Cover of the 'Trees of Britain and Europe' novel showing different plants in Europe.

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I still love field guides. A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I loved my new field guide about the Pacific Northwest. But, alas, I write faux-Victorian nonsense, and even straight-up fantasy-with-Victorian-flair sounds weird among the dense, old forests of the American northwest.

So I got two books off of Amazon: A Photographic Field Guide: Trees of Britain and Europe (linked from the image) and its sister-volume, Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe. They aren’t incredibly awesome, since they have only one image per plant, and those images are very small. But really? I got both of them, plus shipping and handling, for under $10. You can’t argue with that.

They open with overviews of the geographical and climate types in Europe. This is all you need for some quick-and-dirty worldbuilding.

It’s really straightforward!

Choose an appropriate field guide.
Unless you’re doing straight-up sci-fi/fantasy, your story is either set in an existing country or set in something inspired by it.

I write fantasy, but it borders on Victorian/steampunk. Sigils was set in an AU-France, and my current story is set in a vaguely-middle-European area. So I got books based on Britain and Europe.

Then pick a specific climate type.
List the climate and geographical types that your story takes place in. This is stuff like “high elevations/mountains in a cold/temperate zone” or “temperate seaside climates.” This is why I loved the opening sections in the books I got–they go through the broad differences in north, middle, and southern Europe and the types of forests and flowers you see in those regions.

A good field guide will have some sort of organization by geographical type. Just make sure the field guide you get has an organization system you’re comfortable with.

Choose some plants.
Once all that’s done, run through the book and pick a few plants that live in that region. If your field guide has a good organization system, it should be easy to find a number of plants that should realistically make sense in that area.

And that’s it. You now have some climate-accurate regional flavor. That’s obviously not enough research for stories where nature plays a very big role. But if you just need some flavor–or a way to start–then you should now be good to go.