The snow may be melting here, but I know that getting new snow is still a very real possibility. And it could happen all the way through April. Or May. Or even June. I remember a couple years getting snow in June. But luckily from here on out any new snow we do get probably isn’t going to stick around for too long.  Well, at least down here in the valley. There is still plenty of snow in the mountains – and that’s a good thing – but the truth is, I’ve already started dreaming about summer, and hiking, and wildflowers.

My summer dreaming hasn’t been helped at all by a work project I’ve been involved with, that has had me poring over plant identification books for the past few weeks. Not that I’m complaining. I can definitely think of worse things to do than flip through pages of beautiful photographs of wildflowers. Or trees or weeds, depending on the particular book.  By diving into all of these books I’ve discovered some new favorites, so I thought I’d share them with you here in a three-part series.

This week I’ll start off my series of reviews by showcasing my top three favorite wildflower identification books. Because I live in, work in, and do most of my wildflower viewing in the western United States, that’s where these particular books are pertinent too. I either already owned the books I’m reviewing, or borrowed from the library, so cost didn’t factor in to my opinions at all. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t conducted a full-fledged in-field comparison yet, so my comparative review is (mostly) based on reading alone.

(Disclaimer: Although I do work for Utah State University, they are in no way involved with this post. The authors of the books reviewed here have no idea that I, or this blog, exist. I just really like the books and think you might too.)

wildflower id books, wildflower guides, field guides

The three wildflower identification guides I’m reviewing today.

Starting with third place, is the National Audobon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers: Western Region. I’ve had this field guide for years now, and it has been very helpful to me. It includes over 600 species that are commonly occurring in the Western United States, including: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and California. Though it describes more than 600 species, it doesn’t even scratch the surface on the thousands of plants that occur throughout the west, but includes those the author considered the most showy and attention grabbing.

The highlights:

  • good explanatory text and diagrams at the beginning to help the novice become acquainted with botanical terminology
  • large, full color photos of each of the plants described
  • photos organized by flower color and flower shape, which is helpful if you can see that you are looking at a yellow flower, but don’t have any idea what it’s name is – you can quickly look through the photos of yellow flowered plants and find what you are looking for
  • brief descriptions, organized the same for every plant

The lowlights:

  • the photos and text are separated; while this makes it nice to do a quick i.d. search based on flower color and shape, it does mean a lot of flipping back and forth throughout the book as you try and verify that the picture you are looking at, and the text description, match up for the plant you are trying to identify
  • usually only one photo per plant is included
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I do like the easy to read text, and the occasional line drawings that are included in the descriptions, but I wish the photos and text were closer together.


wildflower photos, wildflower identification, field guide, wildflower id book

My apologies for the blurry photo, and the glare. The photos in the book really are clear and high quality. I just wish they were closer to the text, and that there was more than one of each plant.


In second place, we have Wildflowers and Other Herbaceous Plants of Utah Rangelands by Roger Banner, Mindy Pratt, James Bowns, and Chad Reid.

This book was produced by Utah State University Extension and is a good resource for quick identification help for commonly occurring herbaceous plants in Utah. Though it is focused on Utah plants, it’s not an exhaustive compendium of all that occur here, and many or perhaps most of the plants included most likely occur in the surrounding states as well. It also includes both native and introduced, or weedy, plants.

The highlights:

  • it’s a fairly small, compact field guide that wouldn’t be too heavy to lug around in a day pack on a hike
  • spiral bound, easy to flip through the pages
  • there are 160 or so plants featured
  • some introductory pages of diagrams of plant structure, leaf arrangement, flower types and flower parts is helpful if you are unfamiliar with botanical terms and descriptions
  • for each plant there is a full page of pictures showcasing different key characteristics and/or life stages
  • nice descriptions of the plants and their preferred habitats

The lowlights:

  • it’s really wordy; the descriptions are fairly long, and you have to do a lot of reading to find the information you are looking for
  • it’s arranged alphabetically by plant family; this is fine if you already know the family the plant belongs too, but if you’re using it to help you i.d. a new plant it could be tedious to look through every page
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The Wildflowers and Other Herbaceous Plants of Utah Rangelands Field Guide is spiral bound at the top, which is kind of nice. I like that multiple photos are included for each plant, but you have to do a lot of reading to find the information you are looking for.

And, in first place, Wildflowers of the Mountain West by Richard M. Anderson, JayDee Gunnell, and Jerry L. Goodspeed.

Another product of Utah State University Extension, I really found this guide to be useful and nicely designed. It’s a little bit bigger dimensions than the other two books, and contains fewer flower descriptions, but it is easy to use, has good photos, and is the only one of the three that focuses exclusively on native plants of the region. The region covered by the book is the “Mountain West” which includes all of Utah and Nevada, southeastern Oregon, the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas in California, southern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming, western Colorado, and the very northwestern corner of New Mexico.

The highlights:

  • full page of photos for each plant, including close-ups and whole-plant photos
  • spiral bound for ease of use
  • easy to read, bulleted descriptions that include a colored in map indicating the range of the plant
  • nice diagrams at the beginning illustrating the different plant parts, leaf arrangements and shape, etc.
  • organized alphabetically by family and scientific name, but within color groups;

The lowlights:

  • I wish it included more plants?
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I like how in the Wildflowers of the Mountain West guide book, each plant gets a two-page spread with multiple photos, easy to read text, and a distribution map.


Do you have a favorite plant guide? Let me know in the comments below if you do, because I would love to check it out!