Dear Readers, over the years I have used lots of books to help me with the creation of the Wednesday Weed, so today I thought I’d share four very different works. Some are useful for ID, some are full of information, and I use all of them practically every week. So, to start with, here is that old favourite ‘The Wild Flower Key’ by Frances Rose. This is the first book that most people use when they start to become seriously interested in identifying plants, because it is concise without being too simple, and because the illustrations are clear. You can use it as a proper ‘key’ once you know the basic plant terms, but I find it most useful in identifying plants when I already know roughly what they are.
Incidentally, with a surname like ‘Rose’, how could Frances Rose have become anything other than a botanist? In New Scientist they have called this ‘nominative determinism’ – so my plumber is called Mr Boyle, and I once had a dentist called Mr Fang. I’m sure you can find lots of others.
I love Rose, but I have to admit that there is a lot of writing. If I want photos, I always turn to this book.
I often use this in combination with Rose: I find the photos very useful, and it sets out the key ways of telling the difference between different plants by putting the diagnostic features in bold. For example, the position of the buds is a key way of telling the difference between oilseed rape and wild turnip, and I learned this from Harrap. Plus, the photos, though small, are rather lovely.
Another book that I’ve found to be full of useful information is in the New Naturalist series – Stace and Crawley’s Alien Plants. Stace is a master botanist, who produced the definitive guide to plants in the UK, and this work on ‘Aliens’ is fascinating. He explains the various paths by which alien plants have arrived in the UK, the reasons why they thrive, and how they impact on native flora.
He has a list of the most common alien plants found in different parts of the UK, and who would be surprised by the number one plant in London? Yes, it’s that old favourite the buddleia. Who’d have thought that petty spurge would come in at number four though? It hasn’t even made my Wednesday Weed list yet (though sun spurge has). I shall have to pay closer attention.
But finally, here is my favourite book on the folklore, uses and culture surrounding plants in the UK. Richard Mabey is probably my favourite author on plants, and his books will certainly crop up in future when I’m thinking about books on ‘weeds’. In Flora Britannica he gathered information from the four corners of the UK, and you cannot open a page without finding a useful factoid. He reminds us that our plants have a biography and a historical significance too, and, as it was originally published in 1996 it was before its time in its focus on what we were in danger of losing.
In addition to describing the various plant families, Mabey also has special sections on areas such as ‘spring flower festivals’ and ‘plants, places and names’. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for sheer breadth of knowledge. It single-handedly reclaims the history of plants in the UK and reminds us of how long we have been admiring, using and destroying them.
So, that’s a small selection of the plant books that I find most useful for the Wednesday Weed – I could easily add in another half dozen that I use more occasionally. What are your ‘go-to’ plant books? I think there might be room on my bookshelf for a couple more….