Taylor, Walter Kingsley. 2009. A guide to Florida grasses. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. $49.95. ISBN-10: 0813033195, ISBN-13: 978-0813033198.
The economic and ecological importance of grasses is matched only by the difficulty they present to field botanists hoping to attach a name to a specimen. All the familiar landmarks are absent; there are no petals or sepals to note colors or numbers. Even distinguishing flowers from fruits can be a challenge to those familiar with showier plants. The ambitious goal of Walter Kingsley Taylor’s new book is to provide an introduction to the grasses of Florida that will be accessible to novices, without resorting to daunting technical keys.
The book starts with a dozen pages to introduce grasses, including notes on their distinctions from sedges and rushes and general importance. The second short chapter covers grass morphology. The writing is clear and informal, and, like the rest of the book, well-illustrated with a combination of photographs and line drawings. Technical terms are unavoidable, but are carefully explained. The description of sedges and rushes as lacking nodes is unfortunate, but not unusual in graminoid field guides. It’s surprisingly difficult to provide a concise list of diagnostic features to separate the three families. In my own teaching, I usually list off the key differences for my students, noting that there are exceptions to nearly every one. After a few days’ study you won’t have to think about it anyways, you’ll just recognize the families by the texture of their leaves and stems.