Showcases colorful real-life images rather than drawings, making it easier to identify a plant. Book is heavy-duty, despite being paperback, and can stand up to repeated use. Features handy cross-referencing index system. Discusses a wide range of plants – over 200.
Book does not discuss toxic plants.
This is a useful field guide written for all ages, even young scouts. Includes an informative section about the preparation of wild plants to make them suitable for consumption. Book is small in size, making it easy to take on a camping trip or hike.
Some featured images are not as close up as they could be to showcase the plant.
Book is handy in size, making it easy to bring on all foraging expeditions. Book is both accurate and easy to understand, even for beginners. Information is specific in nature, which is what other field guides sometimes lack.
Features drawings rather than actual images.
Book is organized by color of plant, which makes it interesting and easy to go through, especially given color-coded page corners. Includes color images. Showcases quality maps. Possesses a useful glossary.
Some included photos focus on only the flower rather than entirety of the plant.
Book possesses detailed drawings of plants and has detailed and precise information to back it up about each variation and species. Features convenient and consistent set up with images on one side and information on the other for easy browsing.
Doesn’t fully explain how to prepare each edible plant.
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Foraging for wild plants can be a rewarding hobby and add a variety of culinary accents to your table. However, picking the wrong plant can be dangerous. One way to ensure that the plants you’re harvesting from fields and forests are tasty and not toxic is to use a wild plants field guide.
These field guides can help you find edible plants and some also list medicinal plants, wildflowers, and other plants. In addition to plant types, these guides also cover different geographic ranges. They can vary in the number of plants listed, the way the plants are organized, and even the intended target audience.
Our buying guide can help you find the right wild plants field guide for your needs at a price you want to pay. We outline what’s contained in these guides and how they’re organized. We also offer some of our favorite guides and tell you what we like about them.
Some wild plants field guides cover a broad, general range, such as North America. Others are much more targeted, focusing on a specific region such as the western United States, the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, or even a specific state. Selecting a guide for your specific region can help by focusing on those plant species that you’re likely to encounter and eliminating the species you won’t find growing in your area.
Number: Wild plants field guides vary considerably in the number of plants they contain. While some guides concentrate on several dozen plant species, others offer images and descriptions for several hundred. But more isn’t always better. In the case of these field guides, you can easily be overwhelmed by scores of plant species that you’ll never see, such as those in a more general North American guide. Conversely, a guide with too few plants will leave you with more questions than answers. Your best bet here is to select a guide that focuses on your area without being overwhelmingly detailed.
Related to the number of plants in a guide is the number of pages. Wild plants field guides can range from fewer than 200 to more than 800 pages. While you have access to more information in a larger guide, it’s also heavier and harder to lug around.
Types: The types of plants in a field guide can vary greatly. While most guides of this kind concentrate on edible plants, this can cover a fair amount of ground from medicinal plants and wild mushrooms to greens and berries or fruits. Inedible plants such as wildflowers and toxic plants may also be covered. If you have a narrow interest in only a specific type of plant, you’ll probably be better off buying a guide that concentrates on that rather than a more general guide.
Toxic plants: Some wild plants field guides include a dedicated section on toxic plants, mushrooms, and/or berries to help you better identify the plants that you should avoid when foraging.
Distribution maps: These maps show you where specific plants grow and are more common in larger regional field guides, such as those that cover all of North America.
While all wild plants field guides feature a wide variety of plants, how they organize and present the information varies greatly from guide to guide. Some organize plants by taxonomy (plant type), while others group plants by color. Some guides organize plants by lookalikes, others by region, and still others by season. Choose the format that will be most useful to you.
Index: An index in the back should be standard in a wild plants field guide. This is an alphabetized list of plant names and other relevant information to help you more easily find what you’re searching for in the guide. Guides that use a cross-referencing index system help you more easily find related plants.
Glossary: Some wild plants field guides include a glossary, an alphabetical list of common words and phrases used in the guide. Spending some time familiarizing yourself with the glossary can help you better understand the guide as you use it.
The specific audience for a wild plants field guide can also vary considerably from guide to guide. Some are written for beginner or casual foragers, while others are much more detailed and written for botanists and experienced foragers. The age of the target audience can also differ greatly, with some guides specifically written with younger readers in mind.
Avoid guides that use black-and-white photos or illustrations. You could miss color shading that can be crucial to plant identification.
Field guides of all sorts have long used pencil or painted illustrations to show the specific characteristics of birds, plants, and minerals to help readers identify them. Some guides still use illustrations, while others use photographs, and some use a combination of the two. While illustrations are generally more artistic, some guide users feel that photographs are a better way to identify plants.
Whichever method is used should concentrate on the whole plant, not just parts of it like the flower. If the guide includes photographs, they should be in focus and taken close enough to the plant for easy identification.
In addition to pictures, a quality wild plants field guide should include detailed descriptions of individual plants to aid in identification. The description should offer family, genus, and species names, common names, as well as detailed information on a plant’s habitat, distribution, and characteristics. The description should note if a plant is edible or toxic, and what it can be used for either in food or medicine. The description should also indicate if the plant changes greatly from season to season and what characteristics to focus on during each season.
Wild plants field guides come as either hardbacks or paperbacks. While a hardback book is more durable, a paperback guide is easier to use in the field. Your choice will be determined by your intended use of the guide, whether in the home or in the field.
If you’re afraid the weather will ruin your guide, buy one with a vinyl- or plastic-coated cover, which will hold up better if exposed to moisture.
Wild plants field guides that concentrate on edible plants often include a section dedicated to the preparation of the plants you harvest. These sections include tips on how to clean and cook the plants and often include a collection of recipes to get you started.
You won’t find a huge price difference between one wild plants field guide and the next, but a number of factors separate lower-priced guides from higher-priced guides.
Under $20: These wild plants field guides tend to include fewer plants than pricier guides. They are often more specialized (for example, wild mushrooms only) and often cover a more focused regional area, such as a single state or a specific bioregion. These tend to be paperback and softcover guides.
Over $20: These guides have more pages, include more plants, and have a larger number of photos or illustrations. Hardcover guides are more common here, as are specialized sections, such as for recipes. Many of these guides cover a larger area and include distribution maps so you can more easily find where specific plants grow.
Be sure that the organization of the guide book (color, taxonomy) makes sense to you or it will be frustrating to use.
A. While much of this comes down to personal preference, there are some practical reasons for choosing one type of cover over another. Hardback field guides can be an attractive addition to your home: think coffee-table books. They can also be a valuable research tool, but they tend to be large and heavy.
The more common and lighter paperback guides are much easier to take into the field. Also, softcover guides are often smaller, so you can more easily slip one into a pocket or backpack.
A. A guide can help you to identify edible plants, but you’re going to need a few tools to harvest your plants. A foraging or mushroom knife is a standard tool in foraging kits. This has a blade on one end to cut plants cleanly and a brush on the other to remove dirt from them.
Other tools that are useful to foragers include a rugged pair of scissors, a small trowel or shovel for digging, and a sturdy canvas bag to store your harvested plants. If you live in an area with maple sugar trees, also consider throwing in a maple sugaring spile to collect sap samples.
A. While wild plants field guides can vary a bit in what types of plants they include, most do not include trees. You’ll need a specific guide to trees for your region.