Looking at it now, it seems like it would be quite useful. Small and compact, good keys, reasonably complete in its plant coverage. Okay, next time I’m in the Rockies, I’ll give it spin.

7.The Alpine Flora of the Rocky Mountains-Volume 1-The Middle Rockies-Scott
This is one fine book, if only I were in the region it covered, that is in the alpine zone. As the title suggests, it does cover Wyoming, there in the middle part of the Rockies.
Well, I used it anyway, as the keys and illustrations are well laid out. It has the obvious advantages and disadvantages  on account of it being a hunkin’ big hard-covered book (especially compared to Dorn’s, see review). This means that it has plenty of room for the very handy county plant maps, some nicely done black and white line illustrations (sometimes with important characteristic details). The disadvantage being that it takes up a lot of room in a backpack. But I was glad to use it in conjunction with Dorn’s, though I learned to control my enthusiasm as I was clearly outside the area delineated in this tome. This was obvious when I looked up Populus tremuloides (which were ever present in my Wyoming travels), but they were listed as very uncommon in this book. In other words, any plant that I keyed out in this volume could be wrong as a different species could be at hand in the ecosystem. Still I would bring it again, if only just for the plant maps and illustrations, and the handy keys.

8.Trees and Shrubs of Colorado-Carter
Each time I use this book I wonder why I don’t use it more often, as it has many admirable characteristics. It is small, decently made, great black and white line illustrations, and a good manner of key. I reckon I don’t key out trees as much as I could/should. I used this once or twice with good success and hope to finally get in the habit of learning my trees and using this handy little well-done book more often.

9.Vascular Plants of  Wyoming- second edition-Dorn
This was my primary flora for the obvious reasons; it is an inclusive field guide for Wyoming. Like most technical floras, it has its ups and downs. First, the good. It is small and easily carriable, and the keys work pretty well. So basically it is a useful field guide and I was quite glad to have it along. Now for the less positive; the reason it is so small is that there are no individual descriptions for any genera or species (just a small description for the family). The only information for an individual plant is what is found in the dichotomous keys. Alas, no illustrations but there is a good little glossary. Another problem (not an inherent fault of the book) is that Wyoming has at least 2 very distinct bioregions, the prairies and the mountains. When I combing through the keys looking for a species, I had to trudge through many plants that were  nowhere near the areas I was keying-in. For this reason, it was sometimes easier to use a Rocky Mountain flora rather than this book. In the end I often used one or two Rocky Mountain plant guides and then Dorn’s to make sure that the plant in hand grew in Wyoming. A pretty good system really. If only the Alpine Flora (which see) had plants in the range I was in (8-9,000’), they would have been excellent compliments.
But once again, if you are going to Wyoming, purchase and bring along this handy and well-done little book.

10.Weeds of the West-many authors
This book has some excellent color photos of a number of life-stages and characteristic details of the many plants it includes. It can very useful if unsure of a specific plant, even if it not in flower. It does have a key, but it seems rudimentary and I have not used it yet.
In fact I have only occasionally used this book. It seems useful, but it is large and I use it more to confirm what I am finding in more formal keys. I do recommend it as it is very useful for pre-studying the plants within its covers to recognize them when you come eye-to-flower. Someday I’ll give it more of a undertaking,  probably in conjunction with a flora with a key. But just look at them handsome photos!

11.Wildflowers 2-Sagebrush Country-Taylor/Valum
This is an old-fashioned type of field guide, with not-so-good old-school color photos, and no keys. I probably would have not had it in the ‘books I used’ list at all, except that as I got frustrated with keying out Alliums, I turned to this book (though I was not in Sagebrush Country) and the information on the Alliums was helpful, in the way of book written by folks who know their region. And that is the only time I used it, but it made me think that I may want to bring books of this series along with me in the West, and use them when baffled with more conventional keys.
So, I didn’t really need to bring it along, but it came in useful, and it restores my relationship with some of the older types of plant guides.