Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

What plants can I expect to find in North Dakota? (Worked Example)

In the entry for the USDA Plants Database, I say you can use this resource to answer the question, “What plants can I expect to find in North Dakota?” Here’s how as of February 2014:

In the right hand column, “I want too …” click on See a list of the plants in my state. On the State Search screen that follows decide whether you want a list of every plant that grows naturally in North Dakota or if you want to narrow things down.

To see EVERYTHING, leave the search box blank, check North Dakoka and click on whether you want to sort by scientific name, common name or symbol. For North Dakota, this leads to 8275 plants.

To see a more limited scope of plants, try entering a common name with a wildcard “*” character. For instance, enter *berry in the search criteria and make sure “common name” is selected and that “sort by common name” is checked on the bottom and that North Dakota is checked. This yields a list of 162 berries that grow in North Dakota, including:

Remember to click on North Dakota to check for a county level distribution of plants. For example, while the American black elderberry is found in North Dakota, it only grows in a handful of counties, as this map shows:

Distribution of American black elderberry in North Dakota. Map courtesy of USDA Plants Database.

Fun fact. Doing a similar search on *bane yields 70 plants that grow in North Dakota, including “spreading dogbane.”

Full disclosure forces me to point out that as far as I can tell there is no easy way to use the Plants Database to answer a question of what ONLY grows in North Dakota and no other state. But at least your North Dakota stories can avoid outdoor plants that only grow elsewhere.

The entry for for the USDA Plants Database is just one of the resources available from the Flora and Fauna Chapter of Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

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