Flower Guides

Flower Guides: Prairie Wildflower Identification Resources 

There are many books available on prairie wildflowers, and what's been useful for me in identifying Saskatchewan's flowers not work for you — or you may have to search to find it, as a few are out of print.

And so, for what it's worth, a list of the books I have been using lately to ID prairie wildflowers, followed by further details, below. Most are available through the public library system; given current prices and range of content, it may be worth borrowing before you buy.
  • Vance/Jowsey/McLean/Switzer — Wildflowers Across the Prairies
  • Royer & Dickinson — Plants of Alberta 
  • Harms and Leighton — Lilies, Irises and Orchids of Saskatchewan 
  • Budd's Flora
  • Budd-Best — Wild Plants of the Canadian Prairies
  • Jennings — Prairie Beauty
  • Kershaw — Wayside Flowers
  • Strickler — Prairie Wildflowers
  • Royer & Dickinson — Weeds
  • Ladd & Oberle — Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers
  • Runkel and Roosa — Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie 
  • Moss — Flora of Alberta
  • DeVries — Getting to Know Saskatchewan's Lichens 

out of print; click
to locate copies
Wildflowers Across the Prairies/ Wildflowers of the Great Northern Plains: ,F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey, J.S. McLean and F.A Switzer (Original published by Western Producer Prairie Books in 1977; later updates simultaneously published in Canada and the U.S. in 1984 and 1999 (under the slightly different titles, above) by Greystone Books, Vancouver, and the University of Minnesota Press. I have the 1999 Great Northern Plains version, which is identical to my local library's Prairies version. 

This field guide was recommended by a nature interpreter at Grasslands National Park in June 2011 as the definitive short reference, and I'm grateful for that. Great index, good pictures, both close-up and distance. Note that this book was revised and expanded from edition to edition; the 1999 version includes grasses, as well. If you can find a copy of this — the more recent, the better — buy it! It does not cover every single flower I've seen, but overall, it is the most comprehensive of the easy-to-read, colour illustrated books that I've found.

Out of print, but worth looking for. There are copies of various editions of both  the US and Canadian versions in the Saskatchewan library system, so residents can request it there; I bought my copy of Vance/Jowsey through AbeBooks for a very reasonable price.

A great guide 
Plants of Alberta: France Royer and Richard Dickinson (Lone Pine Publishing, 2007.) 

Alberta shares much of the same climate and soils as Saskatchewan, so when I found this book in the visitors centre at Elkwater Lake (Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park), I was delighted to buy a copy... Er, even more delighted to have one bought for me!!! This is a great guide, and a wonderful additional to my Vance/Jowsey world. Comprehensive, with lovely mini-maps showing the regions in Alberta where each plant is found. (So if it's highest-Rockies-only, I know I won't find it on the plains...) Worth seeking out.

Available from Nature
Lilies, Irises and Orchids of Saskatchewan: Vernon L. Harms and Anna L.Leighton (Flora of Saskatchewan Association and Nature Saskatchewan, 2011.) 

This book is second in a series being prepared as part of the future Flora of Saskatchewan, and features beautiful local photos, detailed drawings and comprehensive information. Also available from Nature Saskatchewan's store are the first and third in this series, Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan and Sedges (Carex) of Saskatchewan. 

out of print; click
to locate copies
Budd's Flora of the Canadian Prairie Provinces: A.C. Budd. (Revised editions, 1979 and 1987, based on Budd's earlier work in the 1950s and 1960s. Agriculture Canada.) 

I have the 1979 edition (also available through Saskatchewan libraries), which starts with a tribute to Alexander Charles Budd, who became Range Botanist at the Dominion Experimental Station in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Although he had no formal training, he was an avid reader of books and plants, and became an authority on prairie flora.

My favourite part of his story? As a young man in 1910, he won 250 pounds in a limerick contest, which made it possible for him to emigrate from London, England, to Saskatchewan as a land seeker.

But back to plants. Budd's reference guide is massive and authoritative. It's the classic reference you'll see cited on Saskatchewan wildflower sites. It's also more like a logic puzzle than a light read... (If this, then 2; if that, then p. 711.) It appears to pre-date colour plates — and be prepared for technical, scientific terms. Can be expensive, depending on availability, but it's likely possible to find Budd's Flora on AbeBooks.  

Related: Wild Plants of the Canadian Prairies: A.C. Budd and Keith F. Best, Research Branch, Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa. This is a slightly earlier book, but its dimensions (longer and wider, but not as fat) make it bit easier to handle.

click to buy new
from Amazon.ca
Prairie Beauty: Wildflowers of the Canadian Prairies. Neil L. Jennings. (2007, Rocky Mountain Books.) 

Laid out in sections by colour of flowers, with yellow, blue, green and red page bleed tabs. (Blue also covers purple; green covers white and brown; and red, orange and pink.) Within each colour, flowers are set out by families. This is generally useful, although in the field a flower may look white instead of pink, or pink instead of purple, so no system is foolproof. It's also taking me a while to get used to the index of this book, which has listings such as Annual Hawk's-Beard under A, while Slender Hawkweed is where I would expect it, under H for Hawkweed, Slender. Lots of interesting detail about the history of the names and uses of these plants and flowers. (See, for example, the information here on Toadflax.) The photos show close-ups of the flowers, but not overview/distant shots of the foliage and shape of the plant, which would be helpful at times for context. But overall, a reasonable, interesting and easy-to-find starter guide.

click  to buy new
from Amazon.ca
Saskatchewan Wayside Flowers. Linda Kershaw (2003, Lone Pine Publishing.) 
This book has several features to recommend it. The index makes sense to me, with Hawk's-beard and Hawkweed together in the Hs. There's also a supplementary page index by family groupings (Lily family, Rose family, etc.), and best of all, a quick find colour guide at the front, with thumbnail images of flowers. Each plant's page also has a second image showing the flower/plant in context, i.e., with a close-up of leaves, or in a field.

