About the Field Guides Project

This site has been developed under project R7367 of the DFID Forest Research Programme.

R7367 was a research project based in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford and funded by DFID/FRP. Managed intially by Colin Hughes, and by William Hawthorne since 2000, with artwork by Rosemary Wise and contributions from Stuart Cable and the following colleagues abroad. The project, and this website, is based in the Oxford herbaria, which is curated by Stephen Harris.

Collaborators and other linked initiatives

  • Ghana's Forest Service and Biodiversity Unit (Ntim Gyakari, Abu Juam Musah) and University of Ghana, Legon (Patrick Ekpe). We have made field guides to larger trees and other commercial plants, and a more general guides to wet evergreen forest, the Ankasa guide. (Available soon!)
  • Limbe Botanical and Zoological Gardens, Cameroon (Rita Lysinge and Elias Njenje)
  • Grenada Forestry Department (Dean Jules)
  • Mexico, Sociedad para el Estudio de los Recursos Bioticos de Oaxaca, Mexico (Silvia Salas). This component was however dropped due to project restucturing and changes in DFID priority countries.
  • Northern Savanna biodiversity project in Ghana, has become a collaborator recently.
  • The FRP African Acacia project, also based in Oxford, have shared their images and information.
  • The Ecosyn project, Guide to woody plants of western Africa has been running concurrently, and some resources, notably images, were shared.
  • Anna Lawrence and others at the Oxford Environmental Change Institute have also been investigating plant field guide productions under a linked FRP project, focusing more on the socio-economic aspects. We have written a book together about field guides. See Oxford Plant Systematics 2007


Project goals and outputs available from this site

  • To promote field guide production within and for communities around tropical forests in developing countries
  • To produce, test and compare scientifically guides or in various formats ('Guidelets')
  • To help a wider variety of authors create their own field guide, in a Step by Step approach
  • To provide access to some ingredients for field guides, such as literature and web references and images
  • To help users explore the range of plant characteristics - field characters - which are particularly useful in field guides

    About the VFH website

    The Virtual Field Herbarium website itself has been planned and developed as one of several project outputs by William Hawthorne, Joh Dokler and Yusdi Santoso, with help from Julie Smith, Maja Dokler and Andrew Liddell. Image credits are listed by image. We have developed links to the Brahms project. The BRAHMS database is used to manage data that is then fed to the VFH, and is being modified by Denis Filer to support this type of data.


What is a field guide?

Put simply, we are concerned on this web site with field guides that are books or other tools that help users identify plants in the forest. We can be more precise if you like (definition of a Field Guide) but for most purposes the phrase is self-explanatory.

For most people, it is hard work in the tropics to identify plants with a scientific name. There are so many of them and, compared to European plants, so little is published that can be used easily to identify them. In particular, there are too few appropriate field guides. See our bibliography for the majority of the less obscure field guides in the English language.

Why promote field guide production?

When people are not aware of the plant diversity around them, they are in no position to make optimum use of their environment, or even to notice when species are going extinct. By promoting field guide production, we hope to be promoting the sustainability of rural livelihoods and conservation of biodiversity at the same time.

The economics

Trophy or practical, charitable or ruthlessly commerical: all guides have to have a market if they are going to be published, and this is one of the main limits on their existence. See here for some of the main 'market opportunities'.

We hope to help reduce costs, focus spending and therefore enhance guide production as follows:

  • highlight opportunities and priorities
  • facilitate the flow of information for writers of guides, helping reduce costs
  • build confidence and the potential number of producers