The Bottom Line
- Multiple photos to help identify weeds.
- Medicinal uses, culinary uses, etc. included.
- No common weed too "insignificant" not to merit mention.
- Language a bit confusing in a couple of places.
- One "ecological function" unnecessarily repeated throughout this weed book.
- Identify weeds of a primitive nature such as ferns and horsetails (first two groupings in the book).
- The bulk of the weed book is dedicated to "woody dicots" and "herbaceous dicots," with a fine concluding chapter on grasses.
- One appendix lists all the medicinal plants covered both in the present book in Dioscorides' 1st-century herbal.
Guide Review - Identify Weeds With "Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast"
How can Peter Del Tredici's Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast help you identify weeds where other wild plant identification guides fail? Well, the fact is that many popular wild plant identification guides are wildflower books, focusing on plants bearing flowers that are at least half-way conspicuous. Not so Del Tredici's book: In his efforts to help you identify weeds ubiquitous in urban and suburban environments, no plant is denied inclusion simply because its flowers are inconspicuous. No stigma is attached to weediness here: This is truly a "weed book," geared to odd types who care about the botanical misfits that nobody else gives a second look.
But identifying weeds, in the broadest sense, includes learning about "trash" trees and shrubs, and Del Tredici's book includes information on such plants as tree of heaven and burning bush -- two of the worst invasive plants of the northeastern U.S. At the other end of the spectrum, he covers several grasses, including mainstays of pastures (whether for forage, hay-making, or both).
Each description is accompanied by photos helping you to identify the weed in question. The descriptions are broken down into sub-sections ("Place of Origin," "Vegetative Characteristics," etc.), the most entertaining of which is "Cultural Significance," where the author relates medicinal and culinary uses for the weed in question, among other things. For example, in the entry for yarrow, you'll learn that this plant was used to heal wounds. Learned appendices and a thorough glossary can be found at the back of the book.
I feel that there was unnecessary redundancy in the "Ecological Functions" sub-section for each weed description. A function he lists for just about every small weed in the book is "disturbance-adapted colonizer of bare ground." It should be assumed that, at a certain point, the reader "gets it": The book is largely about plants that take advantage of soil disturbances. Del Tredici's reiteration of this "function" over and over eventually tries the reader's patience. Also, in a couple of instances, I found his wording puzzling and open to suspicion of contradiction (although I probably just misunderstood).
One of the motivating factors behind the writing of this weed book, as stated by Del Tredici in the introduction, was to help people see these despised plants in a new light. "Needless to say," he remarks, "conservation activists seldom -- if ever -- acknowledge the ecological contributions of nonnative, spontaneous urban vegetation.... In an effort to turn this dynamic on its head, I have chosen to describe in positive terms the ecological functions of all the plants treated in this book." Thus the "Ecological Functions" sub-section I mentioned above; phytoremediation and erosion control are examples.
In the case of this reader, Del Tredici had a highly sympathetic audience. I despise very few plants; and about even those I wish to learn as much as possible! I consider Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast a great find -- more as a resource to use to identify weeds than to learn about their ecological functions. Are you the type who harbors a curiosity about the weeds along the sidewalk that everyone else neglects to notice? Then you'll cherish this book. You'll immediately start identifying weeds that you've wondered about your whole life!