Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ideas for Winter Reading

Last of the season's color
With colder weather coming along, we pause even in milder climates, set our tools aside, and look forward to some time with our feet up and a seed catalog or two. Shorter days mean longer nights so now is also a good time to look into some books to read.

Books about specific plants are nice, but there's a good crop of books out lately about ecosystems that you might enjoy. These books paint a bigger picture that we need to appreciate.

I’ve put together a list of the ones I've discovered recently and a few older ones. These might also be good gift ideas for your gardening friends or make a list and leave it lying around as a hint ….

Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America's Richest Forest was published in October 2012. I am familiar with one of the authors, Bill Finch; he has always been a passionate advocate of the longleaf pine ecosystem as well as an entertaining writer.

The publisher's description: Longleaf forests once covered 92 million acres from Texas to Maryland to Florida. These grand old-growth pines were the "alpha tree" of the largest forest ecosystem in North America and have come to define the southern forest. But logging, suppression of fire, destruction by landowners, and a complex web of other factors reduced those forests so that longleaf is now found only on 3 million acres. Fortunately, the stately tree is enjoying a resurgence of interest, and longleaf forests are once again spreading across the South. 

Blending a compelling narrative by writers Bill Finch, Rhett Johnson, and John C. Hall with Beth Maynor Young's breathtaking photography, Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See invites readers to experience the astounding beauty and significance of the majestic longleaf ecosystem. The authors explore the interactions of longleaf with other species, the development of longleaf forests prior to human contact, and the influence of the longleaf on southern culture, as well as ongoing efforts to restore these forests. Part natural history, part conservation advocacy, and part cultural exploration, this book highlights the special nature of longleaf forests and proposes ways to conserve and expand them."

Altamaha: A River and Its Keeper  (June 2012) is a celebration of the Altamaha River and features phtographs by James Holland with text by Dorinda Dallmeyer and Georgia author Janisse Ray.

More than 230 color photographs capture the area’s majestic landscapes and stunning natural diversity, including a generous selection of some the 234 species of rare plants and animals in the region.

The World of the Salt Marsh: Appreciating and Protecting the Tidal Marshes of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast  (May 2012) is by well-known native plant and native bird enthusiast Charles Seabrook.

The publisher describes the book as "a wide-ranging exploration of the southeastern coast--its natural history, its people and their way of life, and the historic and ongoing threats to its ecological survival. Focusing on areas from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral, Florida, Charles Seabrook examines the ecological importance of the salt marsh, calling it "a biological factory without equal." Twice-daily tides carry in a supply of nutrients that nourish vast meadows of spartina (Spartina alterniflora)--a crucial habitat for creatures ranging from tiny marine invertebrates to wading birds. The meadows provide vital nurseries for 80 percent of the seafood species, including oysters, crabs, shrimp, and a variety of finfish, and they are invaluable for storm protection, erosion prevention, and pollution filtration.

For all of the biodiversity and cultural history of the salt marshes, many still view them as vast wastelands to be drained, diked, or "improved" for development into highways and subdivisions. If people can better understand and appreciate these ecosystems, Seabrook contends, they are more likely to join the growing chorus of scientists, conservationists, fishermen, and coastal visitors and residents calling for protection of these truly amazing places." 

Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests, and Wilderness  (September 2011) offers us all a chance to see some of the last remnants of original old-growth forests.

From the publisher: "With this stunning collection of images of the Southern Appalachians, James Valentine presents an enduring portrait of the region's unique natural character. His compelling photographs of ancient mountains, old-growth forests, rare plants, and powerful waterways reveal the Appalachians' rich scenic beauty, while Chris Bolgiano's interpretive text and captions tell the story of its natural history.

These scarce and scattered old-growth stands are the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world. By sharing these remaining pristine wild places with us, Valentine and Bolgiano show that understanding these mountains and their extraordinary biodiversity is vital to maintaining the healthy environment that sustains all life.

Featuring an introduction by the late, longtime conservationist Robert Zahner and a foreword by William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, this visually entrancing and verbally engaging book celebrates the vibrant life of Southern Appalachian forests."

The Natural Communities of Georgia is a new book that is now available for pre-order (delivery is February 25, 2013). This book presents a fresh perspective on Charles Wharton’s original “The Natural Environments of Georgia” which was published in 1978 and includes lush photographs from Hugh and Carol Nourse.  Authors Leslie Edwards, Jonathan Ambrose, and L. Katherine Kirkman are quite qualified to guide us through the diverse communities of Georgia.

The publisher’s description: “The Natural Communities of Georgia presents a comprehensive overview of the state’s natural landscapes, providing an ecological context to enhance understanding of this region’s natural history.

Georgia boasts an impressive range of natural communities, assemblages of interacting species that have either been minimally impacted by modern human activities or have successfully recovered from them. This guide makes the case that identifying these distinctive communities and the factors that determine their distribution are central to understanding Georgia’s ecological diversity and the steps necessary for its conservation.

Within Georgia’s five major ecoregions the editors identify and describe a total of sixty-six natural communities, such as the expansive salt marshes of the barrier islands in the Maritime ecoregion, the fire-driven longleaf pine woodlands of the Coastal Plain, the beautiful granite outcrops of the Piedmont, the rare prairies of the Ridge and Valley, and the diverse coves of the Blue Ridge.”

A Native Plants Reader (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet)  (March 2012) - various authors, including Doug Tallamy.

From the publisher: "In its celebrated series of handbooks, stretching back more than 60 years, Brooklyn Botanic Garden has long championed the use of native plants in the home garden. 

A Native Plants Reader is a departure from the typical BBG handbook. Rather than offering a toolkit of growing tips and practical instructions, this book presents a collection of narratives extolling the virtues of natives, outlining their fundamental contributions to our natural ecosystems, detailing our connections with them, describing the perils they currently face, and advocating for their preservation in the garden and larger landscape. Chock-full of adventures and insights from scientists, gardeners, and writers working in the trenches with native plants, the essays are designed to address and engage both gardeners and nongardening nature lovers alike."

Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs  (October 2011) by Michael Dirr. A well-respected author of several woody plant manuals, Dr. Dirr keeps putting out quality resource materials.

From the publisher: "A combination of Dirr's bestselling books under one cover, adding new plants, new photographs, plus all new commentary in Dirr's signature style, it is the bible of woody plants. 
From majestic evergreens to delicate vines and flowering shrubs, Dirr features thousands of plants and all the essential details for identification, planting, and care, plus full-color photographs showing a tree's habit in winter, distinctive bark patterns, fall color, and more. In a class by itself for its quality of information, the best researched recommendations for hardiness in the industry, beautiful photography, and Dirr's own preeminence as a master plantsman, Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is a critical addition to any garden library."

And a couple of old ones: 

Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie (1997) by Richard Manning. A book that is sure to give you an appreciation for native grasses and an appreciation for just how harmful man can be, even in recent memory. If you watched Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, this is a good companion read to that.

Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey (2006) by Joe Hutto. This book helped me appreciate how much native birds depend on wild food - grasshoppers, berries and acorns. It was interesting to follow their progress day by day until they matured. I believe there is a PBS series to go with this.

Next week I'll cover some old favorites for those of you just getting into the subject of native plants.


  1. Hi Ellen, I just wanted to say I enjoyed your "Would You Do It for Me" article and I'm so happy to discover your Georgia plants blog. I'm a native plant advocate in San Diego. I created and work with local environmental non-profits to promote native plants, but I grew up in Atlanta. It's great to discover similar interests blooming in my old habitat. - Jake jake[at]jakesibley[dot]com

  2. Long Leaf - by coincidence I have just ordered it.