Verna E. Pratt - Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers

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Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers

Jun 15, 2009 (Updated Jun 18, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent resource book on wildflowers in Alaska

Cons:Didn't cover everything about each flower, which would be helpful for growing them myself

The Bottom Line: A good resource for the average person wanting to identify the most common wildflowers in Alaska.

My husband and I put a lot of time into our 2 1/2 acre yard.  We have a lot of grass, several raised flower beds, and an area above a rock wall where we are growing wild Alaskan plants.  We have Fiddlehead Ferns (Wood Ferns), Prickly Rose, Dwarf Dogwood, and a couple other tiny flowers that I haven't been able to identify.

The golf course where we most often play has other varieties of wildflowers growing all over, and I decided I wanted to get a book on Alaskan wildflowers so I could identify them.  I was also interested in learning what other Alaskan wildflowers we could plant in this shady area of our yard.

I went to our local bookstore, and they told me their best selling book on Alaska wildflowers is hard to keep in stock, but they had just received a new supply of them.  The book they highly recommended was Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers.

This is a paperback version that retails for $15.95, and was first published in 1989 by Alaskakrafts, Inc.  I have the 2009 Eighteenth Printing.  It contains 248 color photographs, taken by the author and her husband, Verna and Frank Pratt.

The front cover says that the book discusses flowers seen along the Highways and Byways.  The inside cover refers to it as a roadside guide.


Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers starts with an introduction, stating that the book was written for the amateur botanist, in other words, the average person.  She freely admits that this is not by any means an inclusive guide of wildflowers in the state, and not all of the plants have accompanying pictures.

The "chapters" are broken up by plant color, with information on one side of the page and the corresponding color photos across from them.  The following information is given on each flower:

Blooming Time

Under "description", much is covered.  Height; perennial or annual; description of flowers, leaves and stems; color variations; and other flowers that any plant could be easily mistaken for.

Blue Violet Flowered Plants

Wild Blue Flax, Purple Cress, Wild Iris, Bluebells, Tall Jacob's Ladder, Beautiful Jacob's Ladder, Pasque Flower, Spring Crocus, Siberian Aster, Mountain Harebell, Bluebells of Scotland, Monkshood, Larkspur, a variety of Alaska Violets, Aline Veronica, Alpine Forget-Me-Not, Star Gentian, Glaucous Gentian, Arctic Lupine, Blackish/Purple Oxytrope, Wild Geranium, and Few-Flowered Corydalis.

Pink Flowered Plants

Common Fireweed, Dwarf Fireweed, Willow Herbs, Pink Pyrola Wintergreen, Nagoonberry, Prickly Rose, Spring Beauty, Shooting Star, Frigid Shooting Star, Moss Campion, Twin Flower, Bog Rosemary, Calypso Orchid, Purple Mountain Saxifrage, Lapland Rosebay, Alpine Azalea, Bog Blueberry, Pink Plumes, Wooly Lousewort, Elegant Paintbrush, Coastal Fleabane, Beach Pea, Wild Sweet Pea, Eskimo Potato, Parry's Wallflower, Pixie Eye Primrose,

Yellow Flowered Plants

Alaska Poppy, Yellow Dryas, Yellow Pondlily, Silverberry, Wild Snapdragon, Toadflax, Rattlebox, Coastal/Yellow Paintbrush, Capitate Lousewort, Golden Corydalis, Yellow Oxytrope, Hairy Arctic Milk Vetch, Mountain Buttercup, Western Buttercup, Yellow Anemone, Marsh Marigold, Tundra Rose, Pacific Silverweed, One-Flowered Cinquefoil, Snow Potentilla, Ross Avens, Large Leaf Avens, Bog Saxifrage, Yellow Spotted Saxifrage, Pineapple Weed, Common Mustard, Whitlow Grass, Elegant Goldenrod, Black-Tipped Groundsel, Triangular Leaved Fleabane, Mastodon Flower, Beach Fleabane, Alpine Arnica.

White & Cream Flowered Plants

Cow Parsnip, Wild Celery, Beach Lovage, Poison Water Hemlock, Wild Rhubarb, Goatsbeard, Sitka Valerian, Capitate Valerian, Alp Lily, Baneberry/Snakeberry, Mountain Ash, Red-Berried Elder, Alaska Spiraea, Alpine Spiraea, Sitka Burnet, Alpine Meadow Bistort, Northern Bedstraw, Bog Star, Dwarf Dogwood, Kamchatka Rockcress, Starflower, Mouse Ear Chickweed, Grove Sandwort, Prickly Saxifrage, Brook Saxifrage, Labrador Tea, Large-Flowered Wintergreen, Shy Maiden, Camas Wand Lily, Bog Bean, Wild Calla, Alaska Cotton, Arctic Daisy, Arctic Sandwort, Mountain Avens, Narcissus-Flowered Anemone, Moss Heather, Alpine Heuchera, Salmonberry, Alpine Bearberry, Low Bush Cranberry, Frigid Coltsfoot, Alpine Milk Vetch, Juneberry, Northern Yarrow, High Bush Cranberry, Wild Strawberry, Bog Candle, Lapland Diapensia, Watermelon Berry, False Solomon's Seal.

Miscellaneous Plants and Trees

Chocolate Lily, Marsh Five-Finger, Northern Red Currant, Timberberry, Soapberry, Sidebells Pyrola, Devils Club, False Azalea, Western Columbine, Roseroot, Arctic Dock, Mountain Sorrel, False Hellebore, Prairie Sagebrush, Northern Green Bog Orchid, Common Wormwood, Squirreltail Grass, Ground Cone, Crowberry, Short-Stalk Sedge, Club Moss, Strawberry Blite, Horsetail, Lyme Grass, Wood Fern, Ostrich Fern, Fragrant Shield Fern, Fragile Fern, Parsley Fern.

