Adirondack Book Report 08

Adirondack Book Report 2008

August 6-13, 2008

Below are all the books I brought along. They are proof of how many books I am capable of bringing and not using. As with many of the school field trips, there was not much time to key out any plants, which is a shame for many reasons. But just for the purposes of recording the usefulness of field guides, the shame lies with not being able to report how useful the books below are for working and keying in the Adirondacks. C’est la vie.
We were mostly in the western Adirondacks and not in the High Peaks region, so we did not see any alpine or cliff-dwelling species. We did make it into a few bogs and swamps, though there was not much blooming in this season.

The Full Book List
1.    Adirondack Upland Flora-Kudish
2.    Adirondack Wildguide-DiNunzio
3.    Atlas and Gazetteer-New York State- DeLorme
4.    Bogs of the Northeast-Johnson
5.    Ferns-Peterson Field Guide-Cobb/Farnsworth/Lowe
6.    Flora of the Northeast-Magee and Ahles
7.    Forest Trees of the Northeast-Cornell Cooperative Extension
8.    King’s American Dispensatory (1898)
9.    Manual of the Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada-Gleason and Cronquist
10.    Mountain Flowers of New England-Appalachian Mountain Club
11.    Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide-Newcomb
12.    New England’s Mountain Flowers-Wallner and Digregorio
13.    North Woods Wildflowers-A Falcon Guide-Ladd
14.    Northwoods Wildlife-A Watcher’s Guide to Habitats-Benyus
15.    The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State-Gibbs et. al
16.    The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual-Holmgren
17.    The Shrub Identification Book-Symonds
18.    The Tree Identification Book-Symonds
19.    Trees and Shrubs of the Adirondacks-Chapman & Bessette
20.    Wildflowers of the Adirondacks-McGrath
21.    Wildflowers of the Field and Forest-Clemants and Gracie

Books not used

While these books were not used on this trip, I have looked through many of them previously and wrote review anyway

1.    Adirondack Wildguide-DiNunzio-An interesting looking guide to the nature in the Adirondacks, someday I hope to look through it more.

2.    Ferns of Northeastern and Central North America-Peterson Field Guide-(second edition)-Cobb/Farnsworth/Lowe-I didn’t use this book during this field trip, but having used it in the past I feel it is one of the best books for fern identification. It has a winning combination of black and white illustrations, color photos, fern keys and good descriptions of each fern covered. I like the smaller descriptive black and white illustrations showing helpful details. It also has one of the better descriptions of the life cycle of ferns in its introduction. A few cautions, while I have only used this book a few times, I have not found the keys ‘intuitive’ and so not as easy to use as I hoped. It is partly due to my spotting keying out vascular cryptogams. All in all, this is a very useful fern field guide for the region it covers.

3.    King’s American Dispensatory (1898)-I brought these big books along, though I knew I had them on some handy CD’s (oh, those desire to thumb through). And true to form I did not use them, but rather used their counterparts that were already embedded in my notes. Good books and information though.

4.    Mountain Flowers of New England-Appalachian Mountain Club-This is a handily small with a few black and white illustrations and occasional keys, but I have not used it and so will have to end this review here.

5.    Northwoods Wildlife-A Watcher’s Guide to Habitats-Benyus-Another interesting guide to the animals and habitats to the Adirondacks, but as I have not looked through it much, I will reserve my comments until later.

6.    The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State-Gibbs et. al.-This looks to be a very useful book on identification of these critters in my home state. And the only reason I did not use it is that I didn’t stop to identify any of the A&R’s that we saw. But if I did (and indeed some day I shall) I look forward using this guide book as it has good descriptions of the species, color photographs and county distribution maps. The only thing apparently lacking are keys to these lovely animals. But I’ll keep bringing it and hope someday soon to give it a whirl. This book would also work well with the websites focused on NY state amphibians and reptiles.

7.    Wildflowers of the Adirondacks-McGrath-This is a slim volume with color photos (old school) and medium-sized descriptions of the plants within its covers. Its main attribute, is that if one wants to learn to recognize some of the common wildflowers seen in these parts, than one could do worse than looking through the dated photos in this carriable volume.

