California Book Report 09

Book Report-Botanical Field Guides for California
April 20-29, 2009

Overview of trip as pertains to botanical field guides
During this trip I spent 2 days camping at Pt. Reyes from April 24-26, so I had the opportunity to engage a number of the below floras. I also keyed out a few plants while visiting the California School of Herbal Studies in Sonoma County.

The Whole Book List
1. A Flora of Sonoma County-Best/Howell/Knight/Wells
2. Marin Flora-Howell
3. Peterson Field Guide-A Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers-Niehaus/Ripper
4. Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region-Beidleman/Kozloff
5. The Jepson Manual-Hickman

The Books

1. Peterson Field Guide-A Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers-Niehaus/Ripper-This little book has all the advantages and faults of the Peterson Field Guides series. While it is not an inclusive flora, it did have many of the plants I saw at Pt. Reyes. And while I would not use it to burrow down to species, it seems reliable enough to guess at a genus. And with its hefty amount of black and white (and occasional color) line illustrations, it is helpful for that first jump for an unknown plant. The plants are ordered by flower color and then by plant families within the color scheme. So if one knows the family they can go to the color section of the book where that family is represented, which takes off a lot of time from hoofing it from page to page. If the plant in hand is not there under the family you think it should be, you can go to other floral-color pages where that family is also represented in the book. There is a rudimentary but usable key to get to the plant family and also an additional key to the tribes of the Asteraceae. It is a useful book for quick guesses and for those inexperienced or not interested in using plant keys.  It is also a good book for the visually-oriented, plus its small size and inexpensiveness are helpful.

2. Marin Flora-Howell-I appreciated the opportunity to revisit this book as it is the original volume I purchased when I lived in Bolinas, CA in my early botany days. That makes it one of the first floras I ever purchased and used. And while its age is showing, it is still imminently useful for the region included. There is a new edition that looks much better that I will purchase before my next foray out there. Still this edition works pretty good, as it is inclusive (all the plants) of the Marin flora. It has keys down to the species, as well as a brief but useful description for each species. Since it covers a limited range, the written range maps in the species description are very helpful, sometimes describing plants very close to where I was physically keying them out. As with all keys, sometimes I couldn’t distinguish between species, but then that is why I bring a number of books. And generally after this volume, and maybe a back up, I felt confident on my species identification. Verdict, bring this (or better, the updated version, which has illustrations) each time I am in Marin.

3. A Flora of Sonoma County-Best/Howell/Knight/Wells-I used this less often (due to where I was in California), but I did use it to help verify Howell’s Marin Flora as Sonoma is the next county over and also shares topography such as adjacent seashore.  It is an inclusive flora, with keys to species, along with useful descriptions for each species. I have had trouble with a number of the keys, but hey, what else is new? I will try it another time while in Sonoma to write how well I can tool through it. Meanwhile, it certainly is worth bringing each time I go visit my herbal alma mater the California School of Herbal Studies.

4. Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region-Beidleman/Kozloff-This is a nicely done flora for a number of reasons including;  reasonably priced, helpful color photos (as well as some black and white line illustrations), and it keys down to the species. There are no descriptions of the individual species, but I guess this keeps the size of the book down (though I would rather have the individual species descriptions to re-check details). The keys work reasonably well and so I can just say that this is a very useful tome to use within its region, especially coupled with Jepson. Nice one. P.S., don’t buy the first edition, the revised edition is a huge improvement over the first.

5. The Jepson Manual-Hickman ed.-This is going to sound all sour grapes like, but the more I use this book, the less satisfied I am with it. I hear that there will be a new edition coming out sometime soon, I hope so for California botany’s sake.  That said, this is still the book to beat as far as floras go. It is very inclusive for a large and diverse geographic region. It is fairly well made (I am still using the one I purchased in 1994), it keys from family to species and it has small but useful black and white line illustrations for almost every plant, pointing out diagnostic features. Also the families, genera and species are in alphabetical order, it is thoughtfully laid out, and has a small written description for each of the species. So why my current disgruntlement? It’s the keys man. The last few times I’ve been out in California, I have had a hard time identifying plants with this book. Sure, it must be partly me, but using other books I was able to identify them easier. So it is at least partly the book. I wouldn’t travel to California without this tome, but I look forward to the revised edition. If you are reading this and wondering if you should buy it or wait, you can go to the official website ( to see if there is any word on the release date. But meantime you can purchase this volume pretty cheap used (about $50), and despite my grousing, it is well worth it. This book is also online at A nice populist touch.