Summary Credits: From the University of Wyoming Weed Identification Site.
Learning to identify unwanted plants around the home, farm, or ranch will be much easier with a book published by the Western Society of Weed Science and cosponsored by Cooperative Extension of the Western States. Weeds of the West is an extensive publication which can help you identify plants that compete with native plants, horticultural and agricultural crops as well as those that can poison livestock and people.
This extensive, easy-to-use guide contains more than 900 color photographs showing the early growth stages, mature plants and features for positive identification of each weed discussed. Descriptions, habitats and characteristics of each plant are also in this 650 page book.
Where to get it? Direct from the publisher University of Wyoming Weed Identification Site $33 including shipping by mail order (PDF form)
Amazon $56 (note that the listed publisher is not correct, possibly being listed by a reseller)
Rating: 9 of 10 (my copy is the 2000 edition; the newest is from 2006)
This book fills an important gap in my library. Most of my regional plant and garden guides omit forage, volunteers and introduced plants found in pastures, roadsides and disturbed sites. The contributors, a botanists and weed specialists from state extension services throughout the west, cover about 300 of the most commonly found weeds in found on western farms and ranches.
In the Introduction, the editors note that not every plant listed is necessarily a weed, which they define as "A plant that interferes with management objectives for a given area of land at a given point in time."
The plant listings are organized by plant family with a plant key at the end. Basic description, growth form, preferred habitat and dispersal method are given for each plant, accompanied by three photographs. Often one photo shows the plant at the seedling stage. The authors take great care to note if a plant is edible or poisonous to range animals. Occasionally, traditional and native uses are mentioned.
The contributors are drawn from the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Intermountain West from Wyoming to New Mexico. One would presume that their selections would be the most common to these areas. I don't know how relevant the plant selections would be to the Sonoran Desert.
In the observational, first stage of permaculture design, knowing which "weeds" you have can tell you a lot about the soil and water conditions around the property. If you aren't already familiar with plant taxonomy, identifying the plants you encounter is a good way to learn your Apiaceae from your Violaceae. This skill becomes invaluable when putting together plant guilds and trying to find support species for functions you want to encourage. Being able to sort volunteer species into plant families can help permaculturists find new uses for these plants that fit into your "management objectives."
For example, I want to encourage braconid wasps to prosper in around my ciderappletrees, as a primary predator to the codling moth. These wasps need small flowers from the Apiaceae, Asteraceae and Laminaceae families. We already have a volunteer population of Curlycup gumweed. Last summer, my neighbor (who is a master gardener!) was telling me how much she hated this weed. By consulting Weeds of the West, I learned that this plant turns out to be in the Asteraceae family. So despite my neighbor's disappointment, it's going to stay until the soil conditions improve and it naturally fades out. And we can concentrate on finding plants that bloom earlier in the season to support our wasps.
The Index lists the common names, which can be helpful, but I haven't been able to find every local name my ranching neighbors use for some plants. If you are used to plant guides sorted by flower color, this book will not be easy to use at first. The information it contains is invaluable once you develop the background to ferret out what you are looking for.
Why not 10 of 10? I wish that some of the photos were better. I wish that more attention were given to alternate homestead and wildlife uses. I can't say whether these things were upgraded in the newest edition. On the plus side (at least for the 2000 edition) the printing quality and paper are worthy of a reference book. This volume will stand up to being well-used. I know mine has.