Local plant identification guide?
May 12, 2016 6:02 AM   Subscribe

I am on the hunt to learn more about nature! I live in southwest michigan. I'm hoping to find a book (supplemented by an app maybe) that will help me identify plants. My criteria are: (a) pocket/bag sized (b) more information than just what the plant is named (c) good form factor/durability, (d) good for a beginner - I don't even know the difference between a beach and a birch, I probably don't need a book that has 107 different types of maple tree listed out - but maybe I do! Please help a beginner
posted by rebent to Science & Nature (7 answers total)
I have not used it, but Gleson's Plants of Michigan has been in print on and off since 1918, and recently got a significant revision and expansion from the University of Michigan Press. The also publish the Field Manual to Michigan Flora.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:23 AM on May 12, 2016

As a fellow SW Michigan nature geek, I can vouch that Michigan Trees is a terrific guide to the big stuff. My copy is 15 years old, but I had it in my backpack this week. My husband still has copies of the Finder series (trees, flowering plants, etc.) from his scouting days... I think they are also a great intro to the idea of using a dichotomous key. (Plus, cheap and pocket-sized!) I haven't used it much, but leafsnap looks like fun, from an app perspective. Finally, nothing beats walks in the woods with people who know nature. They often know funny little tips and hints that don't show up in guide books. You might want to consider joining the occasional volunteer day with someone like The Nature Conservancy or through citizen science programs at local nature centers. You'll be shocked at how much you pick up during these kinds of events! Good luck and happy hiking!
posted by hessie at 9:51 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yay, SW MI nature geeks unite! Check out your local Conservation District; many sell exactly the kind of resource you're looking for. Trees of Michigan and Wildflowers of Michigan are both small guides geared toward the beginner. When I was a beginner, I relied heavily on Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I heartily second everything hessie says above; will add in a plug for the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy's events and workdays for an opportunity to learn from local experts. The Stewardship Network keeps a list of events that may interest you as well.
posted by Empidonax at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more resource: the Kalamazoo chapter of Wild Ones hosts great walks and events across SW Michigan that focus on the native plants of our region. All the groups I mention are very friendly to beginners and generally eager to teach newbies.
posted by Empidonax at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2016

I spent oodles of time at Matthaei Botanical Gardens near Ann Arbor.
A great resource. Also, A comprehensive guide to Michigan’s wild-growing seed plants (Flora)
posted by clavdivs at 12:30 AM on May 13, 2016

I'm an Illinoisan who's spent the last couple years on a pet project of locating, photographing, and identifying local native wildflowers. There's usually a decent amount of regional overlap in flora, so I can suggest a couple resources that might be a helpful supplement! When I was starting out, with only memories from college botany classes, my favorite book was Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz. The guide is organized by floral color, which I think is the best beginner-level diagnostic. Eventually you'll start recognizing traits that plants in a given family share, and you'll get good at guessing on leaf shape and plant architecture, but when you're a newb and can't tell bloodroot from mayapple, it can help to focus on stuff that's flowering, take lots of photos, and go from there. Kurz also gives plant descriptions, where and when to find them, and interesting background info.

Illinoiswildflowers.info is a FANTASTIC and very comprehensive resource, both in number of plants covered and detail. Included in the site is a glossary of descriptive botanical terms, which will really take your ID game to the next level. It's way easier to search botany site when you know how to describe an inflorescence or whether to refer to a leaf as glabrous, glaucous, pubescent, chordate, ovate, peltate...

Protip--find out which of your common local plants have stinging hairs or cause contact dermatitis or photodermatitis, and make sure you know what they look like. Poison and water hemlock are pretty but they can fuck a person up.
posted by Ornate Rocksnail at 10:41 PM on May 14, 2016

I picked up Tree Finder and Michigan Trees. Tree Finder is a nice book if a little confusing sometimes. Michigan Trees is.... very detailed. I think I need a much better understanding to make use of it.

I suppose I'm not looking for science so much as stories. Where does this plant come from? What is it used for? Can I eat it? Is there anything particularly remarkable about this type of tree? What makes it different than that tree over there?

Maybe a detailed tree book is the wrong type of resource.

I wonder, is there a book or pamphlet such as "Here are 10 trees, 10 herbs, and 10 flowers to keep your eyes open for"?
posted by rebent at 7:23 PM on May 22, 2016

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