Bookshelf:

Botanica North America
The Illustrated Guide to Our Native Plants, Their Botany, History, and
“So dishy, so sexy, and so useful.” What, exactly, could these words be describing? A little black dress, a new pair of pumps – or the latest Hollywood gossip? How about the flowers, plants and trees we find around us each and every day?

Most of us have never thought of the flora of North America in these terms before, but author Marjorie Harris urges her readers to see the other side to what at first glance might be considered “just plants.” And her latest book BOTANICA NORTH AMERICA: The Illustrated Guide to Our Native Plants, Their Botany, History, and the Way They Have Shaped Our World (November 1, 2003; HarperResource, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; $59.95) demands that readers realize the variety, importance, beauty, and downright sensuality of the varied botany of North America.

Not your typical horticultural guide, BOTANICA NORTH AMERICA is a comprehensive volume that covers the native plants of North America and explores each climatic zone with engaging and informative descriptions and more than 250 photographs. Each page pops with unforgettably picturesque and unbelieveably real displays of the beautiful and varied plants of the North American continent. From the trout lily to the cup plant, BOTANICA NORTH AMERICA inlcudes some most exotic and vividly unique of the region’s natural beauty.

Marjorie Harris’s latest book is packed with essential information—a nature lover’s exploration of North American plants climate to climate, providing an overview including each plant's

. physical attributes

· natural history

· common uses

· ethnobotany

Filled with thousands of tidbits of information, both essential facts and little known trivia, BOTANICA NORTH AMERICA is a complete encyclopedia of the wonderfully diverse North American native plants by noted garden writer and enthusiast, Marjorie Harris. This book is sure to delight even the most seasoned botanist with facts about some of the spiciest flora in the world.

About the Author

Marjorie Harris is Canada’s foremost gardening writer. She is the author of many books including Favorite Garden Tips, Seasons of my Garden, The Canadian Garden Collection, and In the Garden: Thoughts on Changing Seasons. She is a gardening columnist for the Globe and Mail and Editor-in-Chief of Gardening Life magazine. She lives in Toronto.

Review from Yvonne Cunnington...

Botanica North America: The Illustrated Guide to Our Native Plants, Their Botany, History, and the Way They Have Shaped Their World ($89.95, Harper Collins) is a departure for Canada's best known garden writer. Weighing in at 665 pages and five years in the making, it's the biggest and most intensive project Marjorie Harris has ever taken on. (Since Marjorie is a friend of mine, I can't pretend this is an objective review.)

The reviews I've read tend to give the impression that Botanica North America is a gardening book, but it's more of a venture into history, geography, botany and enthobotany, than horticulture. Information that gardeners depend on, such as hardiness zones of plants, isn't there, but that doesn't mean gardeners won't be fascinated by this extensive exploration of North American native plants. If you want to grow some of the plants listed-I'm certainly adding to the list of plants I'd like to grow-stick to plants from your region or regions with similar climates, and if you have the right conditions (e.g., shade for woodlanders, along with humus-rich soil with plenty of leaf mould) your plants should be fine.

The book offers photos and the stories of more than 420 plants-trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants-that grew in North America before Europeans arrived; indeed its working title was "Here Before Us". The plants chosen were selected because they are or were in some way valuable to people, whether native peoples or European settlers. Organized geographically, the book ranges from the eastern forests to Florida, from the boreal forest to the prairies, and the southern deserts to California and the Pacific Northwest. The northern tundra is included, as well as a chapter on the "three sisters", the agricultural plants aboriginal peoples depended on: corn, squash and beans. The book is a selective reference, as it would have taken several volumes to encompass all the important plants. Still, there are some surprising omissions, for example, hickory, bitternut and pecan are included in the juglandaceae, but the ubiquitous black walnut isn't.

Lush photographs accompany many of the entries on individual plants, which provide essential information the plant's attributes, history and uses. I especially enjoyed the section on prairie plants-plants I've fallen hopelessly in love with because of my own experience of planting and then seeing a four-acre prairie establish and start to look glorious at my farm over the past four seasons. Marjorie tells how the vast prairie spooked Europeans when they first saw it. "When the Spanish conquistadors rode north from Mexico as far as Kansas in 1541, the grasses reached as high as their horses bellies and, in places, came right to their shoulders. What really scared them was the fact that they left no tracks. As soon as they passed, the grasses sprang right back behind them as though they had never been there." Some explorers got lost in the prairie, never to be seen again.

As the Europeans tilled the prairie, their oxen-pulled iron ploughs snapped like matchsticks when pitted against grasses whose labyrinthine root systems delved down 15 feet. It took John Deere's new forged metal plough to conquer the land. The final irony, of course, is that prairie land, though fertile, is not especially suited to agriculture because periodic droughts are endemic to its climate and geography. The adaptable deep roots of the perennial prairie grasses and forbs had no trouble weathering dryness over centuries, but wheat and other annual grain crops were a different story. Tilling the prairie led to soil erosion and the legendary dust bowls of the 1930s. With the recent prairie drought ongoing, one has to question the sanity of continuing to grow grain there.

As she wrote the book, Marjorie became fascinated by many of the early European plant enthusiasts who often courted hardship and danger to learn as much as they could about the new plants they were encountering. The most compelling stories come from the notes and books of these early botanists. Unfortunately, the publisher has chosen to do an index that includes only the plant names (common and botanical), but not the names of people who first wrote about them. For example, I was hoping to find reference to Catharine Parr Traill, the sister of Susanna Moody (of Roughing it in the Bush fame), and the author of Canadian Wild Flowers (1868). As early as the mid-nineteenth century Parr Traill regretted the almost wholesale destruction of native plants as settlers cleared the land for farming and loggers harvested timbers for eager markets in England. Parr Traill is quoted, several times, but you won't find her name in the index. (Notes on each chapter at the back of the book do detail sources, but names organized alphabetically would have been easier for readers looking for particular sources.)

Botanica North America isn't a book you can read from cover to cover in a couple of goes-instead it's one to keep on your coffee table or at your bedside table to dip into and savour over many weeks. Marjorie draws to our attention the enormous variability and richness of the North American landscape, and one can't help but come away with a sense of regret over how much was destroyed, both deliberately and by accident (and is still being ruined today as suburban sprawl continues to eat up the landscape). Fortunately, awareness of native plants is on the upswing, and this book represents a major contribution to the current revival of interest in these magnificent and under appreciated plants. Bravo, Marjorie!

Art Drysdale also has a review of the book here...

http://www.icangarden.com/document.cfm?task=viewdetail&itemid=4736&categoryid=25


Author : Marjorie Harris
ISBN : 0062702319
Publisher : HarperResource, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
Sugg. Retail Price : $59.95
Available in Hardcover

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