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Win the New Field Guide to Plants in the Greenbelt North Woods!

Good news! Greenbelt has its own field guide now: “A Hundred Wild Things – a Field Guide to Plants in the Greenbelt North Woods.” In this blog post, local author Owen Kelley answers our questions about the field guide and the forest itself. (Find out more about Owen from his listing in the Greenbelt Creatives Directory.)

How to Win the Field Guide

Just leave a comment at the end of this post, and a winner will be chosen at random a week from today. (So the deadline is Monday Feb 24 at 9 a.m.) You’re invited to comment on Greenbelt’s natural resources, field guides in general, why you want the book, etc. Comments will not be judged. Now for Qs&As with the author.  UPDATE: Congrats to Ifunanya Enezuagu on winning a copy of the Field Guide to Greenbelt’s North Woods! I chose 1 winner at random of the 59 who commented to compete (that’s Melanie Lynn Griffin, commenting in another FB group). Then the author Owen Kelley decided to choose his 10 favorite comments and pick one at random to win a second copy – that’s the comment below by Ifunanya.

“I moved to greenbelt especially for the woods, lakes, the nature and bike paths. Since moving here I’ve only gotten to experience the basic level of what greenbelt has to offer but with a guide like this I can go deep with knowledge and perhaps some history. I plan to take my 6 month old on these walks to start sharing these experiences with him early.”

All about “A Hundred Wild Things”

Q: Okay, what’s the book about?

A: It’s a 244-page field guide to a large patch of forest adjacent to GHI (Greenbelt Homes Inc.). People call these 200 acres the “Great North Woods,” and they are located north of Northway and east of Ridge Road. This field guide includes photos and description of the various trees, bushes, vines, flowers, ferns, mosses, and lichens that you are most likely to encounter when you walk in this forest.

Q: Is the forest in danger?

A: All forests are potentially in danger, especially those located this close to a city as large as Washington DC. Even protected forest land is in danger of being cut down and built on unless citizens are ready to speak out whenever such a proposal comes forward.

Greenbelt’s North Woods is protected by various overlapping mechanisms. Half of the forest is GHI conservation land and rest is a forest preserve owned by the City of Greenbelt. All of the forest falls within the Greenbelt Historic District listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Portions of the North Wood are protected by state or federal scenic easements.

Nonetheless, a few years ago, it looked like an elevated train track would be built, cutting through the center of the North Woods. It was to be a high-speed rail line carrying trains louder than an ordinary train every 15 minutes during part of the day.

Fan Club Moss in the North Woods.

Q: Why should we care?

A: The many patches of forest in and around Greenbelt contribute to what makes Greenbelt such a great town to live in. The 200-acre North Woods is a particularly valuable forest for several reasons. The North Woods is within walking distance of many of our homes. It is large enough that, when you are in the middle of it, you can forget the hectic urban life outside the woods.

Some of the North Woods is likely to be fairly old, at least old for a Maryland forest. Some trees alive today may have sprouted in the late 1800s–see the oak section of the field guide for more information.

Last but not least, the North Woods is valuable because it has hilly terrain that enables it to contain a wide range of habitats in a compact space: stream, swampy floodplain, moist lowland forest, upland oak-hickory forest, and hilltop pine-heath forest.

Skunk Cabbage in the North Woods.

Q: Aren’t there a bunch of good field guides out there already?

A: Yes, but this is the only field guide that includes specifically the plants, mushrooms, and lichens that you are most likely to find in the Greenbelt North Woods. There are thousands of plant species in the Eastern US, and a field guide gets bulky and very technical if it tries to include either all the trees or all the flowers in a large geographic area. It can be hard to find the one plant you are curious about in such a big book.

Q: Can’t I just go online to identify a plant?

A: Yes, but you might find many similar-looking plants on various websites, and it may be unclear if some are actually the same plant under a different name. Many plants are known by multiple common names or multiple Latin names. For the tricky cases, you would need to ask people for help, walk the North Woods with a nature expert, or check out a bunch of books from the library. Essentially, you would repeat the steps that I followed over the past four years as I photographed anything that caught my attention in the North Woods and sought help in identifying these plants and their lore.

Q: Your subtitle says “plants” but you include mushrooms in the book.

