- Grasses of the Great Plains by James Stubbendieck, Stephen L. Hatch, and Cheryl D. Dunn
Those of us faced with the arduous but rewarding task of teaching grass identification have been given a new and excellent resource. As a veteran of more than 50 years of teaching "Range Grasses" at a Great Plains university, I am excited by the addition of another resource, one that I can honestly say is better than any other available for identification of Great Plains grasses.
The comment I often hear, that all grasses look alike, can be cast aside through the assiduous use of this outstanding tome. The Harvard zoology professor Louis Agassiz championed astute, detailed observations coupled with comparison. His "look at the fish" test for students who chose to work with him stressed the importance of looking at detail. Fortunately, this manual provides very detailed line drawings that show minute but important morphologic differences, particularly at the species level. Also included are the necessary drawings to distinguish inflorescence, stem, spikelet, and floret morphology. The keys used in identification diverge from the traditional subfamily and tribe separation introduced by A. S. Hitchcock's Manual of the Grasses of the United States by grouping different genera and species with similar morphologic characteristics, such as number of florets or attachment of spikelets. That approach greatly reduces the keying steps for many species and improves accuracy. I heartily approve of the approach and have used it in constructing my own keys for Kansas grasses.
The species are listed in alphabetic order, which aids in quick access to a known plant. The checklist of species at the beginning includes both synonyms and the current taxonomy. That is a boon for those of us who learned little bluestem as an Andropogon rather than a Schizachyrium. The noted Texas A&M agrostologist Frank Gould and I had a lively discussion about that change! The glossary is a critical part of a grass manual, and the one in this manual is very inclusive. The foreign language of grass taxonomy requires frequent visits to the glossary, particularly for the novice. The overall description of the Great Plains gives the reader a valuable overview of the region and its diversity, which undergirds the wide diversity of grass species present in the region. The most impressive feature of the manual lies in the excellent line drawings of each grass species. The detail of the drawings will be invaluable to the user in getting it right. I heartily recommend this book for use by academics, students, agency professionals, and hobbyists. I certainly will be using it in both the classroom and in the field.