Here's what I've been reading lately:
When I heard Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota was being published late last year, I knew it would be a must-have. So often I have come across an unfamiliar looking shrub in the understory here at Sand Creek, but the tree guides I had were national in scope and gave very limited descriptions and few illustrations.
I balked at the $59.95 suggested retail price, but I bought it when I heard about a limited time promotional price of $42 from the Minnesota Bookstore. Later I found out I would have saved close to $10 buying it on Amazon; I had forgotten to factor in state sales tax and shipping. Oh well. It's in my hands now, and you can't pry it away from me!
This book is fabulous. Every species has a full page of detailed color photos, accompanied by exquisite line drawings that capture the form of the tree. The descriptions are detailed but written so one does not need a degree in botany to decipher them. And included for every species is a brief natural history which describes its habitat, ecological niche, and conservation status. There are county-by-county maps, which are good for quickly determining whether a species is likely to occur in a given location, ruling out some possible identifications.
I hope to get out in my woods this spring and summer and document as many plant species as I can. The one drawback to this book is that it is not portable enough to carry in the field; however if it were any smaller it could not contain the wealth of information it does. I will have to take digital photos, make sketches in a field notebook, or collect structures, all of which are good exercises in paying attention to detail.