Skip to content

A library for botanists…

Wild Flower Keys

A week ago, I had pulled a photographic guide to flora off my bookshelf to share with you. However for those who want to take step into botany proper, and identify with accuracy, not only botanical specimens, but possibly sub-species and variants too, a good wildflower key is required.

Pages from the Francis Rose- Wild Flower Key

Pages from the Francis Rose- Wild Flower Key

In The Flora of the British Isles Clapham, Tutin and Warburg (later Clapham , Tutin and Moore) produced one of the finest keys ever produced, the descriptions are excellent but knowledge of botanical terms is required to work the key otherwise this volume is virtually impenetrable. It is a large volume though and my copy has lost its dust jacket and some point in its life. More suited for field use is The Excursion Flora of the British Isles, again by Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. This has a reduced content but, again, knowledge of terms and descriptions is required. Every couple of years I have to reacquaint myself with them as I use the books too infrequently to consign the essentials to indelible memory.

Also good is ‘Stace’ as it is often simply referred to- The New Flora of the British Isles is a more up to date book than the two previous ones mentioned and Clive Stace covers all natives, all naturalised plants, all crop plants and all recurrent casuals- 2990 species and 197 extra subspecies are covered in full together with mention of a further 559 hybrids and 564 marginal species. No wonder I cannot consign much of this to memory. Mine is the original 1991 edition. Looking at the third edition (2010) it appears to have been considerably updated and now includes a revised taxonomy as result of recent DNA sequencing work. Put my ‘Stace’ and The Flora of the British Isles together though and there is no better combination of wild flower description available.

Then we come to ‘the daddy’- The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose has almost 1400 species covered assisted by over 1050 illustrations. It is still a portable book, if not for hiking with, however I do struggle with the keys. That is completely due to my continual lapse of memory as to biological terms, give me a good couple of weeks though and I am back up to speed with this volume.

Nailing down just a few of those strange, green flowered, Spurges with the Francis Rose Wild Flower Key

Nailing down just a few of those strange, green flowered, Spurges with the Francis Rose Wild Flower Key

I do wish that there were a decent version of one of these books, or a similar, updated version, available as an ebook/Kindle purchase. Such an item, provided I could navigate through it well and easily, would be of immense use in the field.

Books from my shelves:

The Flora of the British Isles, Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. Cambridge, 1952

The Excursion Flora of the British Isles, Clapham, Tutin and Warburg. Cambridge, 1959

The Wildflower Key, Francis Rose. Warne, 1981. ISBN 0-7232-2418-8

The New Flora of the British Isles, Stace. Cambridge, 1991. ISBN 0-521-42793-2

6 replies »

    • Thanks for your comment, by the look of it, you are doing great things on your blog. I don’t have Lowson’s Botany but recall flicking through it one evening while on a Field Studies Council course and staying at their lovely Orielton Centre in Pembrokeshire. Fitter, Fitter and Blamey are, of course, well respected names in Botany. Marjorie Blamey (awarded MBE in 2007, for services to illustration) worked on another publication from my bookshelf that I have written about– . I don’t, as I write this, have the book you refer to as it sadly lacks much in the way of a Key and I have others without keys that I equally respect and value, but I think earlier editions of Fitter, Fitter and Blamey did have improved Keys, I don’t quite understand why the publishers removed much of the Keys as it is a vastly improved book with greater aid to finding a species within, and there are a lot of species shown! All that said, this book doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2003 and there are some very well priced second-hand copies available online. One can never have too many books, so, for the princely sum of 52p, I have just purchased a copy…
      Richard Fitter and his son, Alistair Fitter CBE, also worked on another guide on my shelves, possibly one of the more difficult groups to identify, the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It has been updated 2013 and is much better, than the original which was very good for its day. There are distribution maps and what they call summary boxes. Still some keys but very much simplified and not many. I use it all the time.


      • You are, of course, correct. Even the link I provide refers to the 2013 edition


  1. The most useable modern wild flower book imo is Harrap’s Wild Flowers, by Simon Harrap. It’s brilliant. No keys, which I can never get on with, just extraordinarily clear photos.


    • Fair comment, I have frequently found myself falling back on the photographic guides when I simply cannot be bothered to work through a key, or cannot remember how to. Though I do prefer the various photographic guides that Roger Phillips has produced. Horses for courses, and all that. I note that three and a half of my library recommendations are included in Harrap’s ‘further reading’ recommendations. Good to have a personal opinion backed up by someone as proficient as Simon Harrap. I do agree that his selection of photographs for inclusion was excellent, an incredibly difficult decision to make. The photographic guides are really useful when in flowers are in flower, when we all tend to notice them of course, it is when they aren’t that a key is only the only way to an identification. I do repeat though, my flower identification is woeful…

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Three Points of the Compass on

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 305 other subscribers


%d bloggers like this: