Always use a designated passenger to look up flowers
January 18, 2020 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Finally, A Practical Guide for Roadside Wildflower Viewing
If you’re a fan of wildflowers, I’m sure you’ve noticed the same thing I have – all the field guides out there have one massive flaw. They’re designed for people who are slowly ambling about in prairies and other natural areas with nothing better to do than stop and stare closely at the minute details of flowers.
... Well, at long last, I have bravely stepped into the void to create the wildflower guide that has been missing for as long as field guides and automobiles have awkwardly co-existed on this earth. Today, I am introducing my new book, “A Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers At Full Speed“. This free, self-published eBook is available right now at THIS LINK.
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
the source material is a bit shitpost-y in this case, though, innit?

(many of the photos turned out to be quite nice, though, and even when I saw this one on the twitters I thought, yeah, I'd probably buy that book. so thank you!)
posted by runehog at 3:13 PM on January 18

I regularly annoy my students by telling them that if you can recognize a plant at 65 mph, you really know it.
posted by pemberkins at 3:37 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]

posted by medusa at 4:18 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]

The New England edition should be photographed @25 mph for use on twisty roads with no safe place to stop.
posted by Botanizer at 4:50 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

This looks like the place to tell this story. When I was studying lichenology, the professor stopped the van so we could see a rare species of lichen on an oak by the side of the road. We all got out our hand lenses and crowded around, peering at the lichen on the bark. A car went by and the guy shouted out the car window "IT'S A TREE".

This book looks like a perfect companion to one of my favorites, Flattened Fauna, Revised: A Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highways , which, if you aren't familiar with it, is a beautifully written, dryly funny book.
posted by acrasis at 5:05 PM on January 18 [36 favorites]

I need a crop edition, including trees (pear, orange, walnut, etc.)
posted by cccorlew at 5:29 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

If any MeFites travel I-89 in Vermont, the groups of native flowers you'll see intermittently along the interstate were planted in memory of my mother by my dad. And yes, I always look for them.
posted by vers at 5:32 PM on January 18 [37 favorites]

the professor stopped the van so we could see a rare species of lichen on an oak by the side of the road

I have become this person, and while I knew that part was inevitable, I was not expecting how difficult it would be to fill out the travel paperwork when all the destinations are random nowhere roadsides.
posted by pemberkins at 5:44 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]

It’s a bit snarky but I wouldn’t call it shitposty, and afaict the content is solid and accurate.

As an analogy, the roadside geology series of books is generally great stuff.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:51 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]

thanks, SaltySalticid -- I fear I was born before the cutoff date where One Knows A Shitpost
posted by runehog at 5:53 PM on January 18

"There are several closely-related fleabane species, though few people care
which is which."
posted by flug at 6:32 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]

This but for edible mushrooms of central Europe, please!
posted by romanb at 12:36 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Recognizing crops is easier just because of density but by dad would challenge us to name what we saw as we drove past fields. The difference between wheat and barley is that barley shimmers in the wind.
posted by Uncle at 1:00 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]

One morning last October I was zooming through the Mark Twain National Forest, and kept seeing wads of what I thought was toilet paper along the roadside ditches, which I found odd because the area was otherwise quite litter-free. It took me a couple miles to notice each wad was clustered around the base of a wilty, 5 ft. tall stem -- at which point I realized I was seeing frost flowers forming on Verbesina virginica. I'm never in range of frost flower-producing species during primo frost flower season, so obvs I had to make a hasty U-turn and pull over to take photos.

All this to say, roadside botanizing (and rockhounding, for the geologists/paleontologists) is most definitely a compulsion for many nature nerds, and Helzer's descriptions actually do a great job of capturing the motion-blur gestalt of these species!
posted by Ornate Rocksnail at 4:09 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]

The blurry pictures are cracking me up.

Also the narrative is exactly my kind of dry: “There are multiple species of tall gayfeathers, distinguished from each other only by minute characteristics irrelevant to the vehicle-borne viewer.“


Thanks for the post, the man of twists and turns!
posted by AV at 5:44 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this -- a very useful reference! It will go well with my birding-at-70-mph skills. I think I disturb some passengers and delight others when pointing out and IDing hawks at freeway speeds.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:32 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Anyone driving through Texas during wildflower season (and many other parts of the country) can thank Lady Bird Johnson.

I have a great album of photos of me and my best friend when we were driving and saw a field of sunflowers and decided to get out and do a goofy photoshoot.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:44 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

There's a strange roadside somethingorother I saw a lot of while hitchhiking in fast-moving pickup trucks in rural Guatemala.

Initially I got my hopes up that it was some kind of exotic parasitic plant with bright-orange vines(?) or filaments(??) that lives on the trunks of trees next to mountain highways. But I was too shy to ask the total strangers who I was usually sharing the bed of the truck with — and I was there doing linguistics, not botany, so it wasn't all that important.

By the end of the field season, I was 99% sure that it was shredded-up scraps of safety fence that had gotten caught in trees — at which point I was definitely too embarrassed to ask.

Anyway, if you convince yourself it's a plant and not construction site litter, it's a strikingly attractive plant.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:51 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Initially I got my hopes up that it was some kind of exotic parasitic plant with bright-orange vines(?) or filaments(??) that lives on the trunks of trees next to mountain highways.

posted by pemberkins at 7:57 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]

posted by nebulawindphone at 9:32 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

I completely thought I was telling a joke about how overexcitable my imagination was. That shit exists?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:35 AM on January 20

Honestly, that was such a perfect description of dodder that I figured that's where the story was going.
posted by pemberkins at 10:23 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

I was very bored hitchhiking around in those pickup trucks. I vaguely remembered something about how plants that were weird colors probably weren't photosynthesizing, and I just kind of ran with it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:17 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]

This is brilliant. Prairie psychogeography (psychobotany?) is neat.

(And, I'd argue, much too self aware to qualify as a science diagram that looks like a shit post. But, whatever gets it seen.)
posted by eotvos at 3:22 AM on January 21

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