When I was young, I thought it was important to know the names of things such as birds, flowers, trees and other life forms. Often I hauled a guide and identified species, then quickly forgot their names. Does it matter? Is it important?
Now over the years, I have learned to identify some species. I can identify poison oak and poison ivy; that seems important. "Leaves of three..." But the names of all the other vines I just cannot remember, nor do I really care.
I know what a Redwood, Sequoia, and Douglas Fir look like. All the other pines look the same to me. Or are they firs? However I can identify a Coulter Pine, only if I see those large cones on the ground. Am I less of a person because I can’t differentiate? Pinyon Pines and Bristlecone Pines I know. Palm Trees and Cottonwood indicate the possibility I might find water. A Sycamore I might recognize or is it a Maple? What is the difference between an Aspen and an Alder? Will I remember?
Flowers are worse. Basically I can identify red, blue, yellow and purple flowers only by their colors. Does it matter?
Some plants and shrubs are easy. A Joshua Tree, Ocotillo, Century Plant, and the beautiful Smoke Tree I can remember. Desert Willows and Mesquite seem to be correctly identified. Yuccas and agaves confuse me, but I can identify a good walking stick plucked from one. Is Catclaw a shrub, vine, or a tree. Who knows? Does it matter? I do know they are worse than barbed wire. I think I know what Jojoba looks like.
If I walk up a blistery hot desert slope and pass Manzanita and Ribbonwood, I know that the big traverse ahead is going to get cooler sooner and I might soon reach some big shady trees.
Well there are rattlesnakes, sidewinders and diamond backs. The rest confuse me. Do I need to the difference between a pacific or a speckled rattler? I know what a desert tortoise and a tarantula are. Ate there more than one kind of each?
Some cacti are easy. Jumping Cholla and Teddy Bear Cholla inflict different kinds of pain. Barrel cacti are all the same to me, fish hooks that are hard to remove. A Saguaro is so unique; it is easy to know what it is.
I can identify a Bald Eagle, Red Tail Hawk, and a Road Runner. An owl is an owl, is an owl. Is a bat a bird or rodent or something else? Is it important to know? A big white bird might be a Stork or an Egret, is that enough?
Is it better to just watch and enjoy them and not know their names?