2020 Plant Talk 2: Inside Covers and First Few Pages

March 31, 2020

Plant Talk 2

Greetings plant enthusiasts!

In southern Appalachia where i mostly call home a profusion of plants have been blooming for a bit or are starting to bloom including Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spp.), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Bluets (Houstonia sp.), Bridal Veil Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia), Celadine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata), Daffodil (Narcissus spp.), Forsythia  spp.,  Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.) other Hyacinths (Hyacintha spp.), Periwinkle (Vinca sp.) Toothwort-Cresses (Dentaria/ Cardamine  spp.), Camellia spp., Chinese Magnolia Magnolia ×soulangiana [denudata × liliifolia], Ornamental Cherries (Prunus spp.), Euphorbs (Euphorbia sp.), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) Poor Person’s pepper (Lepidium  sp.), Trillium (Trillium spp.), Trout Lily (Erythronium spp.), Tulips (Tulipa spp.), Vernal Whitlow Grass (Draba verna), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) and Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). Wondering how many plants above you may already know and have a relationship with? What other plants have you noticed recently? Here is a link to a Facebook photo album including many of the plants above and others as well. https://www.facebook.com/marc.n.williams/media_set?set=a.10150231011491584.370884.533146583&type=3

Moving forward with the online botanical education! First, we need to work on having some common language and frameworks upon which to file away all the information to come.

Botany in a Day inside covers and Pages 1-3/4

Front Inside Cover

Make sure to get real familiar with the two inside covers and the first few pages if you have not already. You can also make your own flash card sets with the pictures/terms. The following website has a bunch of premade ones to help you www.quizlet.com/subject/botany. The inside of the front page details flower form and is the same between the 5th edition and 6th edition. Most plant families were traditionally based on the similarity between the flowers and fruits foremost among other traits. The female parts when present are in the middle of the flower and the male parts, when present, surround the female parts. The petals collectively known as the corolla follow next which are then surrounded by the sepals known collectively as the calyx. Petals tend to be colorful and sepals green. However, when sepals and petals are essentially the same they are called tepals. This often happens in Lily like plants. Most plants tend to have bisexual flowers with both female and male parts. This state is labeled officially in botanical terminology as perfect. It is worth paying attention to the plants that either are monoecious with male and female flowers separate but on the same plant or dioecious with separate male and female plants. Dioecious plants will always need both males and females around to make fruit. Hollies (Ilex spp.) are a good example of this. Monoecious plant families include many of the ones that make nuts such as the Fagaceae (Oak, Beech, Chestnut) Juglandaceae (Hickory and Walnut) and Betulaceae (Hazelnut and non nut makers like Alder and Birch).

Regular flowers are also known as actinomorphic or radially symmetrical. They can be cut from any angle through the center just as spokes on a wheel and have two equal halves. Irregular flowers are also known as zygomorphic or bilaterally symmetrical and can only be bisected in half up and down to get equal pieces. Members of the Mint (Lamiaceae) and Orchid (Orchidaceae) families are good examples of plants with bilateral symmetry. The progressive fusion of pistils is interesting from an evolutionary perspective and can help with family identification. However, you may need at least a hand lens of 10x magnification if not a microscope to witness these features on many plants. Petal number, flower shape, flower color, and presence or absence/ number of the male/female parts can get you pretty far along the path to family level plant identification.

Back Inside Cover - Leaf Terms

The inside of the back cover includes a basic guide to leaf terms and differs somewhat from the 5th edition and the 6th. The information that is presented is essentially the same but the layout varies. i do like the changes that Tom made in the 6th edition to a more linear and clearly delineated format. However, perfoliate and peltate leaf examples are missing from the newer edition. Though rare, they are distinctive and a big clue to what you are looking at when present so you may want to click their links above or google them if you have the newer version. Also the 5th ed has additional examples of bracts and stipules. Conversely the 6th edition has a greater representation of compound leaves including bipinnate, tripinnate, biternate and triternate which are particularly prevalent in the tropics and in the Bean-Pea family (Fabaceae) and Celery family (Apiaceae). During the growing season leaves are one of the most telling features as to what group a plant might be in. Always look at whether the leaves are oriented opposite or alternate each other on the stem first and foremost when trying to identify a plant. Notice after that whether leaves are simple or compound. Woody plants are particularly easy to identify by leaf orientation and form. Very few plants have whorled leaves i.e. Cleavers (Galium aparine) and Lilys (Lilium spp.). This is a distinctive identifier when present.


