What’s on my Bookshelf: Natural History Guides

April 7, 2011
Snow has all but disappeared in southern New England and is steadily retreating northward (check out the latest snow depth map). In its wake, spring has sprung on the forest floor and green life has begun its rapid return. It’s the time of year when I brush up on my field identification skills so that I can enhance my appreciation and understanding of this most special time of year. Here are the books I return to time and again for reference.

The Tree Identification Book
The Shrub Identification Book
George W.D. Symonds
These books use a visual method to help you identify all of the tree and shrub species throughout New England and much of the Northeast. Excellent photographs and illustrations of leaves, bark, branch patterns, flowers, berries/fruit, and more make this one of the most useful guides for determining species. Don’t let the publishing date (1973) dissuade you—it’s a timeless reference and must-have resource.

Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide to Southern New England
Neil Jorgensen
The Sierra Club published an excellent series of Naturalist’s Guides to locations throughout the U.S. in the early 1980s, including southern New England, the North Atlantic Coast, and the Middle Atlantic Coast. As a Massachusetts resident, I constantly refer to the Southern New England title, which provides an exceptional, comprehensive overview of the region’s ecosystem types and common species therein. It’s unfortunately out of print at the moment, though you can find used copies online. Worth the effort to track it down.

The Nature of Vermont
Charles W. Johnson
A similar comprehensive overview to the state of Vermont. I’ve been unable to find equivalent titles for Maine and New Hampshire, but since much of the forest types and ecosystems are similar across much of northern New England, this serves as an excellent regional proxy.

Roadside Geology Guides
Mountain Press Publishing Company
Spring is a great time to check out geology—foliage has not yet had a chance to cloak interesting and insightful outcrops. The Roadside Geology series provides an excellent layman’s overview of the geologic history and interpretation of the Northeast states, all of which can be viewed from major highways and travel corridors throughout the region. Titles are available for Maine; New Hampshire & Vermont; Massachusetts; Connecticut & Rhode Island; New York; and Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.

Reading the Forested Landscape
Tom Wessels
An exceptional overview for interpreting the history of a given forested area based on clues in the landscape, including stone walls, tree types and ages, animal activity, and more. Beautiful woodcuts illustrate the key points in each chapter. There’s also a new companion book, Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape. Read more in my February 16 post: Two New Guidebooks to the Forested Landscape.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs


Search for:

Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.