I started my study of botany eight months ago with three books in hand, two books on how to identify plants and one glossary:
- How to Identify Plants, by H.D. Harrington.
- Botany in a Day, by Thomas J. Elpel.
- Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary by James G. and Melinda Woolf Harris.
I wrote about them here.
Today I counted the books on my “botany” shelves and found 26 books, including the first three. Not all of these are plant identification books – some are on the biology of plants and some are about specific plant forms, e.g., trees.
The ones I now turn to first for plant identification are:
- A Guide to Tropical Plants of Costa Rica, by Willow Zuchowski.
- A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru) with Supplementary Notes on Herbaceous Taxa by Alwyn H. Gentry.
- Trees and Shrubs of Panama, by Luis G. Carrasquilla R. (a bilingual book, with descriptions in both Spanish and English).
The first book is arranged by habitat, and I still turn to it first because the habitats are so easy to recognize. If I don’t find it there, though, I turn to a family approach, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’m beginning to learn (and appreciate) how to use. The second book is a key to the families. Sometimes I can get it that way. If I do, I turn to the third book, which is organized by family. It assures me the plant grows in Panama and has fine photographs and descriptions of various representatives of the family.
I list these books in case anyone speaking English and living in Central America or northern South America wishes to tackle plant identification in these highly diverse areas. Also, if anyone would like to recommend other books – hey – please do!
But my main reason for making these notes today is that I’ve been thinking about how to organize my reference material. On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article on The Library Thing. It seemed a good way to catalog my books (I’ve entered only a few so far, but I can add at any time, which is nice), and it might be a good way to find other people trying to identify the same plants I am.
I have to acknowledge that frequently the books fail me. Or, rather, I don’t yet know enough about plants to use the books correctly. So I turn to the internet. Here I have a true organizational problem. I have so many “botany” bookmarks that they’re useless. It takes me more time to scroll through them than to do a fresh google search on the subject. I thought for awhile that del.icio.us would help, but I’m finding the same issue there. Just too many links!
I’ve started using some “notebook” software to help me organize these links. I have a notebook for each botanical family I’ve studied so far and I’m keeping links to keys and other prime web sites there. I’m not sure, though, that this is the right way to go.
So…here’s my plea. If anybody out there has any thoughts on organizing web material with an eye to plant identification, I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you have a system you’re using right now and are relatively content with it!