Two new guides to wild plants of Maine

Posted Aug. 02, 2010, at 11:53 a.m.

“The Plants of Acadia National Park” by Glen H. Mittelhauser, Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney and Jill E. Weber; University of Maine Press, Orono, Maine, 2010; 532 pages, color photographs; trade paperback, $24.95.
Let’s not beat around the bush, as some outdoor guidebooks do: This is one of the best guides to wildflowers and other flora of Maine I’ve ever used. The reasons are manifold.
The meticulously researched and illustrated “Plants of Acadia National Park,” compiled in collaboration with the Garden Club of Mount Desert, the Friends of Acadia and the Maine Natural History Observatory, offers information on, as far as the authors can tell, every plant that grows on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic peninsula and Isle au Haut. It also provides lists of plants that in the past have been said to grow there but the authors and their collaborators did not actually find in the field. And since probably all of the wild plants on MDI also grow elsewhere in Maine, this is a sourcebook for any naturalist – amateur or professional – working the woods and fields hereabouts.
The photographs are uniformly gorgeous. They’re exceptionally well-presented in the book’s glossy format, illustrating every entry with usually two or three well-chosen views on well-laid-out pages. And what sets these illustrations apart from most guidebooks is that most examples actually look like the plants you find in the field. Many books, authoritative and helpful as they are, often show generalized illustrations or close-ups of blossoms that are not exactly what your eye detects; the same flower in two different books can sometimes look much different. For me, “The Plants of Acadia National Park,” after about a month of use, is providing touchstone images.
The key system is excellent and easy to use. It takes you from blossom to leaf to plant family to individual species, and provides guiding images along the way. The whole system is designed so that you can easily wander off anywhere in the process and proceed to the pictures to hunt down your specimen. No key system is perfect, and this book will not make your Newcomb’s, Peterson or Audubon guides obsolete; but it could become your primary key.
The text describing each plant is succinct and mainly complete to the needs of most amateur naturalists like me, providing descriptive details and scientific and common names. Supplemental guides will help fill out finer descriptive details sometimes omitted. The glossary of botanical terms is more comprehensive than many guides’, and more scientifically exacting, which can help or hinder depending on the extent of your botanical vocabulary. The index is simply the best I’ve ever used: It registers every name that appears in the book, and does not force you to sift back and forth looking for cross-referenced page numbers.
“The Plants of Acadia National Park” is a users guidebook of impressive scientific exactness, and yet despite its largeness of content, it’s sized to fit pretty handily in your backpack and bound to take a beating.
And as if all this wasn’t recommendation enough, the price – $24.95 – makes it a deal hardly to be believed. If you are a wild plant hunter in northern New England, get this book, through a local book seller, amazon.com or www.umaine.edu/umpress.

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“Wild Plants of Maine: A Useful Guide” by Tom Seymour; Just Write Books, Topsham, Maine, 2010; 160 pages, color photographs; trade paperback, $24.95.
“Wild Plants of Maine,” in contrast to “The Plants of Acadia National Park,” is a chatty, breezy survey of flora that can be foraged as food in these parts.
Waldo County nature guru Tom Seymour, whose previous books include “Hidden World Revealed,” “Hiking Maine,” “Birding Maine” and “Maine Wildlife,” among others, takes us on a meander around the midcoast woods and fields from spring to fall where we learn to pick lunch and dinner. We discover the leaves of the early-springtime evening primrose plant make nice salad greens and the root a tasty vegetable. There are descriptions and instructions for harvesting cattails, fiddleheads, dandelion greens and day lily buds, a section on mushrooms, and all sorts of quirky suggestions such as chewing pearly everlasting blossoms like gum. A short section at the end offers some recipes for wild-plant soups, chutney and casseroles, with mussel and pickerel (also harvestable in the wild) dishes thrown in for good measure.
The information appears to be drawn largely from firsthand memory, and most entries, a page or two each, read like a sort of running monologue you might be treated to on a slow hike in the woods. Seymour’s grandfather saved his life with a tea made of heal-all flowers when he was a boy. He inadvertently started a wild parsnip grove one year. Just like in a walk, some finer details you might like to know do not find their way into the talk (especially cautions about lookalike poisonous plants, which do come up but without as much emphasis as we might think prudent, as in, for example, the resemblance of Queen Anne’s lace, which is edible, to water hemlock, which is fatal but is described in passing only as “toxic”). But otherwise the descriptions are helpful and the color photos with each entry provide a nice look at the subject at hand, all of which can make “Wild Plants of Maine” a nice companion to “The Plants of Acadia National Park.”
It’s available from Just Write Books at www.jstwrite.com and from online book sellers.

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