On page one Thomas lays how his book works for us. First you need to start with a little history. Pages two, three and four in the 6th edition state further information from the last class about how plants are ordered at different hierarchical levels. Next, Thomas takes on seven of the most major flowering plant families of the world. Just these seven contain almost 20% of all flowering plants known on the planet! Branching out to other families is easier once you are familiar with these major seven. Two methods for identification include using the keys on pages 25-36 in the 5th ed and 23-35 in the 6th ed or looking up scientific/common names in the index and following them to the family page.

Start to pay attention to the plants in your immediate vicinity first. Notice the details that make them different including the flowers, fruits, leaves etc. Attention to detail will automatically illuminate plants more clearly even without knowing who they are or the terminology to classify what you see. Plants that have been present but unnoticed will all of a sudden be surrounding you wherever you go. i agree with Thomas that books organized by family are easier than ones organized by color once you pick up on patterns of plant growth and development. i can know what family most plants belong to almost anywhere in the temperate world now if they have flowers or fruits present especially. If plants are grouped by family it is not hard to quickly find what members are around from the guide and start drawing new connections. Whereas plants ordered by color are very subjective i.e. the difference between integrations of red, pink and purple. My favorite wildflower guide for southern Appalachia is arranged by family but also has a few pages of thumbnail pictures by color and an updated third edition is available  (Horn et al., 2018). The company that formerly published it, Lone Pine, makes some of my favorite guides for many other areas mostly in western North America as well (L. Blackwell, 1997; L. R. Blackwell, 1999; Kershaw et al., 1998; MacKinnon, 2013; MacKinnon et al., 2016; Pojar & MacKinnon, 2004).

On page two (5th ed.) and three (6th ed.) an inset box is of interest for you. Thomas describes how he has listed the diversity of each genus for the world, the U.S. and to his home state of Montana. He also marks each plant he recognizes with a dot. Marking each genus you become familiar with by dotting or highlighting can also be very gratifying. For advanced folks you might mark the families you recognize on pages 215 or 221(5th ed.) and 234/235 (6th ed.). Very advanced folks might take note of which families are missing from page 215 or 234 respectively. Check out the class link below from a few years ago for missing family coverage if you want to see how well you did! http://www.botanyeveryday.com/online-classes/2012-plant-talk-13-missing-plant-families-from-elpel-5th-ed

You are encouraged to determine how many species occur for each genus in your state or region. A regional or state flora (total listing of plants) or the USDA http://plants.usda.gov can help in this regard. The Carolinas share a flora (Radford et al., 1968).  However, i often find more useful the flora for the Blue Ridge section of the southern Appalachian mountains (Wofford, 1989). Dr. Alan Weakley has put together a whole flora of the southeastern U.S. that is free to download and is also updated periodically http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm.

Many states have great more contemporary written floras including

Alaska (Anderson & Pohl, 2016)

California (Baldwin et al., 2012)

Colorado (Ackerfield, 2015; Weber & Wittmann, 2012a, 2012b)

Florida (Wunderlin & Hansen, 2000, 2011, 2015, 2016)

Four Corners, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah (Heil et al., 2013)

Idaho (Davis & Daubenmire, 2012)

Michigan (Reznicek et al., 2012)

Minnesota (Chadde, 2013)

Montana (Lesica, 2012)

Nebraska (Kaul et al., 2012)

New England (Haines, 2011)

Northeast (Magee & Ahles, 2007)

Pacific Northwest (Kozloff, 2005)

Pennsylvania (Rhoads & Block, 2007)

Vermont (Gilman, 2015)

Virginia (Weakley et al., 2012)

Many others states and regions have older ones like the Carolinas one mentioned above such as Arizona (Kearney, 1964), Hawaii, (Wagner et al., 1999), Northeast (Gleason & Cronquist, 1991; Holmgren et al., 1998), Rockies (Weber, 1991),and West Virginia (Strausbaugh & Core, 1978). Of course there are great field guides and floras to specific parts of individual states as well. Let me know if you are aware of any modern floras not listed above already.

A number of states have excellent online resources to their floras including Alabama, California, Florida, New England, New York, and Tennessee. British Columbia has an online flora as well.

Another good computer resource for furthering awareness of plant distribution and diversity is the Biota of North America Program (BONAP) www.bonap.org. The TROPICOS database includes all of the nomenclatural, bibliographic, and specimen data accumulated in the Missouri Botanical Gardens electronic databases during the past 25 years www.tropicos.org. This system has over 1.2 million scientific names and 4 million specimen records and tons of pictures. i will offer up a plethora of other electronic resources as well that you may want to have at your command in the next class.

