Book Report-Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado (San Juans NF)


About the Botanical Identification Guides Pertaining to this Trip
This trip can be divided into three sections as concerning the below botanical field guides. I drove cross country tout suite, and did not key out any plants until I arrived at the Rainbow Gathering which was in Northern New Mexico in the San Fe National Forest outside of Cuba, NM. Elevation was about 9,000 feet. I didn’t have much time to use the field guides I carried in, as I was busy with the First Aid Station, except for a few early morning keying-out sessions.

Most of the plants keyed out were in two places; Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico (about 1½ days), and then 1½ days around 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. This is where I had the greatest opportunities to key-out plants and to use the various field guides for this region.
Both places were beautiful with the Carson NF site being in a huge high meadow, and the San Juan site was just plain breathtaking in its Englemann spruce beauty. The weather was favorable for botanizing at both sites.

The Book List
1.Flora of New Mexico-Wooton and Standley (1915)
2.Flora of the San Juan’s-Komarek
3.Flowering Plants of New Mexico-Ivey
4.Rocky Mountain Flora-Weber
5.Rocky Mountain Plants-Nelson
6.Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico-Carter
7.Weeds of the West-many authors

The Book Descriptions

1.Flora of New Mexico-Wooton and Standley (1915)- Unfortunately, this is the only reasonably complete flora for New Mexico. Unfortunately, because it is difficult to use (it even makes Peebles `Arizona Flora' look more user friendly). Aside from all of the outdated nomenclature and un-included plants (no fault of the authors), the keys are unwieldy and difficult to use. It could be that coincidentally the plants that I've looked up seemed to have undecipherable terminology, or that they make the flower to fruit jump, that is, while keying out, you start with one part of the plant (say, flower) and the keys then jump to a part that is not yet developed enough to key out from.
I found it in paperback form (smashed between some other books in a small New Hampshire bookshop) and I had it rebound, which is helpful and worth the $15 to do it. Another difficulty is that the individual descriptions for each species are sparse, with very little info offered. So you have to deduce by the keys whether you have the right plant. But here I am complaining about a book that actually is fairly inclusive (given era constraints) and actually has true-to-life keys. Who will help this dilemma and make a New Mexico/Arizona flora? Please?

2.Flora of the San Juans-Komarek-This is a very useful field guide for the San Juans and I suggest it for anyone (who can use botanical keys) looking at plants within its region.  I spent 3 days using it outside of Durango, CO, and was glad to have it along.  The keys work well, especially in conjunction with Weber (‘Rocky Mountain Flora’) and Nelson (‘Rocky Mountain Plants’). Some of the keys led to dead-ends, but this is true for most floras. The author tried to gear this book for non-professionals by reducing reliance on botanical terminology, but sometimes this approach made it more difficult for me to use by  avoiding some obvious helpful terms.                                           There are also good black and white line illustrations for a number of plants and some color photographs (which were less useful, but still corroborative). A useful local guide, thank you Ms. Komarek, I will certainly use this book each time I am in this region.

3.Flowering Plants of New Mexico-Ivey-This book has a lot going for it though a few difficulties as well. The author has spent considerable time drawing a few thousand species all included in this home-published spiral bound book. The black and white illustrations are nicely rendered. Most species have a drawing of the plant, and a smaller illustration of the habitat, a state map with plant locations. Some species have smaller drawings of useful recognition characteristics. The book is ordered by plant families. There is very little text accompanying the plant descriptions, so the main aspect of this book are the black and white line illustrations, as there is no other information per plant.

There is a very rudimentary key for families along with a more specific one for the Asteraceae. The keys bring you to any number of pages where you might find an illustration of the plant. Basically you look up the family and thumb through the illustrations to try and find your plant. That’s the crux of this book. While it is not inclusive of all New Mexico plants it has most of the commonly and less commonly encountered plants, making it a very useful book. You would be foolish not to have and use this book if you lived in New Mexico, especially considering there is no good flora. But even if there was, this would be an excellent addition. There is also interesting material in the beginning of the book about New Mexico plants plus an illustrated guide to New Mexico plant families and their characteristics. Accolades to Ivey for home publishing this very useful tome.

1.Rocky Mountain Flora-Weber- This is a compact book, though it is fairly inclusive. This book had most of the plants I saw in my Rocky Mountain travels and the keys worked reliably well. There are no species descriptions, so when you key it down to the species, you are left there in the key, with no further information. I guess this helps keep the size and weight of the book down, but then I need to carry other field guides to flush out the species information. There are a few helpful well-wrought black and white illustrations as well as a very few color photographs. The books main virtue is its keys which are admirable. Thank you Mr. Weber, I will keep bringing this field guide with me, and look forward to updates (hopefully).

2.Rocky Mountain Plants-Nelson-Strange, in the past this was my primary flora for the Rockies, and I used Weber (Rocky Mountain Flora) as a back-up. But this time around, I found Weber much easier to use, and so used this book less often.

This is a useful broad-ranging Rocky Mountain field guide. While not inclusive, it contains the majority of plants that I see in the Rockies. It contains generally well-written keys to families and then down to genus and species level, so this book is good for those seeking species identification. While there are no individual descriptions for the plants cited, there is often a written section accompanying most genera with a description (some more detailed than others) of a number of contained species. There are occasional useful black and white line illustrations as well. For all this it is in a carry-able size. I like this book and suggest bringing along with other Rocky Mountain floras such as Weber’s.

3.Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico-Carter- I unfortunately did not this book much, but it is in the fashion of its predecessor ‘Trees and Shrubs of Colorado’ which I have used in the past, and like. This volume is more extensive than the previous and uses the same format. It makes good use of diagnostic keys, and these along with excellent black and white illustration, good plant descriptions and its floristic inclusiveness makes this an excellent choice to learn the woody plants of New Mexico. It also has small county charts for each plant. One day I will give it its day.

4.Weeds of the West-many authors-This is a beautifully done book as it contains a number (usually 3) of largish color photos for each plant, showing important characteristic features. This is what sets this book apart from other field guides, plus its focus on weedy plants.  It is clearly devised for folks whom may not know how to use botanical keys, but who need to identify weeds to potentially help eradicate them. So instead of writing a lot of technical details, the authors fill the pages with photos not words. Of course there are down sides to this as well. For those of us who want to make positive identification, you will still need an inclusive flora with botanical keys. But that is not the purpose of this book, which is to help land-managers figure out what plants they are looking at. And it will work for you this way too. There is a very basic family key that is not too helpful, so you will need to know what family your plant is in, as that is how they are ordered in the book. This book is on heavy-stock paper and is quite thick and heavy, not a backpack book. All this said, I recommend this book for quick reference if you are in its region, and of course the ‘weeds’ are some of the most common (and commonly handsome) plants you will see.