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Other titles in the Timber Press Field Guides series:
Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwestby Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson
How to Use This Book
Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest is designed for ease of use in the field to help you identify the flowers you find. It includes color photographs, clear and concise descriptions, and range maps for 1220 flowering plants found from southern British Columbia to northern California. Additional related species are mentioned in the text.
Most common native species are here, as are a goodly number of weeds and many rare and endemic plants. Our goal in selecting plants was to include as many as possible that are likely to be found while exploring this large territory. We put particular emphasis on central and eastern Washington and Oregon and on the Klamath-Siskiyou region in southern Oregon and northern California because most other field guides have glossed over these areas. While 1220 plants is a wide selection, many species and varieties had to be omitted. We chose the showier species at the expense of plants with small and nearly insignificant flowers.
Although grasses, sedges, rushes, and trees all have flowers, most people don't think of them as wildflowers, and you won't find them here. Many woody shrubs are included, however, because a lot of them have showy flowers and are likely to be encountered along the trail or roadside.
As you look up the flowers you find, be sure to use all of the information provided. The text and photographs complement each other. The range maps present the county (in the United States) or forest district (in British Columbia) where documentation shows the plant to have been found. Keep in mind that habitat, not shown on the individual maps, is also critically important.
How to Identify a Plant
It is very easy to miss a critical detail about a plant you want to identify if you don't adopt a systematic way of looking. While we're usually attracted first to the flowers and their shape and color, the rest of the plant is also important.
Start by getting an overall impression of the plant. Is it woody like a tree or shrub? How big is it? Does it grow like a vine, form a mat on the ground, make a clump of stems, or have a single stem that stands by itself? Are the stems stiff and strong or are they weak? Are there any spines, prickles, or hairs?
Examine the leaves. Are they mostly right at the ground (basal) or do they grow along the stem? Some plants have both basal and stem leaves. What shape are the leaves? Stem leaves can be opposite each other or arranged alternately. Leaves can be attached to the stem with a long petiole, clasp the stem, have little appendages at the attachment point (stipules), or appear to have the stem growing through the leaf. Many plants have compound leaves with several leaflets. You may need to count the leaflets and note how they're arranged. Leaf texture is another clue. Are they soft, leathery, hairy on one or both sides, or spiny?
Study the flowers. Identification usually requires a close look at the color, arrangement, and number of the flowering parts. Color is obvious but may change as the flowers age or among individuals of the same species. Sometimes petals have spots or blotches of a second color. Count the petals. Some flowers don't have petals, or the petals are very small and inconspicuous. Count the sepals, located at the base of the flower. For many plants, this will be enough to make an identification. However, you may also need to look closely to count the stamens. Sometimes you need to see whether these sex parts are longer or shorter than the petals. The position of the ovary can also be important. For a few flowers, such as penstemons, you have to look closely to see how thick the hairs are inside and outside the flower. A hand lens with a magnification of 100 is useful for this close level of examination, can add a lot to your enjoyment of wildflowers, and doesn't weigh much in your pack. If you need help with technical terms, see the glossary at the back of the book and the illustrations on the endpapers.
Observe the habitat. Does the plant grow in the forest or out in the open? What is the soil like? What else is growing around the plant? Are you at the seashore, in the mountains, or somewhere in between? All of these clues will help you learn about new plants.
The flowers in this book are organized first by color and then by number of petals, family, genus, and species. The fastest way to look up an unknown flower is to turn to the appropriate color section and leaf through the pages until you come to flowers with the same shape or number of petals. Then examine the photographs and read the descriptions until you find a match. Use the maps to tentatively eliminate plants that don't grow where you are; this should help narrow your search, although you could be lucky enough to discover a range extension or find a plant not included in this book. Once you have a preliminary identification you may want to reread the description as you study the plant carefully a second time.
Some plants are easier to recognize than others. Large families like the asters and genera such as Penstemon are especially challenging and may require consulting a technical manual for additional information.
Flower colors can vary, so you may need to look in more than one section. Cross-references to other flowers in the same genus with different blossom colors are provided. Each plant has been included only once to make room for the largest number of species. Creamy whites are included with white flowers, but pale yellows are with darker yellow flowers. Sometimes the distinction isn't very clear. Reddish purple flowers are with reds, bluish purples with blues. Keep in mind that flower colors often vary within a species. Occasionally the variation is dramatic, as in sulphur lupines, which come in both yellow (where we've included it) and blue forms. Baby blue-eyes also come in white with black spots.
If you recognize which family your plant belongs to, it may be faster to begin at the families section and go to the descriptions from there. Each family is described briefly, with page references given for the family members in each color. The index includes both common and Latin plant names. If you know a plant's name but aren't sure what it looks like, turn to the index to find it quickly.
In most cases there is one photograph for each plant. These were selected to show as many important identifying characteristics as possible. Flowers receive more emphasis than foliage, which may appear somewhat soft-focus or in the background. Use the photographs to get a general feel for what the plant looks like, and then read the description. Unfortunately, it is often impossible to show all of the characteristics of a flowering plant in a single photograph.
Each plant has a unique Latin name composed of at least two parts: genus and species. In some cases there are also subspecies and varieties, but for the purposes of this book these are mostly lumped together under the main species. Because plant names can change over time, generally due to botanical research, we've listed Latin synonyms where needed (in parentheses). The first name listed is the accepted name at the time of publication. For the most part these follow the names in the USDA Plants Database (plants.usda.gov) or the Oregon Flora Project (oregonflora.org). The names given in the standard technical keys are listed as synonyms if they are different from the currently accepted name.
