Beidleman, L.H. & Kozloff, E.N. ( 2003 ) Plants of the San Francisco Bay region: Mendocino to Monterey . University of California Press, Berkeley, USA . x + 505 pp., 456 colour illustrations, 1 map, glossary, index. Hardback: price £38.95 (US $60.00) , ISBN 0-520-23172-4 . Paperback: price £18.95 (US $29.95) , ISBN 0-520-23173-2 .

Local floristic accounts range in their presentation from professional floras to picture-books for lay naturalists. Although the preface states that the target audience is ‘amateur naturalists, students, professional biologists and others’ the organization and materials contained within Plants of the San Francisco Bay region indicate that Beidleman and Kozloff have written it to satisfy mostly the first. The book contains some features such as vegetation descriptions and dichotomous keys which are not often found in the basic ‘wildflower’ book, but whether these increase its usefulness to the intended audience is uncertain. In scope it is largely limited to the San Francisco Bay region. However, many plants from that floristically diverse area occur beyond it, and indeed, the book is claimed to apply from ‘Mendocino to Monterey’, an area about twice the size of the S.F. Bay Area alone. Its primary drawback to application within and without the S.F. Bay region is the absence of plant descriptions, distributions and habitat data.

The book is presented in three informal sections: (1) an introduction to San Francisco Bay region plant mixtures (‘communities’) and their living environments, (2) dichotomous keys to S.F. Bay Area higher plant groups, plant families, genera and species, including line drawings gleaned (with permission) from Hitchcock et al. (1955–69) and Jepson (1925) and (3) close-up photographs of (many of) the plant species treated in the keys.

Section one is written mostly for readers not already familiar with the effects of environment on plant growth and survival. Unfortunately, the influence of the Mediterranean summer-dry/winter-wet climate pattern characteristic of coastal California is not emphasized, especially as it determines plant habitat and distribution. Some comments in this section may be teleologic (‘notable serpentine lovers’), but discourse of this type will seldom bother, and may even encourage, a non-professional audience. Each ‘plant community’ of the region is given a short introductory discussion and a few prominent species are listed. The ‘communities’ are broadly defined, readily understood to experienced California field botanists, and easily applied by nonspecialists once the common component species are known. However, their Bay Area distributions are not mapped, and because the classification used is broad, cross-referencing to better documented, but narrower, vegetation classifications will often be problematic.

Section two contains the dichotomous keys and occupies the largest portion of the text. The keys are original to this work, and rather than the usual hierarchical format, that is, where there are keys to the plant families, then genera within each family, then species within the genera, these vary according to group; ferns, their allies and gymnosperms are identified directly to species, with a second set of keys available to identify the families. For flowering plants the keys are divided into artificial plant-form groupings, e.g. ‘Trees, shrubs, and woody vines’ and ‘Herbaceous species’. Couplets may lead to names at the rank of species, genus or family, or may lead to another ‘plant form’ grouping, e.g. ‘Trees and Shrubs 1’, ‘Trees and Shrubs 2’. Individual families and ‘plant form’ groupings then have their own keys to further narrow the search. Technical terms are kept to a minimum, but the keys are almost completely artificial. One couplet separates Orchidaceae from Downingia-Nemacladus (Campanulaceae), Dicentra-Fumaria (Papaveraceae) and Scrophulariaceae (in the traditional sense). Examples such as this are numerous and can be disconcerting to a botanist more comfortable with terminal key couplets separating more-or-less related taxa. A limited identification test however, found that with care (because the keys are long), an unknown could be keyed accurately. Only the grouping of Castilleja foliolosa as a ‘shrub’, may be questioned (it's a perennial with a woody base), and yellow flowers are a choice in both of one pair of opposing couplets, but similar problems are not numerous. For the beginner, the minimal specialized terminology may be comforting, but arriving at a name without additional information may quickly limit the book's usefulness for advanced users. Moreover, for each species identified, while the plant family is given and some minimal information about northern or southern limits in the S.F. Bay Area is sometimes provided, never are there data about the habitat(s) occupied. It would have been nice, and useful, to include some information about where one might find these plants within the S.F. Bay Area. To anyone with phytogeographical interests, such artificial keys and minimal distribution data will be unsatisfying.

Section three contains some 450 colour photographs, all of which I appreciated in terms of composition and clarity. Identities appear mostly accurate, although one may argue that the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus looks rather like C. griseus, and that the Salvia mellifera photo is actually of the hybrid cultivar ‘Allen Chickering’ (which does not have any S. mellifera in it). Most of the photos are floral close-ups and appear to have been taken with a flash. This method darkens the background and brings the forefront into sharp focus. Overall the absence of habit and habitat shots is disappointing, but sometimes the photos substitute for missing descriptive information. Not every species is provided with a photograph (or line-drawing) and thus another reference may be required to confirm some identifications.

In summary, this compendium has some introductory ecological material, an unusual set of original identification keys, little additional information about specific plants beyond the name, common name and plant family, and quite nice pictures. To whom would it prove useful? Professional and advanced amateur botanists will have little need except perhaps for some of the photographs. For a beginner not yet comfortable with technical dichotomous keys, this is potentially a useful tool which could well serve as early motivation for a lifetime of plant observation. The focus on the San Francisco Bay Area with its many parks and protected natural areas plus a large urban population with a predominantly secular pro-environment attitude should make it of considerable local interest. For the professional or advanced amateur there are other texts available that cover coastal central California in more botanical and phytogeographical detail. For these users, familiarity with, for example, Howell (1970), Thomas (1961), Matthews (1997), Smith & Wheeler (1992), Sharsmith (1945), Ertter & Bowerman (2002) and McClintock et al. (1968) would provide greater intellectual satisfaction.


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  • Ertter, B. & Bowerman, M.L. (2002) The flowering plants and ferns of Mount Diablo, California. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, USA.
  • Hitchcock, C.L., Cronquist, A., Ownbey, M. & Thompson, J.W. (195569) Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest: Vols 1–5. University of Washington Press, Seattle, USA.
  • Howell, J.T. (1970) Marin flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, USA.
  • Jepson, W.L. (1925) A manual of the flowering plants of California. University of California, Berkeley, USA.
  • Matthews, M.A. (1997) An illustrated field key to the flowering plants of Monterey County and ferns, fern allies, and conifers. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, USA.
  • McClintock, E., Knight, W. & Fahy, N. (1968) A flora of the San Bruno Mountains, San Mateo County, California. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. Fourth Series G. Dallas Hanna Anniversary, Volume XXXII, 587677.
  • Sharsmith, H.K. (1945) Flora of the Mount Hamilton Range of California. The American Midland Naturalist, 34, 289367.
  • Smith, G.L. & Wheeler, C.R. (1992) A flora of the vascular plants of Mendocino County, California. The Wasmann Journal of Biology, 48/49, 1387.
  • Thomas, J.H. (1961) Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California: a manual of the vascular plants. Stanford University Press, Stanford, USA.