Part of describing a locale in a novel is mentioning the green stuff outside the car window. Oaks and Pine trees and flowering shrubs are usually obvious. But what about the wildflowers and grasses?
I once knew a man who knew what every single piece of green stuff was, whether it grew in a forest, savannah, marsh, or coastal area. When he led tours, I was there as he not only named and described every plant and its seasonal cycle but told us how to know one plant from another.
If there had been a test, I would have flunked. Even if I’d crawled through it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between Bluebunch wheatgrass and rough fescue.
I have wildflower guides for most of the areas I write about. I’ve found others online. But occasionally, I come across (in my writing research) a place where my characters will interact in some way and realize that I can’t be sure what all the green stuff is.
Many state, federal, and private wildlife areas and private preserves list the specialists in charge of interpretation. They have been a godsend. For some books, I’ve asked about the prominent plants one sees when driving through a place. In others, where there are, say, Longleaf Pines and other trees that depend on fire, I’ve asked specialists what order the smaller understory plants return after a fire.
I owe a great debt to specialists who will take time to field questions from a novelist, some of which take quite a few pages to answer. I always try to note down their names and organizations and mention them in each book’s acknowledgments. It’s my kind of thank you and also a way of saying that I’m a writer and not a biologist.