Guest Author: Kai Weatherman
Summer naturally finds us spending more time outdoors, which provides a multitude of opportunities to observe the diversity of plant and animal species that inhabit Iowa. Unless you are already a professional naturalist, you may occasionally wonder about the identity of some species you encounter. If you’d like to satisfy that curiosity without lugging around a bulky field guide, consider checking out one of the many Bur Oak Guides available at the Sciences Library.
Most Bur Oak Guides are easy to carry laminated foldout guides (roughly the size of a folded roadmap) published by the University of Iowa Press. They offer a handy way to identify the most likely species of plant or animal you will encounter in a variety of Iowa habitats. There are guides for birds, butterflies, fish, frogs, grasses, mushrooms, orchids, and trees, to mention just a few.
Unlike the laminated foldout guides mentioned above, there are some titles in this series published as full-length reference books that offer more detailed treatment of their subjects. Among them is a trio of beautifully illustrated books co-authored by Sylvan Runkel that describe the wildflowers and plants of Iowa’s wetlands, woodlands, and tallgrass prairie.
Since the month of July finds so many wildflower species of the tallgrass prairie in bloom, I would be remiss if I did not mention An Illustrated Guide to Iowa Prairie Plants by Paul Christiansen and Mark Müller, which was published in the Bur Oak Books series, a companion series to Bur Oak Guides.
Whereas Runkel’s books on Iowa’s wildflowers offer full color close-up views of each species with narrative that includes brief natural history, this black-and-white illustrated guide places greater emphasis on plant morphology and provides detailed line drawings that provide a fuller picture of various plant parts critical to properly identify particular species. This title has the added benefit of being available in a free online version created through a partnership between the University of Iowa Press and the UI Libraries.