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Book Bullet: Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast by Carol Gracie

SpringWildflowersJacket500This is a fantastic book.

Discussed in rich but readable detail, and profusely illustrated, are thirty of those beautiful and fascinating spring flowers which mark the passing of the snow and ice and the sudden rush of new growth – and not just in the north east, but over much of the country.

Plant by plant, from baneberries to wild ginger, centuries of scientific research are brought together with decades of enlightened personal observation to present detailed accounts of some of our favorite plants. But not just descriptions, far from it. The ways in which these plants fit into their botanical families, their relationships with their habitat, their pollination, their seed dispersal, their medicinal and other practical uses – it’s all there.

And here’s the thing: we know we can trust its combination of science and experience not only because it’s clear that it’s written by a scrupulous fanatic! But also, from her years as a tour leader at the New York Botanic Garden answering the questions of visitors – interested, of course, but not necessarily knowledgeable – Carol Gracie knows how to present her fascinating material in a way that scientists will respect, and everyone else can understand (with occasional help from the excellent glossary).

The book is also packed with wonderful pictures. In fact my only criticism of the book is that, in places, there are too many squeezed on to the page. I don’t think there’s a dud amongst them, but sometimes the page is just too full.

I first looked at entries on plants I’d recently researched myself including skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, where her account of the plant’s mechanism for generating so much heat in its early flowers that it can melt snow and keep insects cozy includes an important detail that I’d missed! And I was thrilled to discover that it’s the box turtle, wandering up to 60m a day, that not only distributes seeds of may apple, Podophyllum peltatum, but through keeping them in its digestive system for a week while it wanders also greatly improves their germination.

So… whether you grow these plants in the garden or simply admire them on rural (or sometimes urban) hikes, I’m sure you’ll find this book fascinating. If you need more superlatives, just ask.

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast by Carol Gracie is published by Princeton University Press.
  • The habits and habitats of thirty familiar spring flowers revealed
  • Detailed but easy-to-read text
  • Huge number of exceptional pictures
  • Gardeners and wildflower enthusiasts will be fascinated
  • Not just for those of us in the north east US
  • Put it on the short list for plant book of the year



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Mike Grant

And what was that 'important detail' you missed from your otherwise excellent article in The Plantsman?!

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The inflorescence consists of a spadix that is surrounded by a curved spathe;they are located near the ground.Very early in spring, the greenish-yellow spadix of this plant appears, enclosed by a reddish-brown spathe that is open at one side.

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