Book of the Month for Mar 2014

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History
Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: book cover
Maryanne Gryboski

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Carole Gracie, Princeton University Press (March 12, 2012); 296pp, 512 color illustrations, hardcover; publisher’s price: $29.95, Amazon price: $18.99.

This book is both less and more than a wildflower guide. Less, because the author has chosen to concentrate on only about three dozen spring blooming wildflowers of the Northeast, an area encompassing the greater Northeast and northern Midwest of the US and of adjacent Canada. More, because she has provided us with detailed information on a wide range of aspects: plant characteristics, habitat, range, pollination techniques and seed dispersal, as well as medicinal uses, explanations of botanical names, pests, pathogens and predators. The information is based on Gracie’s observations in the field or, in this case, the woodland, and on her solid research: 21 pages of references are listed at the end of the book! 

bloodroot photo © Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service, www.forestryimages.orgShe tells the story of each chosen taxon from its incipient emergence in the often still cold soil through the unfolding of its stems and the unfurling of its leaves, to its flower and fruit. The meaning of its name, both botanical and common, may lead to a discussion of its cultural uses or contemporary scientific purposes. Who knew that the sap of bloodroot may have hallucinogenic properties or that Mayapple, once the principal ingredient of Carter’s Little Liver Pills, is a source of the phytochemical podophyllotoxin from which two semi-synthetic cancer-treating drugs are derived! 

A self-described visual learner, Gracie has included an exceptionally large number of photographs which complement the text. Close-up views of an inflorescence being visited by a pollinating insect or with some petals removed to reveal its hidden reproductive structure; of a variety of fruit shapes such as the “grenade-like” fruit of the skunk cabbage; of exposed roots, tubers and rhizomes and of various seeds, all offer visual evidence of the characteristics described in the written word. 

This book is written for all wildflower lovers. Plants are arranged by common name in a nod to the beginner while changes in botanical nomenclature are explored. Gracie’s love of wildflowers and her curiosity about all things connected to them are beautifully conveyed in this interesting and entertaining read and go a long way toward enriching one’s appreciation of both wildflowers and nature itself.

Maryanne Gryboski is newsletter editor for the CT Chapter of NARGS and enjoys exploring her local woodlands.