Looking at plants isn’t always as simple as simply looking at plants. It can be when you have a cut flower from the florist staring back at you. However when there is a bigger story to tell, it is helpful to know the life history of your subject. In Plants Alive! Revealing Plant Lives Through Guided Nature Journaling, educator and author Charles E. Roth teaches plant observation skills to amateur plant observers.
In his book, Roth encourages amateurs to move beyond being familiar with only one or two species. He teaches plant observers how to understand seasonal changes experienced by plants and how to observe a plant and its neighbors in their natural environment. Roth explains how to gather information about a plant’s life history, how to observe growth patterns, how to study plant communities, and even how to observe the ferns, mosses, aquatic plants and lichens one might encounter in the field. Roth presents a list of investigative questions for each of the life history stages he presents. These questions serve as prompts to help bring attention to specific elements of a plant’s life cycle.
The field techniques in Roth (2005) will be familiar to anyone who has studied population biology or plant ecology. Roth provides instruction about how to observe the life history of plants along a familiar route, as well as how to set up more formal study areas using quadrats, line transects and belt transects. All techniques, while appearing large-in-scope initially, are doable for amateur botanists and can be modified to a smaller scale by classroom teachers who have limited amounts of time in which to teach plant observation skills.
In the journaling section of this book, plant observers will learn how to create a field journal, how to press plants, how to record information using photographic techniques, how to incorporate field sketches, how to draw maps in the field, and how to mark the plants they are studying. To give plant observers a good start on their projects, Roth dedicates a section of his book to templates that serve as guides to the type of information plant observers should record in their journals. In this section, plant observers will find helpful guides to:
- Building Life Stage Observations
- Keeping Bloom Calendars
- Observing Insect Visitors & Plant Diseases
- Observing Seeds
- Observing Plants Growing Near Your Specimen
- Observing Trees
- Observing Lichens
- Observing Ferns
- Observing Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts)
- Observing Plant Communities
- Reflective Journaling About Your Experiences Observing Plants
Included throughout Roth (2005) are hand-drawn illustrations by Roth and Mary Sage Shakespeare. Each clarifies related text and serves as inspiring examples of what plant observers could include in their own journals.
In the interest of providing a complete review, I need to mention one thing and this is the number of typographical hiccups present in the text. They are the types of hiccups usually observed in the unedited proofs distributed to bookstores by publishers. I am not sure why they are present in the final version of this title. This said, these typographical hiccups, while noticeable, do not reduce the value of the many skills Roth teaches to plant observers. If you are seeking a way to understand the “big picture” of a native plant and its natural habitat, Plant’s Alive! will help you paint this picture.
Roth, Charles E. 2005. Plants Alive! Revealing Plant Lives Through Guided Nature Journaling. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.
Plants Alive! is available at ArtPlantae Books. ($18.95)
- Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth (2003)
- Helping Teachers Turn Observers Into Naturalists