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Field Guides

Field guides give lists of plants with pictures and keys. The one I carry in my camera case all the time is: 

The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe, by Richard Fitter, Alastair Fitter and Marjorie Blamey, published by Collins. It is enduringly and deservedly popular, on its fifth edition. It illustrates over 1450 trees, shrubs and flowering plants and describes almost 2000.
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The Wild Flower Key, by Francis Rose, published by Warne, is another pocket-size guide, useful (it even has a millimetre scale on the back), with very clear pictures and notable for its keys to species which nevertheless assume some knowledge of botany. Almost 1400 species described and over 1050 illustrated. 
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The Macmillan Field Guide to British Wildflowers, by Franklyn Perring & Max Walters, is a super book which I only descovered once it had been remaindered. Easy keys and an easy style, with good photographs and some explanatory line drawings. 700 species covered, with 800+ photographs. Try and find it in the cheap bookshops, or contact a specialist shop. 

Also, try A New Key to Wild Flowers, by John Hayward, published by Cambridge University Press. It has only keys but these are illustrated with useful line drawings and it covers trees, grasses sedges, rushes and ferns as well. It claims to be 'user-friendly' and I think it succeeds. 
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- are books which give detailed keys, and descriptions of plants. They stay at home for reference and winter reading! 

New Flora of the British Isles'Stace' is the latest comprehensive British flora - New Flora of the British Isles, by Clive Stace and published by Cambridge University Press. It covers over 4000 species, sub-species, hybrids and marginals, with keys and photographs and drawings. The second edition is a much more attractive book than the first. 
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Long before Stace published his 'New' flora, the standard work was Clapham, Tutin and Warburg's Flora of the British Isles. It is no longer in print but is sometimes available second hand. Still in print is the shorter Excursion Flora of the British Isles (3rd edition), by the same authors, published by Cambridge University Press. 
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Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern EuropeThe Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe, by Marjorie Blamey and Christopher Grey-Wilson, is on my shelf but doesn't spend much time there - it's too much fun. 2400 species described and illustrated. Blamey paints each plant, sometimes twice, to show the habit, plus detailed illustrations in the left column. It's everyone's wildflower reference book. Publishers Hodder and Stoughton. 
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The Wild Flowers of the British Isles, by Ian Garrard and David Streeter, is another 'picture book'. With some superb illustrations and very informative comments in a separate section at the back, it covers about 1400 species. It is only spoilt for me by most of the illustrations being printed on a white background: pale green or grey would look better. Just out in a new edition. 
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Trees have flowers too! Most can be found in the usual flower field guides but for a specialised book try the Usborne Guide to Trees of Britain and Europe, by Mary Barrett. Over 120 trees are shown with detailed drawings of leaves, fruits and bark, with notes on habitat and distribution. 

Wildflowers on your bookshelf

One of the most fascinating books on wildflowers is the Atlas of the British Flora, edited by Franklyn Perring & Max Walters and published by the Botanical Society of the British Isles. The 1982 third edition of the Atlas gives distributions for about 700 species ('all generally accepted native British species ... and most well-established introductions') by 10-kilometre squares. 
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Many of the distributions are now, regrettably, out of date and the Atlas 2000 project will provide reliable modern data on the 3889 squares of Britain and Ireland for over 3,000 species. 

The Macmillan Guide to Britain's Nature Reserves is a lovely thick book, with descriptive introductions and lists of reserves for each county. No longer in print but I have seen it in second hand bookshops. 

The Flowering of Britain, by Richard Mabey and Tony Evans, published by Hutchinson. Another favourite, out of print. Just a series of chapters about wildflowers - Introduction; Wood; Field; The Waste Lands - and their history and habitats but all it claims to be: 'a magnificent celebration ... of the wild flowers of Britain'. 

Flora BritannicaFlora Britannica, a recent release by Mabey, publishers Sinclair-Stevenson, was on my Christmas list but I was unlucky - I had to buy it myself! A book about how we use/d plants, how they fit/ted into the community. Beautifully illustrated and produced; a future classic, undoubtedly.   
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Looking back again, Penguin Books has published A Modern Herbal by Mrs M. Grieve. Much more than just a herbal, this encyclopedia of plants, their constituents, the industries based on them, their history and natural history, folklore and medicinal use, and their cultivation, was 'modern' in 1931. It's a delightful melange of science and the arcane. 
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The Englishman's Flora, by Geoffrey Grigson, explains how plants have been significant to us over the centuries. Grigson lists their local names (Blithran, Hen-penny, Suckies, Virgin Mary's Nipple, and so on), and discusses their magical, religious, and culinary uses. A 'work of scholarship and affection' indeed and one of my favourite browsing books. 
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Herbals were the first field guides, describing the plants any doctor of the sixteenth century needed to know. Gerard's Herbal of 1597 is well known and usually in print in one edition or another. Culpepper's Complete Herbal is a Wordsworth Reference book. 

The Collins New Naturalist series included a number of books on wildflowers; when some were reprinted in cheap editions by Bloomsbury Books they were remaindered at very attractive prices and some are still available. Look out for Wild Flowers, by John Gilmour and Max Walters; Wild Flowers of Chalk and Limestone, by J. E. Lousley; and British Plant Life, by W. B. Turrill. Secondhand bookshops are the best place to hunt for other New Naturalists: Mountain Flowers, by John Raven and Max Walters; Wild Orchids of Britain, by V. S. Summerhayes; Flowers of the Coast, by Ian Hepburn; Weeds and Aliens, by Sir Edward Salisbury; and others. Collecting New Naturalists is addictive! 

Perhaps this is an inappropriate book for a beginner but I like A colour guide to rare wild flowers, by John Fisher, published by Constable. 150 species are described and illustrated, together with directions to places where you have a reasonable chance of finding them. Maybe it spoils the joy of the hunt but if you only have so much time... 

Background books 

The Killing of the CountrysideI - enjoyed isn't the right word - appreciated Graham Harvey's recent book, The Killing of the Countryside. Everyone should read this book, an 'urgent call to arms for lovers of Britain's countryside.' He explains where our countryside has gone, how it has been stolen by money-hungry landowners financed by public subsidies. 
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Sex and the Origins of DeathIt seems unlikely that death was once optional, yet that is William Clark's thesis. In Sex and the Origins of Death he explains how sex was the beginning of the end for cells, about  a billion years ago. 
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Local Floras

There has been a wealth of local floras published in recent years and you might want to acquire the one for your area. Currently in print are floras and plant check lists for: 
North Aberdeenshire Cleveland Cornwall
Cumbria Devon East Riding of Yorkshire
North-east Essex Fife Flintshire
Glamorgan Hampshire Ireland
North-east Ireland Islay Jersey
Kent Leicestershire Isle of Man
Montgomeryshire Northamptonshire Northumberland
North York Moors Orkney Outer Hebrides
Radnorshire Selkirk and Roxburghshire Shropshire
West Yorkshire Isle of Wight Wiltshire

F & M Perring of Oundle have a very useful list of local floras and natural history guides; you are sure to find something about your area in it: (01832) 273388. There are many areas covered in floras which are now out of print: your local library will, no doubt, be able to help you. 

The Books Reviewed page of Conserv@tion includes some of the latest books on wild flowers and wildlife generally.