Book Recommendations for Budding Botanists

The list below is intended for someone eager to learn the plants of region (especially for a job where identification is required).  They are listed by type and in order of recommendation.  

In most cases more than one taxonomic key can greatly ease identification and minimize frustration.  Different keys emphasize different characteristics.  The smaller the focus of the key (region, habitat type, plant type) the more specific the description and generally the easier to key a plant.

The above said, the on-line version of the Michigan Flora is an excellent resource once you become familiar with using it

General Flora (for Michigan)

Field Manual of Michigan Flora -2012 
by Edward G. Voss and Anton A. Reznicek

MUST BUY, taxonomic key also available on-line (updated and with pictures)!  Technical flora of all of Michigan, uses indentation so you can go backwards, there are no images of plants; but the on-line version provides both photographs and quasi-descriptions of every plant.

Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual: ... -1998 
by Holmgren, Holmgren & Gleason

Should Buy (if you can find it –out of print), line drawing book, the names are old, but it includes all the plant species in Northeastern North America.  It allows you to quickly look at all the members of a taxon when you are pretty sure of the genus or family.

Gleason's Plants of Michigan: A Field Guide -2007 
by Richard K. Rabeler

Nice addition, non-technical taxonomic key that uses couplets very different from other keys.  No pictures and no indentation, but it is small (easy to carry) and inexpensive.

Woody Plants

Trees of Michigan: Including Tall Shrubs

Trees of Michigan: Including Tall Shrubs -2006 
by Linda J. Kershaw

MUST BUY (if you can find it at a reasonable prince –out of print), photo book with excellent descriptions and some simplified yet effective keys, it is the best tree book for Michigan. 

Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest: … -2012 
by Weeks & Weeks

MUST BUY, photo book and thorough descriptions of differences with similar species.  While the focus is Indiana, it includes distribution maps of the entire Midwest including Michigan.

Michigan Shrubs & Vines: A Guide… -2016 
by Barnes, Dick & Gunn

Should Buy, taxonomic key with drawings of all the shrubs of Michigan which includes a list of Key Characters and descriptive differences between similar species.

Michigan Trees, Revised and Updated: … -2004 
by Barnes & Wagner

Taxonomic key with drawings of all trees (winter and summer).  Nice to have multiple sources.



Grasses of Wisconsin: … -1997 
by Norman C. Fassett

Taxonomic key with drawings and easy explanation of most common grasses, given we are close to Wisconsin it makes for an easy introduction to grasses.

Manual of Grasses for North America -2007 
by Barkworth, Anderton, Capels, Long & Piep

Taxonomic key with drawings, while daunting because of the large geographic range, the description and labeled line drawing of every species are excellent.

Field Guide to Wisconsin Grasses -2014 
by Judziewicz, Freckmann, Clark & Black

Taxonomic key and photo book of all the grasses, but it is focused exclusively on Wisconsin. 


Sedges of Indiana and the Adjacent States: The Non-Carex… -2009 
by Paul E Rothrock

Taxonomic key and photo book of all the non-carex sedges.  Distribution maps include Michigan.

Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges: … Carex … -2008 
by Andrew L. Hipp

Taxonomic key with drawings of all carex species in Wisconsin. 

Wetland Plants

Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America, Volume I: Dicots…   -2006 
by Crow & Hellquist

If you are focusing on wetlands, then it is a MUST BUY.  Excellent taxonomic key focused on non-flower characters and most couplets refer to a well labeled figure (also get Chadde's Wetland plants of Michigan).

Aquatic and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America, Volume II: Monocots… -2006
by Crow & Hellquist

Second half of the book (two volume set)

Wetland Plants of …  
by Steve W Chadde

Taxonomic key, focused primarily on flora characters, it includes a drawing, description and geographic range of all species in Michigan.  It is an excellent companion key but difficult to use for plants without a flower.  There are several editions, they are equally useful.


Aquatic Plants of the Upper Midwest: A photographic field guide … -2011 
by Paul M. Skawinski

Excellent photo book of most submergents in Michigan.  Helpful descriptions and up-close photographs help narrow down or confirm the species. Buy it through the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Through the Looking Glass: A Field Guide to Aquatic Plants -1997  
by Borman,  Korth, & Temte

Line drawing book, very good key characteristics and comparisons of most common submerged plants.  Buy it through the University of Wisconsin Extension.

How to Know the Aquatic Plants -multiple old additions
by G.W. Prescott

Unusual book because it includes some common aquatic mosses and macro-algae, thus it can be a useful addition.  Prescott's How to Know the Freshwater Algae overlaps with a section on macro-algae.   

A vegetative key to the genera of submersed and floating aquatic vascular plants of Michigan -1967
by Edward G. Voss

Short key available On-line through The Great Lakes Botanist (formerly The Michigan Botanist).


Michigan Ferns and Lycophytes: A Guide to Species of the Great Lakes Region -2018
by Daniel D. Palmer

MUST BUY, taxonomic key with drawings and photos of ferns.  Keys are based primarily on plant material (not ecology) and includes excellent descriptions. 

Ferns of the Midwest: … -2013  
by Steve W Chadde

Taxonomic key with drawings and photos of ferns.  The drawings are better than Palmer, but the keys are focused on ecology and sometimes vague.

Ferns & Allies of the North Woods: A Handy Field Reference ... 2016
by Joe Walewski

Nice photo book fun to browse through with nice arrows and clear descriptions of diagnostic characteristics.

Other Useful

Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary -2001 
by Harris & Harris

MUST BUY, dictionary with drawings and written explanation of all the many plant terms.

Wild Berries & Fruits Field Guide of Minnesota, Wisconsin & Michigan -2009 
by Teresa Marrone

MUST BUY, photo book of all berry producing plants (really good photos and descriptions), easy to quickly identify any plant with berries. 

The Sunflower Family in the Upper Midwest

The Sunflower family in the upper Midwest -2001 
by Antonio & Masi

Photo book with brief descriptions, keys and distribution maps of all Asteraceace.  Strongly recommended if you can find a copy at a reasonable price (out of print). 

The Sunflower Family: A Guide to the Family Asteraceae in the Contiguous United States -2019
by Richard Spellenberg 

Photo book with excellent descriptions of all species in the contiguous United States organized by tribe.  Given the range it is a bit daunting, but a good reference to confirm proper identification.

Weeds of the Northeast -1997 
by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal, and Joseph M. Ditomaso

Excellent photo book with explanations of most of the common weeds.    

Weeds of North America -2014 
by Dickson & Royer

Nice photo book organized by family.

Common Backyard Weeds of the Upper Midwest –2017
by Teresa Marrone

Photo book of the common weeds organized by type.  The prior two suggestions are more extensive, but sometimes it is nice to have a short book with all the extremely common species only. 

Weeds & Wildflowers in Winter -2012 
by Lauren Brown

Line drawing book of plants remaining after all the plants go dormant in the fall.  It is not technical and does not include a key, but with it you can recognize a lot during the off season.

Page last modified September 9, 2021