- Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky
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Thomas Barnes, an award-winning photographer, is well-known among nature and wildflower enthusiasts and gardeners for his previous books, also published by The University Press of Kentucky, titled Gardening for the Birds, Kentucky’s Last Great Places, and Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky (coauthored with Wilson Francis). This time around, he has teamed up with Deborah White and Marc Evans, from the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, to produce Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky. This book documents 220 of Kentucky’s rare plants, approximately two-thirds of the state’s endangered, threatened, and special concern flora, in full-color photographs. The book is not simply a photographic collection, however; the figure captions and the text provide ample information on plant rarity and extinction, protection of species, and Kentucky’s ecological communities.
When reviewing a book, I take special note of the book’s purpose and whether the author(s) achieved their goal (at least in my eyes). In this case, the focus of the book is on conservation of plants. The authors hope to “catch your eye” with the superb images, which by the photographer’s admission consisted of moments for great joy (finding a plant species new to Kentucky) and great sadness (discovering that one of the sites for ovate catchfly had been heavily logged). Then, they want to draw you in to reading the text to learn how the lifestyles of humans have affected plants in Kentucky. The book is primarily aimed at the nonscientist by using common names of plants and placing technical information at the end of the book, but scientists also will welcome the book. Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky is designed as a coffee-table book, yet it is a great reference book as well because it contains a wealth of information pertaining to the plants of Kentucky (and surrounding states as well).
The book is divided into 2 broad sections: an Introduction and The Rare Plants. In the Introduction, reasons for the decline of native species and for protecting native species are discussed. Although many other books discuss the conservation biology of plants in general terms, Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky showcases and gives specific facts relating to the state. For example, habitat loss is the leading cause for the demise of plants. For Kentucky, we learn that an estimated 53 ha (130 ac) of land per day were converted for development between 1992 and 1997. We read about the threat of over-collecting plants, for example, “people with a ‘sackful of [the state endangered] Kentucky lady’s slipper root’” who are not interested in simply transplanting the species. The concept of rarity is presented using the Rabinowitz classification scheme of rare plants with examples drawn from the Kentucky flora. The authors end the Introduction by discussing extinction and the preservation of species, and in particular what citizens can do for plant conservation.
The longest section within the Introduction covers the natural plant communities of Kentucky from a physiographic perspective. The physical attributes of each community, along with their characteristic species, are explained. Photographs accompany each community description. The authors recognize upland forested communities consisting of dry forests and mesic forests; upland nonforested communities, such as glades, prairies, and woodlands; cliff communities; lowland [End Page 74] and wetland communities; forested wetland communities of bottomland forests and depression swamps; and nonforested wetland communities including marshes, gravel/cobble bars, and seeps. This community classification serves to organize the rest of the book.
About two-thirds of Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky is devoted to the second section—The Rare Plants. This is organized by the habitat (plant community) in which the rare plant occurs: forests, prairies and glades, in and along rivers, wet-lands, and cliff lines and rockhouses. Information pertaining to the habitat is given, along...