The High Desert Gardener's Bookshelf: Wildflower Books

Wondering what those flowers are blooming along your back fence? Stumped when your kids ask you what those pretty yellow flowers are called? Wanting to put in a wildflower garden but not sure what to plant or how to do it? There are many excellent wildflower guides available that cover southwestern Arizona. These are some of our favorites. A few may be available in area bookstores but the best place to look for them is in a botanical garden, desert museum, and conservation area gift shops.

One of the best books for basic wildflower identification is A Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers in the Peterson Field Guide Series [T.F. Niehaus. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974 ISBN O-395-36640-2 Approximately $13.00 (paperback)] Although there is little written information on each wildflower the color and flower keys and the detailed line drawings make the book handy for identification. The author tries to include a distinguishing feature of each flower to help you distinguish between similar-looking plants. The Field Guide will fit neatly into a backpack or large pocket and contains both color and black & white illustrations for more than 1500 wildflowers.

Another excellent field guide, and one which contains more written information than the Peterson guide but fewer wildflowers, is The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Western Region [Richard Spellenberg. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1979, ISBN: 0-394-50431-3 Approximately $15 (paperback)] This is a well-made book with glossy color photographs, stitched and glued binding, and a vinyl cover - important qualities in any book intended for field use. Wildflower descriptions are detailed and include bloom times, habitat, and range. In addition, the author comments on interesting characteristics of the plant such as its poisonous properties, use, and similar species. It is important to note that the Audubon guide describes in print, the Peterson guide illustrates in its line drawings. So even though the color photographs are striking in the Audubon guide, they do not always show enough detail (or even the entire plant) and that makes identification trickier. Will fit into any backpack or large pocket and covers over 650 wildflowers.

If you prefer something less technical than a field guide, there are many smaller wildflower books available. 100 Desert Wildflowers of the Southwest and 100 Roadside Wildflowers of Southwest Woodlands [both by Janice Emily Bowers. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1989 & 1987 ISBN: 0-911408-72-X & 0-911408-73-8 Approximately $5.00 each (paperback)] cover the more familiar wildflowers such as sand verbena, desert marigold, lupine, and brittle bush. These two books offer color photographs with brief but interesting paragraphs on each wildflower, and suffer from the same problem found in the Audubon guide: pictures that often do not show the entire plant. Though wider and thinner than the field guides, Bowers' books are a handy size and good, inexpensive introductions to area wildflowers.

You also may want to take a look at 190 Wild Flowers of the Southwest Deserts in Natural Color [Grace B. & Onas M. Ward. Palm Desert, CA- Living Desert Assoc., 1978 ISBN: none. Approximately $10 (paperback)]. The Wards' book is not as well-made as the others and contains less information, but does cover some wildflowers not covered by Bowers. If your goal is establishing a wildflower garden, the books above are good for making wildflower wish lists but are not practical guides to the design, planting or maintenance of a wildflower garden. Arizona Highways Presents Desert Wildflowers [Desert Botanical Garden Staff. Phoenix: Arizona Department of Transportation, 1988 ISBN. 0-916-179-15-X Approximately $10 (paperback)] covers common wildflowers, their habitats, and bloom times with brief chapters on establishing wildflower gardens and using them for food (complete with recipes!). A planting guideline chart covers planting method, seed treatment requirements, and planting times. The book has beautiful color photographs but of only 63 wildflowers.

Jackie Dillon-Fast
May, 1991