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A botanist’s top picks of plant guides

By Frieda Beauregard

I’ve been a huge
field-guide junkie since before I could read. The colour plates and maps, even
the mysterious Latin names, held a deep fascination. My favourites were the
plant guides, possibly because the actual organisms were easy to catch. I’d dig
up plants from the forest next to my home, and paint them in excruciating
detail—or eat them, if they were found in my field guide to be edible wild
plants. After many years of study, I now get to call myself a botanist when I
introduce myself, and get to pick field guides for my students! I’ve tested out
several, and the following are my top picks—as well as my favorite website
(after Wikipedia, of course).


Kalmia polifolia flowers.

Trees in Canada (Les
arbres du Canada
)1 by the late John Laird Farrar. There are
several editions of this classic, which started its life as Trees of Canada but with the inclusion of several non-native species, made
the title shift to Trees in Canada. The most recent edition is from
2017, but the older ones are just as good. Even the 2017 edition is outdated
for family designation (ex. still lists Acer
and Tillia as being in their own exclusive
families); fantastic for id hints, great bud/twig drawings, photos and very
user friendly key. Not too big to take in the field, glossy enough to leave
next to your favorite reading spot.


Native shrub Aronia melanocarpa.

Northeast ferns2 Self-published in 2013 by Steve W. Chadde, this
is a by far the best fern and seedless vascular plant guide I have held in my
hands. Technically for the northeastern US states, it covers eastern Canada by
default, as we share so much of our floras. Each species gets two facing pages,
including really great line drawings and id hints, contrasting characteristics
with similar species, as well as accurate habitat descriptions. The
introduction is nicely written as well, and goes over fern biology and
evolutionary history. It is available on Amazon.

Peterson field guide to medicinal
plants and herbs of Eastern and Central North America
3 by Steven Foster and James Duke. This one was lately
sitting under my Christmas tree as a me-to-me present. I had previously gotten
it out of McGill’s library and have read it cover-to-cover. As a field guide,
it covers the ident stuff adequately, but its real strength is the masterful
treatment of the ethnobotany and pharmacological use of naturally occurring
medicinal plants of the region (including many Eurasian-origin weeds).

New England Wildflower
Society’s website
(gobotany.newenglandwild.org). I really can’t
say too many nice things about this web site. It is hosted by a
non-profit organization based in the US, but again, southeastern Canada is for
the most part floristically homogenous. There are interactive keys—one taken
largely from the recent Flora Novae
4 which advanced users would feel comfortable clicking
though (and who would argue with a mouse-over illustrated glossary for all
those tongue-twisting botanical terms?). There is also a “simple” key, based on
more obvious characteristics. Each species has a page with a range map, a pile
of photos, some other notes on the species, and again, comparisons with similar
species one might be confused with. And best of all, it is totally free!


A white Trillium erectum.


1. John Laird Farrar
(2017) Trees in Canada. Canadian Forest Service and Fitzhenry and Whitesite.

2. Steve W Chadde
(2013) Northeast Ferns: A Field Guide to the Ferns and Fern Relatives of the
Northeastern United States. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

3. Steven Foster and
James Duke (2014) Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern
and Central North America, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

4. Arthur Haines (2011)
Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized
Higher Vascular Plants of New England. New England Wildflower Scociety and Yale
University Press.

Frieda Beauregard
teaches plant ecology and taxonomy at McGill University, where she recently
completed her PhD on the causes of northern range limits for the understory
flora of Quebec. She is also an avid gardener, and runs a small cut-flower farm
at her home in Rigaud, Quebec, you can contact her at www.friedabella.ca, or friedabella@gmail.com.

Post date: January 20, 2018


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