Good Oak News

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Quick Book Review: Shrubs and Woody vines of Indiana and the Midwest


Just got a new book today, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on it briefly before I get muddled down in day-to-day work. The Book in question is Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest by Sally S. Weeks and Harmon P. Weeks.

Overall, this book is great. Its filled with diagnostic photos of various features of many species of shrubs. Each species description covers a full spread of two pages so there is plenty of room for both detailed text and numerous images, including a range map focused on the midwest showing the county distribution for each species. This layout is excellent, and I expect it will be the standard for similar field guides in the future. Now that we're in the age of modern printing, we can largely leave the dusty old dichotomous keys behind. While a key is included in this book, I certainly find I have much better results identifying plants with visual (or tactile) characteristics, and the large number of high quality, detailed images in this book will certainly work well with the way my brain works.

I was especially happy to see that there is "Wildlife Uses" information for each speices, as this sort of information always helps illustrate the importance of our wild plants in the natural community. More importantly, the "Landscaping Value" information for each species encourages people to think about how we could use these plants in our human landscape. If we are to preserve the diversity of our region over time, it is essential that we begin to include these native plants more in our human environments.

This book does have some weaknesses however. Their treatment of some geneses is limited. They only include about half of the roses and blackberry species for example. Though they make this clear in their introduction to the genus, it could cause some confusion and misidentification for the end users. For the hawthorns, they don't even try at all, and basically say that 'these are too complicated for us to deal with'. Indeed this is a tough genus to crack, but its exactly the kind of information I was really hoping for when I made this purchase.

Another area of weakness is how they deal with non-native shrubs. Since (sadly) the majority of shrubs in our natural areas are non-native, this is an important group to deal with. Non-native plants are relegated to a short section at the end of the book, so if you're in the field thumbing through to find a species that visually matches the plant in front of you, you have to somehow know its non-native in order to go look for it in the back. For example, the two native buckthorns and the two invasive buckthorn species are 200 pages apart! The coverage of non-native woody plants is limited, page 399 is simply a list of some 20 non-native shrubs and vines that should have been explored in more detail, and I can think of at least a few that are common on the landscape or ecologically important that should have been included in this book in detail.

And one last nitpick on this subject; I was hoping to find some clarification between the invasive European highbush cranberry and the rare native American highbush cranberry here, but instead they confuse the matter considerably to the point that it would completely misguide anyone trying to identify them in the field, or anyone looking to use native shrubs in their landscape.

Despite these limitations, I'm going to give this book 4 out of 5 stars for the great layout and detailed information. I'm hoping that the authors keep working on this book, and can provide a more comprehensive and accurate second edition.

You can find out more information about the book here at the publisher's website, including a "Google preview" which will allow you to 'virtually' thumb through the book to see for yourself.

Happy Botanizing!

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