A: Technically speaking, you have a point. These days, the word “plant” has a narrow, scientific meaning, and mushrooms, lichens, and slime molds fall outside of the plant kingdom. But in my reading, I find hints that the English language has not completely abandoned the older, broader meaning of the word “plant” that includes various categories of living things that aren’t animals. My goal for the field guide is to describe the commonly encountered forms of non-animal life in the North Wood that can be studied without a microscope. “Non-animal macroscopic” seemed too bulky a term, so I went with “plant” in the title­­.

Spring Beauty in the North Woods.

Q: A final pitch: why would someone want to buy the book?

A: Because the forest is beautiful and if you want to be part of efforts to protect it, it helps to be familiar with what grows here and what natural forces are at work slowly changin­g the forest’s makeup. The hundreds of color photos in the book are organized to make it easier to identify about 150 of the most common plants in the North Woods.  You can use the field guide elsewhere in Greenbelt and in forests outside of city limits, but I took almost all the photos in the North Woods and I picked what to include based on what is most common in the North Woods.

Q: You just said 150 plants. The book’s title mentions 100.

A: I was being conservative when I picked the title. Back then, I was unsure what the final tally of species would be, and I had not yet added the sections on lichens and mushrooms. As of now, the total number of plants, mushrooms, slime molds, and other living things photographed and described in the book is much closer to 150 than 100. Bonus for you.

Q: How have people responded to the book so far?

A: On the Greenbelt Facebook group, someone posted this after buying the North Woods field guide:

“Greenbelter Owen Kelley just published this luscious guide. You want this book!” —A. Shaw

Three people emailed me these reactions:

“The book is incredible! We are so excited about it.” —A. Glaser

“It’s a wonderful book!  I’m going to use it when I walk in and along the woods.” —L. Poirier

“I feel so fortunate to have this beautiful book and also to know this book is now a reality for all of us who love the Great North Woods so very much.” —S. Barnett

Leaves of White Oak in the North Woods.

Q: Awesome! So how can people buy the book?

A: You have three options. You can buy it from me by emailing okelley@gmu.edu. The price is $25, which includes $23.58 for the book plus 6% Maryland sales tax. Alternatively, you can stop by the Greenbelt Museum’s gift shop and purchase a copy there. The museum is located at 10 Crescent Road and is open Sundays 1 to 5 PM. You can also purchase the book for a slightly higher price from online retailers like Barnes and Noble.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: Make Greenbelt your ecological home base. Learn the plants here, so that when you visit other forests, your eyes will instinctively separate the plants you know from those that are new to you. Such knowledge makes walking in the woods more fun.

And please tell me if you find any plants in the North Woods that are not in the field guide. If they are easy enough for me to find and identify, then I’ll add them to future editions.

Script Lichen in the North Woods.
Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

30 Responses

  1. Mary Ann Hartnett
    | Reply

    This book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Is it still available at the Greenbelt Museum or from you directly?

  2. Amy Robinson
    | Reply

    I would love to read the book and see the map of where this hidden gem is. I lived in Greenbelt for 5 years and never knew about it. I thought I had walked a lot of the trails and especially enjoyed walking around the lake that was very close to my apartment but somehow I never came upon this forest. Obviously I missed the 9AM deadline so wondered where else I can get this book.

  3. Cathy Fisanich
    | Reply

    My husband I are very strong believers in green space in this wonderful town. He grew up playing in the north woods behind Plateau place and I grew up playing partial 7, woods behind Boxwood, and the lake. I don’t want anything to take these spaces and will work hard to that end. I think Maryann canters firefly park is a very good idea and I hope it is adopted. We can never let them build in these spaces. What about the PG county rezoning and the Maglev. Always something trying to take that land. We can never let that happen!

  4. John Martinez
    | Reply

    Great idea for a book, looking forward to it.

  5. Leeann Irwin
    | Reply

    The colored photos are stunning. The details but into the book are full of tenderness and care. It will be great to have a filed guide in my hands.

  6. Mary Ann Hartnett
    | Reply

    We save and preserve what we value. To value something you must know about it, and a firsthand experience is always the best method for learning. Learn about the forest by identifying what it contains and you will come to value it.

    • Owen Kelley
      | Reply

      Mary Ann… Thank you. I could not have said it better.

  7. Amy
    | Reply

    Wow! I am excited to begin exploring the North Woods for the first time this year! Thank you for this wonderful guide to our own “backyard!”