What resources are you familiar with that you can add to the list above in your comments below, through email or our Facebook group?

Classification Schemes

Thomas includes a description of plant classification schemes that is helpful to wrap your mind around. Carl Linnaeus along with other contemporaries made a giant leap forward in the 1700s by dividing different forms of life into the now classic binomial system of genus and species. The main focus of Botany in a Day is the family which is the next level beyond genus and species. To some degree Thomas also includes the order level which is still very messy and commonly being redefined by further genetic studies.  He also states that the order level does not often offer enough distinction in regards to identification or ethnobotanical application.  However, it can be fascinating to understand the evolutionary steps that separate those bigger categories of plants. It bears mentioning that some clues to identity do manifest regarding numbers of parts of reproductive organs and certain chemistry leading to volatile oils at the order level and above.

A lot has changed at the family level especially over the last ten years or so. A number of family schemes have been proposed over the years with Robert Thorne (1976, 1992) and Arthur Cronquist (1981, 1988) leading the charge in the modern age. Eventually the work of singular individuals and their students, mostly classifying plants based on physical form, gave way to a worldwide network of people organizing by physical form as well as biochemical and genetic characteristics among others.

The work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) split up and at times fused together various family treatments from former authors in (2003), 2009 (Chase & Reveal, 2009; Group, 2009) and most recently a few years ago (The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 2016).

A number of reasons precipitated these changes. Historically plants were grouped together that looked similar especially regarding flowers and fruits. However, just because one plant group looks the same as another one does not mean that they came from the same exact ancestor. Some reasons for this could be because they had slightly different ancestors or through the process of convergent evolution whereupon outside forces such as pollinators or ecotypes drove them to take on similar forms. The goal of classification now is to make what’s called a monophyletic tree whereupon everything is classified in a step wise progression one evolutionary adaptation at a time from one single lineage. Thomas does a good job of explaining that in the 6th ed on page 4.

The big point is that many older references will group plants according to the work of Cronquist, Thorne and others. Many fairly recent edition college level botanical texts work off of APG II  (Castner, 2004; Simpson, 2010; Spears, 2006). i imagine the newest edition of Biology of Plants takes into account the changes from APG III and similarly with Plant Systematics a Phylogenetic Approach. (Evert et al., 2012; Judd et al., 2015). However, these books cost around $70 - 90 each even used so i have yet to add them to my collection. The unparalleled resource known as The Plant Book, has come down from that lofty price point to a used cost in the $30s (Mabberley, 2017). Probably never before has so much acidulously gathered plant information been packaged in such a small portable format with the font to match! Nonetheless, Botany in a Day 6th ed. is the best of these book references that i am aware of that takes into account APG III and presents the information in a scientifically accurate yet very approachable and affordable way for the lay public.

Wikipedia does do a decent job of this online as well. The website The Plant List is historically one of my favorite sources for current correct taxonomy for any plant in the world especially in lieu of an APG III updated flora. It is the product of a partnership between many globally focused botanical research institutions led by KEW gardens in London but has not been updated since 2013. Therefore it has been usurped to some degree by the World Flora Online run by the same partnership but i still tend to find the Plant List more user friendly regarding looking at synonyms.

Hopefully the end game is near for significant changes in how plants are ordered. If you are starting now you are lucky! If you have been studying plants for a while in this way my condolences. You probably have a whole lot of knowledge and references using older classifications and will now potentially need to live in the two worlds of old and new. i feel your pain if that helps, but still think it is worthwhile to become updated, especially if you are a botanical based educator.


For the next class we will cover the pages 4-13 (5th ed) and 5-15 (6th ed) which describe plant evolution and the major groupings of plants It will be posted on April 18th.

Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at marc@botanyeveryday.com or more ideally in the box below or the Facebook group so more people can benefit from the commentary and my time input is leveraged more greatly.

1. What are a few new plants that just started blooming with the ripening of Spring?

2. Go to a landscape nursery, botanical garden or some other concentrated place of flowering plants and observe patterns in flowers, leaves, growth forms etc. You can find a map of over 3,000 botanical gardens from around the world at the following link https://www.bgci.org/resources/bgci-databases/gardensearch/ If you join one garden as a member you can often have reciprocal free admittance to over 150 other gardens across the US as well https://ahsgardening.org/gardening-programs/rap/

3. Post some CLEAR pictures of a flowering plant that you would like to know either at the group on Facebook in the box below or in an email to me. Location of picture, time of year and a close up and one further away all help in the process of the name that plant game!

