Nev Wright's picture

Plant ID Book Recommendation

Can anyone recommend a non-photo wild plant/flower ID book for a novice (me!)? I've been using Collins Complete Guide to British Wild Flowers by Paul Sterry, which is very good, but I think I need to get something a bit more technical and detailed now. I've seen ads for a new guide by Blamey, Fitter and Fitter which seems very good, but I would welcome any advise.



Ambroise's picture

Hi! I'd recommend to buy a

Hi! I'd recommend to buy a copy of Stace's New Flora of the British Isles (3rd edition is the current one). Some may say that it is very advanced book and a big jump from the guide you have been using but actually there is no reason why not going straight to the best Flora (in the UK and arguably in Europe). Blamey Fitter and Fitter is an excellent guide but does not have keys. Rose (The wild flower key revised edition) has keys but they are less comprehensive and less accurate than Stace's, so I'd argue that if you are putting the effort to use identification keys, why not using the best one immediately? You'll see that at the end of the day one ends up using all these book depending on the occasion etc. - but Stace remains the reference when in doubt - so why not starting there? Also the BSBI guides are worth having a look at if there is a group of plants you find particularly interesting or difficult. Good Luck and let us know how you are getting on!

lavateraguy's picture

The step up from the likes of Sterry ...

... would be the 3rd edn of Stace's New Flora of the British Isles, but this isn't really a book for a novice (it's mostly unillustrated, with the occasional black-and-white figure).

A step upwards and sidewards would be Poland's Vegetative Key to the British Flora, which is also little illustrated (but with a set of plates of sedges), which complements the flower-centric nature of other guides, and is as comprehensive as you'll get short of Stace.

The descriptions of the new (2013) edition of Blamey, Fitter and Fitter sound good, but apart from using drawings rather than photographs, and a wider coverage (ferns, possibly more grasses as Sterry's coverage of grasses is rather thin), it sounds to be in much the same ballpark as Sterry.

Drawings have advantages and disadvantages over photographs; one the one hand they can show key characters more clearly; on the other hand they don't always capture the jizz of the plant.

I've picked up several different guides over the years (Rose; Press; Sterry; Keble Martin; Garrard & Streeter; Clapham, Tutin & Warburg) but the ones I carry (when I carry anything) are Sterry and Poland (The Vegetative Key to the British Flora). [Keble Martin, Stace, and Garrard & Streeter are too bulky to carry - but I use then back home to identify plants that I couldn't identify in the field; Keble Martin has a good coverage of grasses, sedges and rushes, with illustrations; Garrard and Streeter does nicely for the general run of plants; and Stace for the cases when I need to look at technical details to resolve an identification.

There was a field edition of Stace, but this is currently out of print and being offered by an American supplier for the utterly ridiculous price of £2,472.94 (£1,421.51 used). (Elsewhere seen at £75, and £19, but the latter doesn't do mail order.)

markwilson's picture

plant id book

If you want to make a leap - id out of season go for Poland's Vegetative book (poland's a person not a country)

If this ever came out as an interactive key for use on a mobile/ portable computer it would be amazing as more diagrams could be included

Rachy Ramone's picture

Hooray for Poland!

(The author, not the country) (not that I have anything against Poland the country... moving on.)

I started with Poland's "Vegetative Key to the British Flora" and I think it's brilliant.

I have to ID all year round, so I usually don't have the luxury of flowers, and this book has keys that actually work. And it's small enough to take out into the field, unlike Stace which weighs a ton and costs a bomb. And has pages made of tissue paper.

If you buy Poland, my advice would be to start with some plants that you already know, and work your way through the keys until you get to it, working backwards from the plant if you need to.

Yes, there is a lot of jargon to learn, but if you have the tiniest interest in botany, then you will need to learn it at some point!

I freely admit that in the first months of owning this book, I spent as much time in the glossary as in the keys, and I still haven't learned all of them ("Have I, Stuart?!").

I think there are two stages to botany: you start with "ID", for which I think Poland is best: and after a while you get to "recognise" where you know it's a Scabious, for example, but don't know which one, and that's where Rose is so good.

Hope this helps!

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:

landgirl's picture


I'm a big fan of Blamey, Fitter and Fitter and the new guide is fully updated with Stace 3 names. This is the one I carry as a field guide, together with the Stace field guide mentioned by Lavateraguy. I also carry Poland in autumn to early spring. Stace 3 is excellent but takes some study of the terms used, and is the one sitting by my computer.

Nev Wright's picture

Thanks for all your useful

Thanks for all your useful comments.
I'll take a look at as many of these as poss and let you know which I end up with...for better or worse!

DrMGoesWild's picture

Plant ID guides

Have a look at Collins Flower Guide by David Streeter, this was published in 2010 and there is a large format hard back edition and a small format paperback edtion ideal for the field. It includes grasses sedges rushes and ferns as well as wild flowers in the Francis Rose sense and so is very competitive against all other current illustrated guides. Some of my MSc students at University of Reading really take to David Streeter's approach, the keys are really good and the whole thing is designed with the beginner in mind. Its very cheap too, I have seen new copies of the paperback available for less than £10. I would recommend checking this out as well as the other suggestions. Dr M

Nev Wright's picture


For those interested, all the suggestions I looked at were excellent. I opted for the new version of Blamey, Fitter and Fitter; the maps, short keys, colour coding and illustrations appealed to me. time will tell how I get on! I looked at the Stace which I'm sure is excellent, but a bit too much of a step up for me as yet.... Rose and Collins got a perusal and they seemed v good too...and maybe the Poland for the winter months....Xmas book request list!!
Thanks for everyone's help, much appreciated :-)

Duxbury Rambler's picture

My favourite

I agree with Landgirl Blamey, Fitter and Fitter I have the old version and just bought the new one - it's the one I have on my desk - have a few others but this is the one I always use first.

Thistle's picture

Rose ...

... is pretty comprehensive and is well-illustrated (paintings, not photos). I find this very helpful and it avoids having to struggle through keys which are fine if all the distinguishing features are clear (which is almost never the case!)

The paintings are generally very much clearer than photos and are designed to illustrate the distinguishing features.


lavateraguy's picture

If you explain how ...

... Sterry is not meeting your needs it may be possible for someone to give a more personalised recommendation.

Nev Wright's picture

Don't get me wrong, I like

Don't get me wrong, I like the photoguide, but I guess its that in the format I've got it some of the pictures are a bit small and I can't get a good feel for the rest of the plant (I find the array of yellow flowers and thistles especially difficult to sort). I'm used to the Collin's Bird Guide for my other interest which is excellent and often gives key ID features in the pictures, so I was looking for something as a step up from a quick picture match, which might also educate me on an approach to coming to the correct species. So far most of my approach has been a simple ' looks like that a bit or a lot (fox-and-cubs springs to mind!)' which doesn't seem very systematic or scientific. I need to get some basic terminology sorted out....gosh the more I think about it the more complicated it seems to get!...aargh maybe I just post them as unknown and let you all sort them out for me :-)