Book Recommendation: Weeds of the West

This morning, my husband Stan brought this plant home today and asked if I could help him figure out what it is. He said bees were all over it and he’d like to know the nectar source they are working on.

Since nature study and plant identification is a common interest in many homeschool families, I thought I’d share it today.

I began identifying plants when I worked for USU Extension, and people would bring plants (and far too many spiders, yikes!) to my office and ask me to identify them. It was a “learn by doing” sort of experience because I had NO IDEA what I was doing. As I searched for resources to help me with this process, someone recommended the book Weeds of the West, written by DA Ball, et al, from the Western Society of Weed Science. (This was before the dawn of time and plant identification apps. Ha ha.)

Weeds of the West was (and still is) the most helpful plant identification book I’ve used so far. I like it because plants are grouped by family. I can think “This plant reminds me of _____” and then search the pages in the same plant family. If I can’t find it that way, I turn every page of this 600-page book looking for similar plants, and then googling them to see if it is correct.

For today’s plant, for example, I started searching in the pea family, because it has small groups of unopened flowers that reminded me of a clover, then I searched the grass family, but bees typically don’t visit grass. Then I thumbed through the book until we came to the buckwheat family, where we found pale smartweed (Polygonum lapathifolium L.). We think our sample is the same plant because it grows near water, has similar leaves, and has the same unique sheath at each node. It also looks like other plant samples from an online search.

Weeds of the West doesn’t have every plant in the landscape, but it has the most essential common ones and I can almost always find what I am looking for.

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