Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Natural Communities of Georgia (the book)

For the unknowing, land is land. We walk on it, we drive through it and, when we want to build something, we scrape the plants off it. For those that have come to appreciate it, every piece of land is different (although perhaps similar within a given area). Travel through Georgia and you will come to visit a wide range of “natural communities” and appreciate just how different they can be. These communities are unique in the variety of plants and animals that live there, the weather, and even the rocks and landforms that shape them.

We may not all get a chance to visit each of these communities. Georgia is a big state! We have a chance to explore and learn about them through a book recently published: The Natural Communities of Georgia by Leslie Edwards, Jonathan Ambrose, and L. Katherine Kirkman. Beautiful photographs are provided by Hugh and Carol Nourse.

The authors have taken a subject that might otherwise be dry and technical and turned it into an easy to understand collection of details that provide a superb reference for both the hobbyist and the professional.

The first two chapters give an overview of Georgia’s Natural Heritage, some of the conservation challenges in the state, and the physical characteristics present. Statistics like total acreage and conservative acreage by region are included. Chapter 2 provides many excellent definitions such as soil types, rock types, hydrology concepts, wetland types and others. 

The bulk of the over 650-page book is devoted to exploring 5 ecoregions. The book defines “ecoregions” as “broad physical areas with common … characteristics such as geology, physiography, soils, climate, hydrology, wildlife and vegetation.” The five ecoregions are: Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, Piedmont, Coastal Plain and Maritime. For reference purposes, those of us that live near Atlanta are in the Piedmont, and those in coastal communities like Savannah are in the Maritime ecoregion. Areas like Columbus, Macon and Augusta are in the Coastal Plain, just south of the Fall Line, a 20 mile wide steep change in elevation between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain ecoregions.

Each ecoregion chapter is divided into broadly defined natural community groupings that are found within that ecoregion. In an effort to illustrate how the ecoregions are covered in depth, I will outline the 90 pages of Chapter 5 - the Piedmont ecoregion.  

As I said, each natural community grouping is broadly defined; the details are found in the more specific natural communities within it. For the Piedmont ecoregion, 3 groupings are defined; those groups and the natural communities within them are:

  • Upland Forests and Woodlands
    • Mesic Forests
    • Oak-Pine-Hickory Forests
    • Pine-Oak Woodlands and Forests
    • Montane Longleaf Pine Woodlands and Forests
  • Prairies, Glades, Barrens and Rock Outcrops
    • Prairies and Savannas
    • Glades, Barrens and Woodlands
    • Granite Outcrops
    • Ultramafic Barrens and Woodlands
    • Cliffs, Bluffs, and Outcrops
  • Wetlands
    • Flatwoods
    • Seepage Wetlands
    • Floodplains, Bottomlands, and Riparian Zones
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - characteristic of Piedmont
Mesic Forests and just starting to bloom now.

Each community is then covered in detail: an introduction that summarizes the key traits of the community; physical setting and ecology; vegetation; animals; a featured animal and a featured place. The featured place description is a real treat: it describes a site where an example of that community can be viewed by the public and includes directions to it. Sounds like “road trip!” Each community also has a section of characteristic plants.

Reading the chapter for my own ecoregion was a good way to appreciate the depth of information provided in this book. I was surprised to realize how close I live to the upper edge of the Piedmont ecoregion.  My county is actually split between the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge ecoregions. I certainly look forward to learning more about the other ecoregions.

Lespedeza (Lespedeza virginica) - characteristic of Pine-Oak
Woodlands and Forests; Pickett's Mill Battlefield

The text of the book is very easy to read. The main body does not contain scientific names for the plants. This allows the reader to easily process the information being presented. Appendix 2 contains a cross reference of common name to scientific name for plants so that any plant discussed in the text can be identified to scientific name if desired. The photographs compliment the text very well and are all crisp and colorful.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) - characteristic of
Floodplains, Bottomlands and Riparian Zones

The other reference sections are thick and detailed: an appendix of animal names, literature cited (excellent for those doing further research), a comparison of community names in this book with other resources (how many books have left you to figure that out on your own?) and more.

This is a wonderful resource for the people of Georgia – it should be in the hands of every person in Georgia that appreciates the uniqueness of our natural communities and in every public and school library.


  1. Great Review, Thank You.

    Varying regions explains why Georgia Native Plant Society gave over my region to Florida Native Plant Society. Few of my natives grow in Atlanta.

  2. I picked this book up at the State Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago. It is excellent! Nice review!