Although it actually took me more than a day to read this book, I enjoyed every minute of it. Rather than using the laborious method of “keying out” plants, this book discusses similarities that plants within a given family share. For instance, all roses have 5 petals and numerous stamens. The majority of plants in this book are found in the Rocky Mountain region, but plants from across the county are represented. Looking at patterns seems a more natural way to learn any type of biology as it is a way of categorizing and keeping things straight. Elpel describes ach family of plants by just a few key words to remember. For instance, the Saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae) is a small plant with small flowers, usually 5 separate petals, plus an oblong ovary with 2 styles.
The book starts with a tutorial to bring the reader up to speed on basic taxonomic information, classification systems, evolution of plants, terminology and basic information on some plant families. Elpel then introduces each botanical family with a short description of anatomical features and then significant genera within that family are listed with a brief description. There are no photographs in the book but the illustrations are detailed. There is also a short section on medicinal properties of plants which is presented from the perspective of the phytochemicals in plants.
Now that I know that members of the mustard family have 4 petals with 6 stamen – 4 tall and 2 short and they are all edible, family hikes become much more interesting. We identify the mustards along the way and compare their taste!

Being more of a human biologist than a plant biologist, keys have always caused me grief. Elpel also gives some basic instruction on how to use a key. I suppose a seasoned botanist might find this book a little boring, but a good audience would be the herbalist, hobbyist, gardener or beginning botanist – as well as those of us on the other side of biology who don’t want to be burdened by a key.

This is the fifth edition of Botany in a Day, the first one being printed in 1996. I haven’t compared all of them, but each edition has been expanded and revised. Rather than being just a guide to accompany a field trip, this is actually a book you will enjoy reading by the fire! Some of the proceeds from sales of this book are donated to a Montana park founded by the author, 3 Rivers Park.