4. Check out one of the websites i mentioned in this class and pick up an interesting fact or two. Share these in your comments, through email or at the Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/botanyeveryday/?ref=ts&fref=ts


Botanical learning is an incremental process. Botanizing just a little bit each day can amaze one in how much knowledge can accrue over time. Just yesterday i became more acquainted with an apparently common introduced plant that at the species level was new to me. The diminutive (Draba verna) is the most recent step on the Green Path my life led to see.

Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to give as they are able. Your contributions whether they be financial, commentary or other all greatly help us continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. All the more important in this era of COVID-19 which has decimated my in person teaching schedule through at least the next few months…

Thanks and take care, marc

Literature Cited

Ackerfield, J. (2015). Flora of Colorado (B. Lipscomb, Ed.). Botanical Research Inst of Texas.

Anderson, J. P., & Pohl, R. W. (2016). Anderson’s Flora of Alaska and Adjacent Parts of Canada: An Illustrated Descriptive Text of All Vascular Plants Known to Occur Within the Region Covered. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Baldwin, B. G., Goldman, D. H., Keil, D. J., Patterson, R., & Rosatti, T. J. (Eds.). (2012). The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California (2nd ed.). University of California Press.

Blackwell, L. (1997). Wildflowers of the Tahoe Sierra: From Forest Deep to Mountain Peak. Lone Pine Pub.

Blackwell, L. R. (1999). Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada and the Central Valley. Lone Pine Pub.

Castner, J. (2004). Photographic Atlas of Botany and Guide to Plant Identification. Feline Press.

Chadde, S. W. (2013). Minnesota Flora: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Plants of Minnesota. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Cronquist, A. (1981). An integrated system of classification of flowering plants. Columbia University Press.

Cronquist, A. (1988). The evolution and classification of flowering plants. New York Botanical Garden.

Davis, R. J., & Daubenmire, R. F. (2012). Flora Of Idaho. Literary Licensing, LLC.

Evert, R. F., Eichhorn, S. E., & Raven, P. H. (2012). Biology of Plants (8th Ed). W. H. Freeman.

Gilman, A. (2015). New Flora of Vermont. New York Botanical Garden Press.

Gleason, H. A., & Cronquist, A. (1991). Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden.

Haines, A. (2011). New England Wild Flower Society’s Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England. Yale University Press.

Heil, K., Jr, S. O., Reeves, L. M., & Clifford, A. (2013). Flora of the Four Corners Region, Vascular Plants of the San Juan River Drainage: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

Holmgren, N. H., Holmgren, P. K., & Gleason, H. A. (1998). Illustrated companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s manual: Illustrations of the vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden.

Horn, D., Cathcart, T., Hemmerly, T. E., & Duhl, D. (2018). Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians: The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society (3rd ed. edition). Partners Publishing.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellog, E. A., Stevens, P. F., & Donoghue, M. J. (2015). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (4th ed). Sinauer Associates, Inc.

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Kershaw, L. J., Pojar, J., & MacKinnon, A. (1998). Plants of the Rocky Mountains (First Edition). Lone Pine Publishing.

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Lesica, P. (2012). Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Botanical Research Inst of Texas.

Mabberley, D. J. (2017). Mabberley’s Plant-Book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses (4th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

MacKinnon, A. (2013). Alpine Plants of British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest North America. Lone Pine Publishing.

MacKinnon, A., Kershaw, L. J., & Owen, P. (2016). Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada (4th ed.). Lone Pine.

Magee, D. W., & Ahles, H. E. (2007). Flora of the Northeast: A Manual of the Vascular Flora of New England and Adjacent New York (2nd ed.). University of Massachusetts Press.

Pojar, J., & MacKinnon, A. (2004). Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Rev ed). Lone Pine.

Radford, A. E. B., Ahles, H., & Bell, C. R. (1968). Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press.

Reznicek, A. A., Voss, E. G., & Herbarium, U.-M. (2012). Field Manual of Michigan Flora. University of Michigan Press/Regional.

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Simpson, M. G. (2010). Plant Systematics. Academic Press.

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Wunderlin, R. P., & Hansen, B. F. (2000). Flora of Florida, Volume I: Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms. University Press of Florida.

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Wunderlin, R. P., & Hansen, B. F. (2016). Flora of Florida, Volume III: Dicotyledons, Vitaceae through Urticaceae. University Press of Florida.




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