Books used infrequently or just glanced through

1.    Adirondack Upland Flora-Kudish-While this is the only flora specific to the Adirondacks that I have, we are not generally within its domain (the Uplands).  I occasionally will look through it to see if a plant grows at all in the Adirondacks, and if it is in this book, that gives me a bit more of a clue to what I think I am looking at. The opposite is not true, for there are plants I do see and know and are not in here. Oddly it does not seem to have a key, making it that much less helpful. It does have a lot of information that I’ve yet to read on the flora of the Adirondacks. I’ll probably continue to bring it in the future while hoping a more comprehensive Adirondack flora (with a key) comes out.

2.    Bogs of the Northeast-Johnson-This is an interesting book on Northeastern bogs with a good mix of science and the author’s appreciation of bogs. This book’s status was raised when we (the class) stumbled onto a true bog not too far from where we were staying. A fairly extensive one laden with the usual assortment of bog plants. And so my interest was piqued, but as it were, I have only had a chance to take a quick look through this bog to learn more. Someday.

3.    New England’s  Mountain Flowers-Wallner and Digregorio-What this book is; a paean and exploration of some of the plants that grow on the upper reaches of Northeastern mountains. It is not an identification guide, though there is a lovely photo of each plant in its habitat, and a description of them in lay botanical terms. This book is a good read, the author’s clearly are enamored with their subjects and have done research as well. This is one of my favorite styles of ‘popular science’. You can gain useful identification information on each plant but even more so, you gain an aesthetic value as seen from the author’s eye. This is not to say that you don’t learn botanically helpful tips on floral characteristics, growing habit, etc. It is just more than that and even those details, which can be rendered down into a technological jargon (which I also don’t mind) are made more elaborate through the author’s words. And really, the photos are often quite beautiful. The plants are grouped by elevation and habitat (i.e., alpine or cliff dwelling). So bring this book if you’re in its area, and when you are taking a break from identification but still feel like learning about the local flora, take a gander at this book.

4.    Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide-Newcomb-Though I did not personally use this book much on this trip, the students used it frequently. And while it still has the unfortunate short-comings I bemoan in other reviews of it, it is also still one of the best and easiest books to identify plants within its region.

5.    North Woods Wildflowers-A Falcon Guide-Ladd-Like many of the Falcon Guide Wildflower series, this book has its ups and downs. The color photos are good, often displaying the plant in a manner that helps recognition. It lacks a family index (as some of the other Falcon Guides have) which is very helpful in field guides such as this, that use a color scheme for identification. There is a small section with color photos of 16 common weeds, which is a nice addition. Adding more would be helpful, especially since weeds are sometimes one of the more common and colorful wildflowers. It has useful descriptive information on each of the plants covered. This would be a helpful book for those starting out in plant identification and looking plants up by flower color, or just wanting to make a quick (and potentially inaccurate) identification. A handsome colorful flower book to have around.

6.    The Shrub Identification Book-Symonds-This and its tree companion book are easy on the eyes and mind. They both use a simple format; black and white photographs (often life-size) of different parts of the included woody plants. The beginning sections separate the different aspects of woody plants (leaf, twig, flower, fruit, bark).  You can compare these photos with what you are looking at in your hand. After finding a close approximation, you then turn to the ‘Master Page” of this plant, in which it will be listed along with other plants in the same genera or similar types. And on these master pages, all of the different plant parts are together for comparison. The objective of the book is straightforward, to have easy to find, life-size photos to compare. There are few words in this book aside from a few descriptive details in some of the master page sections along with genera, species and common name. While the idea is a good and useful one, plants are not that simple and much variation exists amongst individual plant parts (say, leaves) even within the same exact tree, and much more so among species. The author is aware of this and will sometimes have a few variations of leaves next to each other, but it can be difficult to tell which is most similar. The area covered is roughly the eastern third of the US, though there are many shrubs that are not included, especially when there is a large number of species within a genus.  The book sagely says on the back “an important supplement to existing botanical methods”, meaning that in order to accurately identify a plant, you would still need a good flora with a key (or something to that nature). But these books do make it fun which can help get people started looking at woody plants. I find the Shrub book a bit more useful, as I find shrubs a bit more confounding. So why are these books in the infrequently used section? Because I tend to go right to the technical manuals, but I do glance through these now and again to get an eyeful of the part of various plants. They are also a bit big, so not really for the backpack, but with all the other books I bring around, they fit right in, and good to leave around for students to glance through.