Deciduous Trees

Black Cottonwood, Balsam Poplar, Quaking Aspen, Paper Birch, Larch, Willows.  Next to each name is a black and white illustration of what each tree's leaves look like.  Color photos of the trees are on the opposite page.

Evergreen Trees

Black Spruce, White Spruce, Sitka Spruce, Mountain Hemlock, Western Hemlock. 

Plant Family Characteristics

This section is six pages long, giving the name of the plant family, and certain characteristics that help identify them.  Typically how many sepals, petals, stamens, and ovaries.  In the margins are hand drawn illustrations, and at the end of the chapter is a diagram of a flower with the different parts identified: stamen, anther, filament, petal, sepal, ovary, style, stigma, pistal, calyx, spur, and corolla.

Pictorial Glossary

Corolla (flower) types, naming the shapes of flowers:  Regular or Symmetrical, Campanulate, Bell, Irregular, Funnel, Urn, Tube, Papilionaceous, Salverform, Labiate, and Spurred. 
Inflorescences: Head, Disk Flower, Ray Flower, Umbel, Spike, Cyme, Raceme, Corymb, and Panicle.

Leaf Arrangements and Leaf Shapes are the last in this chapter, again with black and white hand drawn illustrations.

Outstanding Areas

This chapter is especially useful if you are travelling across the state of Alaska.  The chapter tells you what flowers you can expect to see in different parts of the state(as well as parts of Canada):
* Alaska Highway
* George Parks Highway
* Glenn Highway
* Richardson Highway
* Seward Highway
* Sterling Highway
* Denali Highway
* Steese Highway

Blooming Time Charts

Self explanatory. This chapter gives the months that the most common wildflowers are in bloom, arranged again by colors.

Alaskan Edibles

This part of the field guide is useful to hikers, campers and backpackers.  It lists the plant type (shrub, plant or tree), the parts that can be used (root, stem, leaf, sap, flower, berry, seed, fruit, and shoots). It also tells how these should be prepared, if you can eat them raw, cooked or dried. 

Also in this section is the best use of these plants, such as using for jellies, medicinal purposes, etc.  There is "special attention" warnings given to any plant that may be poisonous (or if only certain parts such as seeds, are poisonous).

After this is a section on all poisonous plants, a glossary of botanical terms, a bibliography and an index. Inside the back cover is a crude map of Alaska.

My Take

I found the comment section of each species extremely helpful and educational.  For example, Devils Club grows all over Alaska, and we always avoid it because it is extremely prickly and painful if you get these stickers in your skin.  I was not aware, until I read this book, that Devils Club is actually related to Ginseng, and that the Alaska Natives have been using Devils Club for years, making a poultice from them to heal a variety of illnesses and infections.

From the pictures I was able to identify the wildflowers growing in our wild garden.  I now know that our garden also contains Twin Flower, and Toadflax.  I also learned that the large bushes with white flower clusters lining the edge of part of our driveway are Cow Parsnip, and that native Alaskans eat the peeled stems raw and cook the roots.

From the description of the leaves of the Wild Geranium, I was able to identify a favorite flower on our golf course.  The Wild Geranium looked similar to another purple flower, (Wild Blue Flax), but once I saw a picture of the leaves of the Geranium, I now know this is indeed the Geranium.  If I can't find any on our large property (parts of it are very wooded), that I can dig up, I am going to see if any of the local nurseries sell the seeds.

The only thing that I was disappointed by, was the book didn't tell if the plants like shade or sun, but I can find this information elsewhere, now that I have identified the names of the plants I want to put in our garden.

Most of the book is quite dry, it is essentially a reference book. The author does warn that it is illegal in parts of the state to pick or dig  up plants, and this is something I had wondered about before buying the book. 

It isn't an extensive list of wildflowers, but there are more than 1500 species in the state of Alaska, so it would be very difficult to cover them all, and a book that contained information on that many plants would not be a good guide to stick in a backpack or glove box in your car, it would be too heavy!

The author, Verna Pratt, is one of the most respected authorities on Alaskan wildflowers.  She founded the Alaska Native Plant Society, and is a member of multiple societies on wildflowers and photography.  She has taught classes on how to identify wildflowers in the Anchorage Community School District, as well as teaching classes through the Alaska Wilderness Studies Program at the local University of Alaska. 

When Christopher McCandless (Out of the Wild), died in the Alaska wilderness 17 years ago, Pratt was quoted in the Anchorage Daily News with her thoughts on the theory of his being poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild potato plant.  Here is a quote from the October 8, 2007 Anchorage Daily News article:

As Alaska wildflower expert Verna Pratt points out, however, the wild potato and the wild sweet pea are much harder to tell apart once they lose their blooms in midsummer.

The leaves look almost identical unless you examine them from below, Pratt says. The underside of the wild potato leaf has small veins on it; the underside of the sweet pea leaf doesn't.
"It's not difficult to confuse them if you're not familiar," says Pratt, the author of "Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers." "He could have made a mistake."

To conclude, this book gave me exactly what I was looking for, and though it isn't a complete guide, it covers the most commonly found plants and flowers growing in the state of Alaska, and that was all I wanted.

~~ A big thank you to Andy for adding this to Epinions for my review!

Recommend this product? Yes

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