Beach Plant Identification Cards


I was getting ready for my first field season for my dissertation data and I realized that I needed to learn to identify the plants I was going to be counting.  Like any good academic, I started looking for a book that could help me, but there simply are no floras for California’s beach plants.  Sure, you can find a flora or field guide for some of the more popular places to visit or places with an established naturalist or docent network, but those tend to focus more on the dunes or inland communities.  So what do you do?  You make your own.  Here’s the process I went through.

  1. I read all the literature that I could find about my system, new and old, and kept a list of all the plant names and where they live (both the beach names and how far away from the water they grew).
  2. I checked out all the coastal floras and guidebooks the UC Davis library had to continue my list of plants I’d likely encounter.
  3. I looked up photos of the plants in the books I could find and on the USDA Plant Database website which links to Cal Flora’s Photos.  If none of those sources had it, I just did a Google Image search.
  4. Having seen the plants, I made a card for one.  I used 5×8 inch cards so I had plenty of space.  I sketched the leaves, flowers, and fruits, noting anything I couldn’t draw.  I noted the family, genus, species, and common names of the plants along the bottom.  When I could determine if a plant was native or non-native, I wrote that too.  I also wrote down any range information, like the north-south distribution and what part of the beach it is most commonly found.

Now I have my own identification book of sorts.  Because the cards are unbound, I can re-arrange the pages as I need to.  Before I go to a site, I move the cards to the front for plants I think I am likely to see.  I keep them in a plastic note card storage box by Filexec Products to keep them from getting too beat up.  I’ve taken them with me to every field site for 3 years and they are my go-to source when I find a new plant that I haven’t seen yet – chances are, I have it in my pile of cards.

About micheletobias

I lead two lives - one as an artist and the other as a scientist. More and more I'm finding my two worlds colliding, and it's not the disaster you might expect. View all posts by micheletobias

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