7.    The Tree Identification Book-Symonds-see The Shrub Identification Book review.

Books used more often

1.    Atlas and Gazetteer-New York-Delorme-This is of course one of the most useful books that I bring along, so that I can look for new roads to travel down and find old marked routes. And since this particular atlas has come with me up to the Adirondacks a few times, it becomes ever better as it has the maps routes and plant locations of years past. I also use it with the GPS I now carry, though I find all of this ever more edified in conjunction with an Adirondack map from AAA, which is easier to use in the big picture. As this precious treasure map wears thin, I reckon I will purchase a replacement and re-define my lines of travels and add back some side notes in it.

2.    Flora of the Northeast-Magee and Ahles-I have begun to use this floral key more commonly, often in conjunction with my old stand-by; Gleason and Cronquist. In general I like the feel of this book. As compared to G&C it covers a more limited range, helping to narrow down the plant sought. It has county distribution maps of many  plants, as well as the occasional black and white illustration. Sometimes the keys seem to be the authors own, and hence very handy when comparing to another key.  They are also nicely laid out, and the descriptions of each species are well-done.  Probably the biggest problem for me is its range, which is New England and adjacent New York. And while we here in the Finger lakes are pretty close, still the county maps don’t reach us, and I have to take an educated guess about whatever plant I am looking up. That said, I am back to my original statement, and that is that I find this tome handy and will try it more often in my plant travels.

3.    Forest Trees of the Northeast-Cornell Cooperative Extension-I did not use this book for identifying plants, but to glean some useful information on some species. It is useful here, with bits of practical and interesting information on the local trees. It is written more for the forester, with information about distribution and habitat, climate, soils, cover types, life history, etc. So if you like this type of information, it is a good resource. It also has decent black and white illustrations with some good plant diagnostic features, helpful, but you would need other field guides to suss out the identity of a plant. I used it mainly for causal reading, to learn more about the life styles of the trees I was seeing. It is more dry than the Eastman books, but perhaps a bit more for the forestry crowd.

4.    Manual of the Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada-Gleason and Cronquist-This is still the standard that I use for the Northeast, though I am supplementing it often with The Flora of the Northeast. And not much has changed from other reviews, it is comprehensive, though it seems that the authors at times take delight in using infuriatingly obscure botany language. Now that I can use other volumes along with it, it has become less irritating. And of course there’s the sweet illustrated companion (which see).

5.    The Book of;  Swamp and Bog; Forest and Thicket; Fields and Roadside-John Eastman- This series is very helpful in understanding the ecology of the plants. They add a lot to my materia medica classes and give all sorts of interesting insights of the plants discussed. Some of the plants I used these volumes for this field trip were; Eupatorium perfoliatum, Calla palustris, Abies balsamea, Acer spp and others. The information contained in these volumes is different then one might find in other books. I do wonder how accurate it is, since I don’t usually see this info elsewhere. But as long as it is close to correct, it helps the students perk up, by giving some interesting tidbits about how the plants grow in their respective environments. And I enjoy reading them in the evening and when I have reading time. It is a different perspective than I usually read, with new ideas about the plants I see often.

6.    The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual-Holmgren-I reckon I am just glad someone took the incentive to make this volume. How it has helped me with plants I barely know. It would be nice if it had some more illustrations of the finer points and details as detailed in the text. But that would be nit-picky, wouldn’t it?

