Plants of Southern California: Comments On Floras and Wildflower Books

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Comments On Floras and Wildflower Books


Some of the most wonderful books in the world are floras and wildflower books for a given area. They are a rich source of information for those who want to learn more about our native and non-native plant taxa (species plus subspecies and varieties). And who doesn't enjoy looking at pictures of pretty flowers, especially when they are accompanied by tidbits of interesting information about them?

To identify the taxa in a given area, it is extremely important to have a local guide. The basic reason behind this is that plant species are local. The ~3,000 taxa of plants, including ~70 taxa of lupines, in all of Southern California, are not all found in any given subregion of Southern California. For example, if one is hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, there are only about 1,200 taxa and about 22 taxa of lupines found in that area. If one is hiking only in the Mt. Wilson area, there may be only ~500 taxa and ~8 taxa of lupines. Finally, if one is hiking only on the Echo Mountain Trail, there may be only ~100 taxa and a single taxon of lupines. If indeed there is only a single taxon of lupines on a trail, and you have a complete plant list for that trail from a flora or wildflower book, you will know the name of all the lupines you see on that trail, whether they are in flower or not.

It always surprises me how few people know that the secret to correct plant identification is to have a guide specific to plants of the region. If you are interested in Southern California plants, the most-fantastic book on plants of Northern California will result in many wrong identifications. Even for regions within Southern California, you will misidentify roughly 5-10% of the species if, for example, you use a book on plants of the Santa Monica Mountains to try to identify species at the Santa Rosa Plateau, even though the places are less than 100 miles apart. For more information, see Introduction and Explanation of Trail Guides

It takes a lot of time and effort to produce a flora or wildflower book, to compile the list of species for a given area and to ensure that the identifications are correct.

Plant identification is easy for the majority of plant taxa that are distinctive. However, a significant minority of taxa have what I call look-alike taxa, in which the taxa are discriminated by subtle characteristics. Many times, for some species, one is not even aware that there is another species that is the spitting image of it, as far as the eye or camera can see.

The accuracy of nearly all floras and wildflower books is very high. However, occasional mistakes in identification exist, and are inevitable in large lists. Most authors of wildflower books are not professional botanists, and even professional botanists make mistakes in plant identification.

Mistakes in printed wildflower books and floras can tremendously confuse readers. I personally have been confused for some taxa for years as the result of errors in both professional floras and wildflower books.

In order to try to prevent such confusion for other plant enthusiasts, I have begun to compile lists of misidentifications I have noticed in floras and wildflower books. I should know; I am fairly sure that I have personally made more mistakes in identification than anyone else since I have attempted so many! Nearly all misidentifications I have noticed in floras and wildflower books are ones I have personally made in the past.

The pages linked below also contain in some cases other comments about each flora or wildflower book. In particular, for floras, my comments are often to supply additional species found by myself or others in those areas, from the extensive database I've now accumulated on Southern California taxa.

As for my comments on the Jepson Manual page, nothing in these comments should detract from the tremendous accomplishment in these floras and wildflower books!

If you find any errors in floras and wildflower books for Southern California not noted below, please let me know and I'll include them, with credit to you. I would especially appreciate any comments about whether I have made any errors in any of the comments I've made here.

Comments On Floras and Wildflower Books

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Copyright © 2006 by Tom Chester
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 13 August 2006