Monday, 12 September 2016

REVIEW: "Wildflowers of New England: Timber Press Field Guide" by Ted Elliman, New England Wild Flower Society

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Wildflowers of New England: Timber Press Field Guide (A Timber Press Field Guide)
by Ted Elliman, New England Wild Flower Society
Timber Press
ISBN: 978-1604694642
Copyright February 2016
Flexibound, 448 Pages

Wildflowers of New England is the ultimate field guide to wildflower identification in New England. Filled with incredibly gorgeous photography, the book is not only exceedingly visually appealing, but also impressively comprehensive. The book is very concisely written, densely packed with information, and strategically structured; every wildflower included in the guide is fittingly featured alongside an exemplifying photograph.

This field guide is no doubt excellent for flower lovers living in New England, or those venturing to the region for a delightful wildflower immersion trip. For flower lovers not in New England, the book nonetheless qualifies as an excellent reference. In the likelihood that the book falls into the hands of those have yet to discover their interest in or fall in love with the earth's glorious nature and its wildflowers, this book could be the critical factor marking the beginning of one's love affair, and even obsession, with flowers. Not to mention that this visually delectable and exhaustive guide also makes it an ideal candidate for a bibliophile's book collection.

The book references an eclectic range of wildflowers, segmented in terms of color. The section on white flowers illustrates for example, the glorious Queen Anne's lace, or Daucus carota which has flowers “clustered in flat umbels;” the artistically symmetrical ladies'-tresses; and aesthetically-pleasing ragged fringed orchid. Especially eye-catching are those peculiarly-shaped—the likes of Dutchman's-breeches, squirrel-corn, and bladder campion—and certainly those undeniably beautiful, such as the unicorn root with flowers sporting an unconventional but nonetheless alluring granular surfaces, or the stunning white meadowsweet.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the “invasive” water chestnut belonging to the Lythraceae family, or for example, the American pokeweed from the Phytolaccaceae family characterized by its toxic fruit, and poisonous stems and leaves.

Wildflowers found in the yellow flower section include for example, the highly distinctive yellow lady's-slipper, a rather appropriately-named bullhead pond-lily, the exquisite roseroot from the Crassulaceae family, or interesting species such as the Canada lily, or Lilium canadense, whose habitats include “floodplains, swamp edges, and wet meadows.”

The book certainly also covers sections of red and blue flowers. Examples of the former include the regally and lusciously gorgeous wild chives of the Alliaceae family, the romantic sweet-scented camphorweed from the Asteraceae family, and the exotic bee-balm, otherwise called Monarda didyma, whilst examples of the latter include the “common selfheal” of the Lamiaceae family whose flowers are ravishingly reminiscent of jellyfish, or lovely flowers such as the blue lobelia, wild lupine, and the sheep's bit.

Concise coverage of fundamentals at the beginning of the book is excellent, and certainly useful to both amateurs and the more experienced. The reader will certainly appreciate distinctions clearly established for example, between the types of inflorescences—panicle, raceme, spike, and umbel—, fruit types—achene, berry, capsule, silicle and more—, between radial and bilateral flowers, or even the different life cycles attributable to different plants; the reader's learning of essentials in the section of which is critical to actually successfully and effectively utilizing the guide.

Living up to its purpose as a field guide, the book aptly contains a rather comprehensive list of plant families, each family denoted along with its scientific name, a brief overview and summary of characteristics of its plants, and list of genera in the family. The relative thoroughness of this section serves as a handy and convenient reference for those educating themselves in the abundance of existing and fascinating plant families. The reader could quickly learn for example, that the aster family, or the Asteraceae, contains genera such as Heliopsis, Mycelis, and Tanacetum, or that the water-lily family is actually known scientifically as Nymphaeaceae.

The reader might even be pleasantly surprised to find certain additional and interesting information furnished at the beginning of the book covering intriguing realms such as the ecological communities in New England, morsels of geological history, and even introductory information on the various wetland habitats of swamps, marshes, and bogs, or even denominations of for example, the spruce-fir forest, or the oak-hickory-hemlock forest.

Whilst the book is mostly flawless, at least one instance in the book however required better illustration of the specific concept discussed. Especially for a beginner to botany newly exposed to the concept of inflorescence—a jargon that seemed daunting at first glance—, compounded with one-sentence descriptions of each type of inflorescence without illustrative photos seemed counter productive. An example of such a descriptive and supposedly self-explanatory sentence went, “A panicle is an elongated, branching inflorescence, roughly pyramidal in shape.”

Especially for a guide as outstanding as this, it appeared unwarranted that exemplifying images were not inserted in this case especially to facilitate learning for the beginner, and in order for one to more effectively contextualize and construe meaning from the otherwise beautifully crafted descriptions.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

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