Planning a hike this weekend? The following resources can help you identify and learn more about the flora you might see on the trail.
If you want to do some reading before your hike, we recommend Introduction to California Plant Life by Robert Ornduff, Phyllis M. Faber, and Todd Keeler-Wolf and and California Plant Families by Glenn Keator. These are also great guides to take out into the field.
One stop shopping for all the trees and shrubs of California is available in Trees and Shrubs of California by John D. Stuart and John O' Sawyer.
Regional guides make it easier to narrow your search, may offer information on other species, and give more background on why certain plants grow in one region over another. Try Introduction to the Plant Life of Southern California: Coast to Foothills by Philip W. Rundel and Robert Gustafson, Introduction to Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region by Glenn Keator, Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula by Jules G. Evens, Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy I. Storer, Robert L. Usinger, and David Lukas
Wildflower season is coming to a close, but four books by Phillip A. Munz (originally published in the 1950s!) still provide excellent, at-a-glance identification and information about wildflowers. Introduction to California Mountain Wildflowers, Introduction to Shore Wildflowers of California, Oregon, and Washington, Introduction to California Spring Wildflowers of the Foothills, Valleys, and Coast, and Introduction to California Desert Wildflowers by Philip A. Munz.
For Advanced Amateurs and Professional Naturalists
The Jepson Manual - Available Online or in Print
The most comprehensive resource and identification guide to nearly eight thousand varieties of native and naturalized California plants. At over 1,400 pages, it's a load to carry out into the field--but the only comprehensive resource of its kind. (The California Native Plant Society used to sell a special carrier for it, but I was unable to find it in their store. If you have any information about carriers for the Jepson Manual, please feel free to add a comment to this blog entry.) If you are planning a visit to the desert, The Jepson Desert Manual lightens your load while also providing all the information available in the larger book.
Jepson Flora Project - Jepson Online Interchange for California Floristics
After identifying the plant using your Jepson manual, learn more about it using the Interchange, which links together a variety of University of California sources for distribution maps, specimen data, horticultural information, photos (Cal Photos) and more.
A Manual of California Vegetation (California Native Plant Society)
Put together by the California Native Plant Society, this guide is now completely available online. It aggregates information and photos of species, including information also available via the Jepson Flora Project mentioned above.
We welcome your thoughts and tips as well. Please post reviews of your favorite identification guides and online resources in our comments section.
Illustration: Rosebay rhododendron. The rosebay rhododendron grows along the edge of moist coastal forests in the extreme North Bay, for example, in the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve on the northern Sonoma coast. Photo by Glenn Keator appears in Introduction to Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region.