Two days ago, the Wichita Chapter of the Kansas Native Plant Society had a native plant seed exchange and sharing time, to which I was invited. (Well, truthfully, the entire public was invited. I was also asked to share a little information about Sedgwick County Extension, and I brought along some native plant seeds and seedlings to share.) It was an enjoyable gathering, as such gatherings of like-minded people often are, and it was a good place to meet people with similar interests, to learn about programs and plants that I wasn't familiar with, and - hopefully - to find new and useful reference material.
I was indeed lucky this time. Krista Dahlinger, as the official representative of KNPS, was selling some books for the organization, including Weeds of the Great Plains, published by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, most recently in 2003.
These descriptions included the origin of each species (whether native or not; if not, where it was from), and the standard descriptions of growth form, height, flowers, leaves, stems and so forth. Then there was a section "Where Found" which included habitat information, as well as the states and general areas the plant was found within the Great Plains region.
The next section, "Uses and Values", was a little heavy on the value for livestock (not too surprising, in a book put out by an ag department) but it also included wildlife value and occasional decorative or landscape uses.
A separate section on the potential for livestock poisoning was occasionally also included, which got EXTREMELY detailed. Sometimes this section seemed to get overly cautious, to the point where I began to understand a stockman's tendency to just say, "The heck with it!", and spray broad-leaved herbicides everywhere. Note: I hate that practice and feel it is entirely inappropriate...but reading this book and its huge number of cautions, I begin to understand the attitude a little more.
One of the last several sections about each plant was often "Historical", giving uses by Native Americans and early settlers for native plants and even, for non-native plants, sometimes going back to Europe or Asia to tell about the plant's usage in its country of origin.
"Losses" was another section occasionally included. This section highlighted financial losses that could occur (and why they would occur) if the plant under discussion was a major or regular component of the vegetation. For example, several of the plants that produced burs reduced the value of wool being sold.
The last concluding section was often "Similar Species", which highlighted other species related to the primary one being discussed. Although these descriptions were brief, they were accurate and accessible; more than once I was able to identify a plant through its mention in this section, even though I was just leafing through the book.
Some tips I picked up? Well, I've been trying to identify this little vine that I've seen growing for some years in the draw - I learned that it is Climbing False Buckwheat (Polygonum scandens), a native, vining perennial. It's considered quite beneficial for wildlife, although it can get aggressive and smother its neighbors when conditions are too perfect for it. (Note: I've had absolutely NO problem with climbing false buckwheat and, in fact, only notice it occasionally in the fall.)
It can be hard to find good, reliable information on "weeds", and I feel like I've found it in this book. If you live in the Great Plains, I highly recommend Weeds of the Great Plains as a great reference about a maligned group of plants.