7.    Trees and Shrubs of the Adirondacks-Chapman & Bessette-While I did not consult with this little book often, it has the distinct advantage of being portable and having what the title suggests. And so, I will occasionally look through the pretty good color photos and get a feel for what I may see in this region. It would be particularly useful for those who don’t want to key out plants but just to get a sense of what woody plant they are looking at, especially in conjunction with Symonds.  It also has a useful description for each plant as well an easy-to-use key (which unfortunately only gets you to the family section, but at least they have similar species listed under each plant description). I should try to use it more often to see if it really could help folks get a beginning sense of using a plant key (one of the ways in which I use Newcomb’s).

8.    Wildflowers of the Field and Forest-Clemants and Gracie-I recently spotted this book at that vast New York City stronghold of used books-The Strand. Piqued I picked it up and said, ‘all I need is another color photo plant book that I won’t ever look at’. So I picked it up, browsed though and put it down and then picked it up again, and put it back on the shelves. And continued browsing the stacks, but it stayed on my mind. So before leaving I picked it up again and looked at the copyright and saw Oxford Press 2006. Not bad, that would explain the good quality photos and general high quality of the book. And as I looked through it some more, I began thinking “hey, this could be color photo edition of Newcomb’s” (I don’t really think like this, but it makes for good text). And after purchasing it, which I am glad I did, there are praiseworthy qualities as well as what I see are solid deficits. Let’s start with the positive, for a book that has over 1300 plant photos, it is a good size, about the size of a fat novel (though it does weigh a bit more, as it is on quality stock paper-a plus). The photos as stated are of good quality. They are by necessity for a book this size, small. That is about 7 per page. They flowers are shot over a black background, giving the viewer an uncomplicated look at the plant. Also helpful, is that many of the color photos have photo insets with useful diagnostic characteristics, a big draw. But be aware, bring along your spectacles as they are a small affair.  Also very helpful is a small measuring strip at the bottom of each photo so you can delineate how big the plant is in real life. There are state distribution maps with each plant that are colored in with the time of their flowering. A neat device. And there is a perfunctory description of each plant with a bare, but necessarily brief description.
These are all very helpful characteristics of this book but they come with a price. The first and my biggest disappointment, is that I was hoping that it was similar to Newcomb, but with photos. And what does Newcomb’s have besides useful illustrations? That’s right, a key. It is a key designed for beginners, and while there are many parts that are unwieldy, it is a good way to get folks started using floral keys. Well sad to say, this is a blasphemously basic key. The key (inconveniently placed 10 pages in) is as perfunctory as they come. It is based on flower color (a notoriously tricky method), and below the color is leaf arrangement. Under some of the colors this then leads you to a beginning page number, for others you also have choices for the number of petals, rays or miscellaneous and in others, whether leaves are simple or compound. After this, are directed to a page in the body of the book and then begin to thumb through the pages looking for the plant in hand. There is a strip of color on the side of the page demarcating in which color your roam, and in small letters in the upper left, there is the basic description again (example; Leaves alternate, Leaves simple, Petals five). I tried the key out on a number of plants, and surprisingly, a few were on the page listed, which says something for this method. But if it is not there, you are on your own to thumb through and find it. So, to sum, the key is annoyingly simple, and yet maybe it will get those who don’t even think about numbers of petals or leaf arrangement to look a bit closer, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?
About the photos, I am mixed about photos with black backgrounds. As I stated earlier, they do edify the details, but taking the plants out of their habitat also can add confusion, as it adds a mystique, as the person identifying the plant is not looking (but could I reckon) be looking at the plant this way.  But probably more often than not it helps, as it cuts out background distractions and elucidates details.  One other problem is that most of the photos just concentrate on the flowers, which makes it harder to spot the plant while roaming around, as one does not get a good idea of the plats shape and stature, which are important while looking for a specific plant, which is one of the advantages of Newcomb and illustrations in general, but for those who learn and find better by photos, this will be most helpful.
Well I reckon I’ve gone on long enough about this book. How I see it most helpful is as an adjunct to Newcomb or a like book. Or even to back up Gleason and Cronquist with a color photo. I will carry it around for a while and see how useful  it is. It is of course good for those interested in just learning the local flowers, to poke and peek around through this book.