Sunday, January 26, 2014

Native Plants of the Southeast (the book)

Another cold spell is upon us and it’s a good time to stay inside. Luckily for me, a new book showed up and I immersed myself in ideas for new plants. The book is Native Plants of the Southeast, and it offers a look at 460 species for the garden with luscious pictures and fulsome descriptions.

The book starts out with an extensive section about native plants in general – what is one, why grow them – as well as a thorough discussion of southeastern habitats and the types of plants that usually grow in those habitats. Understanding habitat is always important. 

The introduction continues with comments on how native plants get into cultivation, thoughts on incorporating them into landscapes, and factors to be considered when selecting plants. The author, Larry Mellichamp, is a long-time advocate for native plants and has been involved in the Cullowhee conference on native plants in North Carolina for many years.

The next 300 pages are the fun page part. The plants are grouped into sections and each section has an introduction.  The sections are: Ferns and Clubmosses; Grasses and Grasslike Plants; Aquatic Plants; Bog Plants; Wildflowers; Vines; Shrubs; Conifers; and Trees. Some helpful notes are found in these introductory sections (such as when to prune some of the most common shrubs in the Shrubs section).

Each plant, 460 in all, includes the following details:

Name (scientific and common)
Habitat and Range
Landscape Uses
Ease of Cultivation
Availability (rare, common, etc.)
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia)

Some of the things that I particularly liked about this book are: the inclusion of plants that are not considered common such as kidney-leaved Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia) and Georgia plume (Elliottia racemosa); and the beautiful pictures which often feature interactions with birds and insects.

There is a lot to dream about in this book, and I hope it will inspire many folks to seek out new things.

I was also glad to see the section at the end entitled “Plants for Special Situations and Purposes.” Here you can find lists of plants for sunny wet soil, shady wet soil, dry soil, butterflies, hummingbirds and several other categories. A concept of “lists” is one that I have always enjoyed because people are often looking for something to “fit” a situation.

The ratings concept (each plant is rated 1-4 stars) is a little subjective. While there are some ratings that I definitely agree with - Magnolia macrophylla has four stars - there are others that I would question (Fagus grandifolia only has 2 stars). So feel free to recognize that those ratings probably have some wiggle room, depending on who you ask (and the author admits that).  In addition, each of us has to consider our own situation. We may not have the right conditions for any particular plant no matter how many stars it has.

As always, do your own research on what is appropriate and available. Enjoy!


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