Monday, August 10, 2009

Review "The Secrets of Wildflowers"

As it so happens I read the chapter on milkweed in "The Secrets of Wildflowers" by Jack Sanders and he answered my question on Tapinoma being able to steal milkweed. So far it's a good read but not something I would highly recommend. He goes over how a lot of plants prevent ants from stealing nectar. They produce hairs, the stem is slippery, or in the case of milkweed they secrete a sticky goop as the ant touches the stem. Occasionally he writes ants become stuck to the plant and die but usually they just fall off. For the light footed Tapinoma, which are speedy for their size, they simply out run the glands producing the goop. This explains why I've seen them on other flowers but not other ants.

Just to give a quick review of the book so far. I'm a bit more than half way through now and hope to finish soon. Sanders offers a lot of good info about the plant, mostly how it's been used and stories about it. He explains the Latin names and translates them, offering up reasons why the name may have been picked. When it comes to the plant's herbal use though he in no way advocates the use of it, but usually quotes the comments of countless other authors from their books who do use it. And this is what annoys me. Some of these other authors comment how poisonous certain plants are and how deadly while other authors on the same plant are using it in casseroles and curing diseases. Sanders in no way offers his own opinion on these plants. The info is good to know but when he's quoting so many other authors and saying what books they've written it leaves me wondering "Shouldn't I be reading their book instead?"

The cover shows a nice pictures of Lupinus (perenis I think) but it's no where to be found in his book. Other plants though are a great mix of natives... and a few nonnatives unfortunately. But he does go on to talk about the benefits of both. I find myself bored with a lot of these plants though. Talking about the renaming of the Shasta Daisy over the years is good to know but not fun to read about. Poems and stories are also offered for most plants which is not my thing so I don't hold it against him. It's just really hard to read the lyrics without a melody going on.

Where the book excels is naming some early blooming wildflowers. It's not just Skunk Cabbage blooming in March. There are some really pretty plants out there and I've been itching to find a native alternative to crocuses, tulips, and daffodils for a while now. Many of them are short enough to plant right in the lawn as an added treat. What's more most of them are distributed by ants so they can really go wild in one's yard. Some of the later blooming plants though are nothing new in my eyes, but readers who don't know about Joe Pye Weed, or Butterfly Weed, might be thrilled.

Pictures are excellent in highlighting the plant to the point of making most of them easy to identify. They're pretty to look at too. However, as it's pointed out, this is not a field guide. This is added info after a plant has been identified. He talks about the most common species (usually the one he highlights in each chapter) and goes on to say common ones on the east coast and common ones on the west coast, or generally other plants worth noting. I actually like this and it's done even for of the nonnative imports to list their native counterparts. He also names and numbers the genera and species in a family of plants. Some of these families have more than 10,000 species in them, I had no idea plants were that diverse!

Overall it's a fair read and might make a good gift to someone more experienced with gardening.