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Identifying NorCal Plants

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Plants of Northern California, Falcon Guides

With more than 7,000 species of native plants in California, it’s easy to misidentify one. As a journalist, not a scientist, I’ve made more than a few wrong identifications on this site. Hopefully, few misidentifications are still posted here, though – admittedly – I come across one, now and then. When I do, I correct it.

However, when you combine California’s native species to the thousands of non-native (exotic) plants in our gardens, parks and cities, it’s easy to imagine the difficulty involved in reporting accurately 100% of the time.

In order to identify obscure plants, I’ve sent photos of them to naturalists, botanists and foresters who’ve then identified them, but that takes time. So, increasingly, I refer to books and sites for answers. Recent additions to my library are field guides published by Falcon Guides.

In a previous post, I referenced Dr. Eva Begley’s Plants of Northern California. It illustrates, through color photography and text, native plants that grow west of the Sierra Nevada. This area includes the north San Francisco Bay, North Coast, Klamath and Cascade Ranges, and the Sacramento Valley.

Trees, Falcon Pocket Guide

Sierra Nevada Wildflowers, Falcon Guides

In the book, species are organized by color and family, and text describes their blooming period, elevation and habitat, plant characteristics, and other interesting facts. It is particularly useful in identifying flowering plants.

What has often bothered me about some field guides is that they’re written for scientists by scientists. So, common plants are often omitted, I suppose, because the author might think they’re so common that everyone must know what they are.

Dr. Begley did not make that mistake. Ordinary, as well as extraordinary plants are illustrated with sharp, colorful photographs and simple, direct and helpful text.

Falcon Guides even thought to print a ruler on the back cover, to help take the guesswork out of measuring blooms in the field and includes a glossary of terms (e.g., pinnate) that might otherwise be confusing to users.

Plants of Northern California has little within it to help in identifying deciduous trees or Sierra Nevada plants, though combine it with Falcon’s pocket guide Trees by Todd Telander and Sierra Nevada Wildflowers by Karen Wiese, and you have solid foundation of reference materials that will help you identify California plants when searching for California Fall Color. 

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