by Tamar Galstyan. Filbert Press, 2021. 592 pages. $55. list price
You can find dozens (if not hundreds) of guidebooks to the flowers of Europe, North America—even the Himalayas. But there is nothing (that I know of) for the Caucasus—which constitute a botanical hot spot not only for wildflowers, but are moreover the center of origin for most of the important economic crops humanity relies upon for sustenance beginning with wheat, barley and oats—as well as many vegetables and fruits.
Armenia lies in the heart of the Caucasus, and Tamar Galstyan’s monumental field guide does much to fill a colossal void. Well over a thousand species are illustrated—often with multiple pictures (closeup, landscape) and cogent descriptions with elevation, flowering season, distribution and elevation are noted for each, with a map showing distribution within Armenia.
So many classic garden plants trace to here: Helleborus orientalis, Geranium ibericum, Paeonia tenuifolia and no end of bulbs. Some, like Gentiana verna, are shared with the Alps, and more—like the wealth of Acantholimon—show the influence of the Central Asian flora. For me the predominance of endemic plants—so many with the epithets armena and caucasica, plants you will not see in any other field guide—or anywhere else are the greatest treat. So many of these are mainstays of rock gardening that you quickly feel right at home here! Aethionema armenum, Arabis caucasica, Eryngium giganteum: so that’s what they look like in the wild? But it’s those plants I’d never heard of, but whose pictures make you put them at the top of your must have list: Astragalus uraniolimneus like no other milkvetch, or Aristiolochia bottae, clumping perennial to 40cm from “dry fields”(I’ll take that!) or Iris sisianica, a purple pink cousin to I. reticulata which is “stoloniferous”?
Best of all despite its lavish photography and text, the book is small enough to fit in a pack, should you be lucky enough as I have been to actually go to the Caucasus—in my case to Georgia: I found most of the taxa from that country well represented in this volume: I wish I’d had it on my trip there four years ago! And I shall carry this with me should I return anywhere near this region! It’s an instant classic.
Panayoti Kelaidis is president of the North American Rock Garden Society and Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, where has worked for 42 years. A life-long rock gardener, Panayoti is also fond of all succulents, bulbs and woody plants—most anything with chlorophyll, actually.