Each plant also has one or more common names. The same plant maybe called by different names in different places, or the same name may refer to different plants in different places. Some plants have so many common names that we weren't able to list them all.
Each description is written in a similar way so that you can quickly scan for individual characteristics. The descriptions start with a general overview of the plant habit, such as erect, spreading, cushion, or shrub. Stems and leaves are next, followed by details about the flowers. Finally you'll find information about where the plant grows, such as soil preferences and elevation
Each plant entry also includes the plant's height, whether it is native or introduced, its growth cycle (annual, biennial, or perennial), rarity, bloom time, habitat, presence in the region's four national parks, and whether it was collected during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Many fruits and berries are described; unless otherwise noted, these should be considered inedible.
Height. Plant heights are given in inches or feet and are for typical specimens under normal growing conditions. You may find individuals that are taller or shorter than the figures given, but if you're looking at a plant that is only 4 inches tall and the height in the book is given as 18–24 inches, there's a good chance you need to reconsider your identification. When measurements are given in the descriptions without specifying length or width, they refer to length or height. For help converting units, see the ruler on the edge of the back cover.
Growth cycle. Plants have one of three growth cycles. Annuals come up from seed, flower, produce seeds, and die in one growing season. Biennials take two years to produce seeds. In the first year the seed germinates and the plant only puts down roots and grows leaves. The second year it blooms, produces seeds, and dies. You'll find both the flowering and nonflowering individuals of biennials every year. Perennials live for a long time, and most flower every year although some may only bloom occasionally or lie dormant for many years between blooms. In challenging environments such as subalpine and alpine areas with short growing seasons, perennials may reproduce vegetatively rather than by seed even though they bloom. You can often identify a perennial by looking for the previous year's dried leaves, flower stalks, or seed heads.
Abundance. The abundance of a plant is another clue you can use to identify it. Botanists speak of a population of plants, which simply means a group of individual specimens of a species growing in close proximity to one another. A population can have very few individuals, be a dense stand covering the ground, or anything in between. We've used endemic, rare, uncommon, locally common, and common to describe plant populations. The terms refer to how likely you are to find the plant in our region. Some plants that are uncommon or rare here are prolific in other parts of the continent.
The term endemic, as used in this book, indicates a very limited geographic range. Within that range you may find many populations with lots of individual plants, as with the beautiful Olympic harebell, which thrives on rocky sites at high elevations in the Olympic Mountains. Another easily found endemic is the Steens Mountain thistle, which blooms all along the Steens loop road above about 7000 feet in midsummer. On the other hand, Ashland lupine is found only in a very small area within a few hundred feet of the summit of Mount Ashland in the Siskiyous. The areas covered by this book that have the largest number of endemic species are the Olympic, Siskiyou, Steens, Wallowa, and Wenatchee mountains and the Columbia Gorge.
A rare plant has few individuals in each population, and they may be far apart. Bolander's lily is found only on widely scattered sites in southern Oregon and northern California, with few individuals in each population. Some rare plants are also endemic, and many are threatened or endangered. Be especially respectful of any rare species you are lucky enough to find.
Uncommon plants are just that. There may be large numbers of plants in just a few places, or there could be only a few plants in each of many places. Washington lily is found throughout the Oregon Cascades, but most populations have few individuals.
Locally common plants have a wide range, and in some places you'll find large numbers of individuals. Glacier lilies are abundant in alpine meadows throughout the North Cascades and Cascades but are almost never found at low elevations.
Common plants are found in large numbers in many habitats and locations. Yarrow, camas, and field mint are all found in abundant quantities throughout most of our region.
Many of the Northwest's most common plants, especially those growing around built-up areas and along roadsides and trails, were brought here from other parts of the world. Some are plants that escaped from cultivation, while others were accidentally introduced from Europe or Asia decades ago. Some are seriously invasive and will quickly and easily crowd out native species. Almost everyone would call these alien plants weeds. Avoid spreading seeds or other parts of invasive plants that could take root.
Bloom time. Most wildflowers only bloom for a fairly short period each year. The exceptions are often weedy species. We've subdivided spring and summer into early, mid, and late. Few of our flowers bloom in autumn and even fewer in winter or year-round. The bloom times given are related more to weather conditions than to calendar dates and should be used with caution. For high-elevation plants that bloom following snowmelt, there's really only one season: summer.
In general, early spring begins in mid March at low elevations, although you may find flowers as early as February in warm, exposed locations such as the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge and the sunbaked sites along Puget Sound. Midspring comes with the leafing out of the big-leaf maples. Late spring arrives as the Oregon white oak leaves reach full size.
Early summer runs through the solstice, or immediately after the snow melts at high elevations. In midsummer the alpine meadows are at their lush maximum growth. By late summer the soil has mostly dried out and blooms are slowing down; asters and gentians are replacing lupines and paintbrushes. Autumn is short as seeds mature and foliage dies back.
Habitat. In real estate it's location, location, location. For plants it's habitat, habitat, habitat. The subject is so important we've given it a chapter all its own. See "Climate, Geography, and Plant Habitats."
Elevation. We've used low, mid, and high, as well as subalpine and alpine, to describe the elevation range where a plant is most likely to grow. Because the Northwest is so diverse, these terms are necessarily vague. In general a plant will be found at lower elevations in the northem or coastal parts of its range than in the south or hundreds of miles inland. Low elevations range from sea level to about 2000 feet but can also include valley floors in mountainous regions. Mid elevations range from about 2000 to 5000 feet.
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