Friday, February 11, 2005

So you want to be a botanist?

So you want to be a botanist? So do I.

Not a professional botanist. But you will find, as I did, that there comes a point in your tallgrass prairie restoration project that you want to take your plant identification skills to the next level, beyond the comfortable but limited domain of the popular field guides.

To that end there are technical manuals written by and for the pros. But be warned: the information in these books is couched in an almost impenetrable language whose superficial resemblance to English serves only to draw in the hapless reader. That unfortunate pilgrim is quickly dispatched, crushed in the superdense black hole of botanical jargon. No doubt there are other disciplines where the ratio of technical terminology to common words is so high, but I've not come across any.

Consider the following excerpt from Flora of the Great Plains (1400 pages, no pictures. Everyone should own a copy.)

Solidago L., Goldenrod

Perennial herbs with stems arising singly or variously clustered from fibrous rooted rhizomes or a branching caudex. Leaves alternate, variously glabrous to hairy but not resinous-punctate (as in Euthamia). Inflorescence of numerous relatively small heads, arranged in axillary or capitate clusters, often thyrselike, or paniculate with recurved-secund branches, or sometimes in terminal, corymbose clusters; involucral bracts imbricate in several series or occasionally subequal, chartaceous to stramineous at the base but commonly greenish toward the tip; receptacle flat or low-convex, normally naked but occasionally with a few chaffy bracts near the margin; ray florets yellow (white in S. ptarmicoides), few, rarely more than 13, pistillate and fertile; disk florets seldom more than 20 and mostly fewer, perfect and fertile; style branches flattish, with internal-marginal stigmatic lines and a lanceolate, pubescent appendage. Achenes subterete or angled, sometimes prominently ribbed, glabrous or hairy; pappus of numerous white bristles...

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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