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.
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.
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.
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
Q: Awesome! So how can people buy the book?
A: You have three options. You can buy it from me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.