Inspirational nature writing doesn’t come nearly as often as we need it, but there’s a new book out now that is excellent for folks in the Southeast. It is a book rich with research, yet engaging to the average plant-minded citizen, plus a dip into the lives of some of the people who champion plant and habitat conservation.
I thoroughly enjoyed author Georgann Eubanks’s profiles of 12 plants across 10 chapters; these chapters don’t just inform but they seek to help raise our awareness and appreciation of efforts to conserve plants and habitat in the South.
Yadkin River goldenrod (Solidago plumosa) and Heller’s blazingstar (Liatris helleri) is the first chapter and it starts with botanizing in late 1891 in NC with J.K. Small and A.A. Heller. This story hooked me from the start with the feel of being there followed by the present-day efforts of folks like Alan Weakley, who found the goldenrod again in 1994.
Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) was discovered by an amateur botanist in 1833, overharvested and then attacked by a blight perhaps brought over on imported plants. The chapter focuses on the efforts of a local group, the Torreya Keepers, and conservation organizations such as Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) that are growing more plants and installing them in protected areas. Learning about folks that are so passionate and dedicated to a specific plant was inspirational and heart-warming.
Alabama canebrake pitcher plant (Sarracenia alabamensis) and green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila) – this chapter includes fascinating details on these very unique plants, bringing a new appreciation for some of our special native plants. Here again, the interviews with passionate young people, ABG, and Nature Conservancy staff provide both hope and reality in the story of protecting and propagating these plants.
Miccosuke gooseberry (Ribes echinellum) is a prickly shrub that is clinging to its existence after surviving thousands of years. In this chapter, history once again provides the backdrop to the plant’s story, a most appealing combination to me. I was surprised to realize that I have seen this plant myself, on a 2013 trip with the Georgia Botanical Society to Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve. I certainly don’t remember realizing what a special plant it was (but then those trips tend to have so much to discover).
|Miccosuke gooseberry (Ribes echinellum)|
Shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) or Cahaba Lily has a passionate group of folks looking out for it in South Carolina, Georgia, and especially Alabama. I grow the related Hymenocallis occidentalis, one that is happy to grow in soil, unlike the Shoals species that needs flowing water.
Morefield’s Leather flower (Clematis morefieldii) discovered relatively recently in 1982, one of many special native Clematis that are being classified more recently. My favorite part of this chapter was learning how new plant locations were found by creating “a spatially explicit predictive map of possible sites.” The people involved in conservation are amazing!
Michaux’s sumac (Rhus michauxii) is a story that I’ve read about before because it is one based in Georgia, but the efforts of dedicated folks to make a difference for this plant is worth reading in more detail. Mincy Moffett of Georgia DNR and Jenny Cruse-Sanders of ABG were part of a team to bring two disjunctive populations together: females from Newton County and males in Elbert County. According to this article, there has been some success (fruit!). The chapter also includes some details on the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA).
River cane (Arundinaria gigantea) was a chapter where I learned a lot – such as how widespread it used to be (acres and acres of it!), how much it was used by indigenous peoples, as well as how very important it is to its native ecosystems. It clearly should be used more in conservation efforts.
Schweinitz’s sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii) is a plant that I’ve heard about from my NC native plant friends. This story highlights the importance of "restoring and maintaining open grasslands, meadows, and savannas" even at the county level, demonstrating that it’s not just federal and state level efforts that matter.
American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana) is a loner that I had never heard of. The only species in its genus, this prairie perennial also depends on open habitats. This chapter was a perfect one to showcase the efforts of Dwayne Estes, The Prairie Preacher, and his work with the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI). Many plants are waiting to be rediscovered (or discovered) as we better understand what was here before we arrived.
I hope these little summaries whet your appetite to read this book. It is a well-written mix of plant specifics, history, and profiles of dedicated people. The extensive research is reflected in the bibliography by chapter in the back. I enjoyed reading about some of the folks whose names I’ve heard for many years. The book covers people and plants throughout NC, GA, SC, AL, FL, and TN. I also like the way she weaves topics from one chapter into the others, a bit of a reminder of how interconnected the ecosystem is.
The thoughtful Epilogue at the end is worth reading too. It includes some additional conversation quotes that she didn’t use in the book. Page 221-22 has a list of ways that ordinary folks can help. The Acknowledgement section includes a bit about how she chose the plants to include. It's all good!