However, as with all smaller guides, the selection is incomplete. These listings also appear to have been extracted from a larger, national collection... You might think names would not vary across Canada, but they do, and thus Saskatchewan's provincial emblem appears here as a Wood Lily. (Yeah, I know the text says it's our provincial flower — but nowhere does it say that we call it the Western Red Lily. A tiny detail, perhaps, but this is a reference book...) Again, a reasonable starter guide.

out of print; click
to locate copies
Prairie Wildflowers: Showy Wildflowers of the Plains, Valleys and Foothills in the Northern Rocky Mountain States. Dee Strickler (1986, The Flower Press.) 

First of all, any other Canadian readers notice the disconnect between the title and sub-title? The Prairies are not the Rocky Mountains. But perhaps there is more overlap in the U.S., (and this book was published in Montana). However, the inside map shows that this book is indeed meant to include Southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Slim volume, with an interesting sampling and very good images. For example, of the books I consulted, the shot of Scarlet Butterflyweed/Gaura is most like what I saw, and the Rock Rose/Gumbo Evening Primrose was almost a dead ringer. Except that Strickler's was in full flower, and mine was not. Which likely means she has far more patience than me, too... I've had my copy for several years, but it seems easy to find Prairie Wildflowers on AbeBooks.

Weeds of Canada. France Royer and Richard Dickinson, University of Alberta Press, 1999. (Also Lone Pine Publishing.) 
out of print; click
to locate copies
I found this book in the library and really like it. It's portable, but comprehensive, with more than 750 photographs.

It's also non-judgmental about the nature and designation of weeds; the back cover features a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered", and the text clearly explains why some jurisdictions (and which) declare each plant covered to be a weed. Also out-of-print, and currently difficult to find for its publication price ($29.99) or less, but worth looking into as re-sellers' prices vary.

out of print; click
to locate copies
Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers. Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle, 1995, Falcon Press Publishing, Montana. 

Looks like a good basic guide, but the focus is considerably east of Saskatchewan or Montana — in fact, the western edge of its region barely sneaks into the east side of North and South Dakota. Pretty to look at, but if you want a guide for Saskatchewan, there are more useful first purchases than this. (Hint - my copy will soon be back in the library system... You might want to think about borrowing before you buy, though if covers the area you want, you can still find reasonably priced copies of Tallgrass at AbeBooks.)

click to buy new
from Amazon.ca
Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie. Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa, University of Iowa Press, 2009. 

With a geographic focus similar to Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, the map with this book indicates that its range also edges the far east side of the Dakotas and into Manitoba. Large colourful pictures — the biggest of any book listed here, although not necessarily the sharpest — with historical information about the uses of those plants included by First Nations people and European settlers. Some interesting reading, but again, less useful for Saskatchewan than the Vance/Jowsey.

Flora of Alberta. E.H. Moss, University of Toronto. (The one I have is the 1977 reprint, with supplement; other versions  may be available.)
out of print; click
to locate copies

Yes, this like Budd's Flora pre-dates colour. And yes, it's also technical. And yes, it's also cited as authoritative. And yes, I really, really, really like colour pictures! That said, I appreciate the formal details of it, and perhaps one day I'll become a good enough amateur botanist to understand it. (This is not a good starter book for the frivolous amateur; if you are deeply technical and need this book, let me know and perhaps we can work something out... or try online...)

Getting to Know Saskatchewan's Lichen: A booklet for beginners. Bernard De Vries. (Nature Saskatchewan) 

Available from Nature Saskatchewan, this is an easy-to-follow introduction to prairie lichens. With Irma De Vries, he has also written several online publications on Saskatchewan lichens


Yes, I support independent bookstores... but there are none where I live, so that's a non-starter. I also support buying new books, so that writers get their full royalties, and all that. However, I also support the ongoing life of out-of-print books, and have found AbeBooks great in connecting me to European and British writers' work and strangely, I can get books from a couple of UK booksellers faster than from North American ones! I've bought flower books through them, hence those links. I'm also linking to Amazon for others here, because they make it easy to do that, and I'm exploring how all of this works. 

AND!  While I'm into the disclaimers, let me say that I have yet to find one single, comprehensive, easy-to-use source for identifying tall grass prairie wildflowers, but I have a few more flower books on order from the public library and elsewhere, so perhaps one of the new titles will cover everything I saw in bloom on my two flower (photo) collecting trips in a simple, elegant way. AND... There is a new Flora of Saskatchewan planned... 

I remain hopeful. As Jorge Luis Borges says: 
It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe; 
I repeat, it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist.  
from The Library of Babel. Come on, take a break from flowers and the Internet. Find your old copy of Ficciones. Read Borges. It will be good for you... 
From the infinite shelves and hexagonal galleries
of the Library, the Universe, comes this ultimate reference 

guide with sub-sections re-printed for ease of use. © SB

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