After you have answered the question “About What” as in “What is it?”, you may start to wonder “why”, as in “Why is it here and not there?” That question really opens the door to a lot of questions and emphasizes the need for more research. A botanist may wonder “what is it” and be perfectly happy with finding the answer. But after a while they must wonder why it grows here and not there.
There may be no single answer. Physical characteristics such as soil type, store temperature, and moisture may answer a lot of questions. You may notice that one plant grows only with another plant so community may be part of the answer.
It may be obvious that observation is the key. What is not so obvious is what we are looking for. We may be missing the obvious. I may be looking at a Yellow Pine community but missing the reason Yellow Pine grows where it does.
I live in Oregon and Oregon is the focus of my experience. But Oregon is a political entity and its boundaries are artificial. To really understand Oregon I may need to understand its geologic history, its climate, and influences of adjacent regions. Oregon presents a remarkable diversity of conditions as to soil, moisture, and temperature. These physical conditions affect the evolution of plants and the biodiversity we face today. And yet understanding all these details may not provide us with the answers we seek. I suspect that community plays a bigger part than we currently understand. The key to understanding may still be unknown.
In his book “A Manual of the Higher Plants of Oregon” Morton Peck addresses plant areas. He subdivides Oregon into nine major areas based on physical conditions but further subdivides some of those regions. Even though his work is seriously out of date and no longer enjoys front line status I appreciate some of the ideas he sets forth. Peck identifies common and characteristic plants in each area. If I know those I can be confident of my ability to identify most of the plants in Oregon. Other authors do not differentiate between the rare plants and the beginner bogs down in detail trying to eliminate those rare plants from consideration.