  8. Sandra Miller
    | Reply

    I am a new resident to Greenbelt and look forward to walking the woods when the weather is a little better, and I get settled. I am excited to have such a specific guide available as I am very interested in my environment. I am planning to rehabilitate my garden to ride it of invasive species, and make it bird and butterfly friendly. I am an artist and sometimes incorporate invasive species in my work, so far primarily from the Anacostia watershed.

    If I don’t win the book, I will be purchasing it soon.

  9. Alice Murray
    | Reply

    This book is a treasure. Can’t wait to walk through the woods with it.

  10. John AD
    | Reply

    This is fantastic! I recently picked up Jenny Odell’s excellent book, “How to Do Nothing,” which includes some beautiful meditations on learning about one’s local wildlife. I’d love to be able to point out the local plants to my child!

  11. Drew
    | Reply

    I am all for learning more about the flora and fauna of my town!

  12. Howard Rice
    | Reply

    That book sure looks interesting!

  13. Susan Taylor
    | Reply

    SO excited to hear about Owen’s new book. Looking forward to tramping about with it in hand.

  14. Stephanie Walters
    | Reply

    Very cool! What a great way to make botany more accessible and bringing it home!

    • Owen Kelley
      | Reply

      Stephanie, Thank you for your comment. In the text descriptions of various plants, you are right: I did end up defining a bunch of technical terms. Environmental experts used some of these terms for precision when they helped me identify what I had photographed in the North Woods. In other cases, I included a technical term because it was outrageous (slime mold, pg. 215), a useful concept (polyphyletic, pg. 201), or just because I found that defining the term accurately was a worthy challenge (mushroom, pg. 197).

  15. Elliott Hamilton
    | Reply

    A fantastic resource that will be well used.

  16. Beth LeaMond
    | Reply

    I am really looking forward to getting one of these books and going out for walks in the woods. I hope that our woods are protected forever!

  17. Jan-Michael Archer
    | Reply

    I can only imagine how much time, effort, and joy were put into the making of this book. Even with the gem of Greenbelt Lake being much closer, the North Woods are still my favorite spot for being outdoors in the neighborhood. I can’t wait to take this book out with me the next time I go!

    • Owen Kelley
      | Reply

      Jan-Michael: Yes, I am grateful for the woods around Greenbelt Lake–I go jogging there all the time. But I always feel that I am getting deeper into nature when I walk in the Greenbelt North Woods. Thank goodness for all of the people who spent countless hours over decades to preserve this forest and give it all the protections it currently enjoys. As for the time it took to create this field guide, it will all be worth it if a few people learn to identify a few plants that they were always curious about.

  18. MD Smith
    | Reply

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this!

  19. Anne Gardner
    | Reply

    Very excited to hear about this book! I would definitely like a copy.

  20. Kathie Jarva
    | Reply

    Excellent endeavor. Have enjoyed your maps for years and am really looking forward to this publication. Greenbelt is so lucky and so wonderful. Thank you.

    • Owen Kelley
      | Reply

      Kathie, Thank you for your kind words and also for your years of service to the GHI Woodlands.

  21. Amethyst Dwyer
    | Reply

    Wow! This is so exciting! A book written about our Great North Woods! I can hardly wait to read it.

  22. Sarah
    | Reply

    This is so exciting! Contest or no contest now that I know about this book a copy will be being added to my library!

    • Kelly
      | Reply

      This is great! We regularly walk through the North woods and I’m always curious about the local plant life. I’m definitely going to have to get my hands on a copy of your book!

  23. Theresa Henderson
    | Reply

    Love this! I have such found memories of traipsing around the woodlands of western Maryland with my professors in classes like Dendrology, Ecology, and Economic Botany. This book could easily become my “pocket professor” of the Greenbelt north woods!

  24. Mary Ann Canter
    | Reply

    We need to protect our green spaces. I am working on establishing a Firefly Sanctuary in Greenbelt. I have presented a proposal which I think the City Council will soon pass. We are fortunate to have wonderful green spaces around us. I would like to become connected with your group but I don’t know how. Where will the book be for sale?

    • Owen Kelley
      | Reply

      Mary Ann, Good luck with your firefly-sanctuary proposal. As for the book, you can purchase it at the Greenbelt Museum on Sunday afternoons, from online stores, or directly from me by emailing me at okelley@gmu.edu.

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