Wildflowers Across America - a Book Review
A Unique Book and Author
As a butterfly gardener and wildflower enthusiast, one of my favorite books is Wildflowers Across America by Lady Bird Johnson and Carlton B Lees, published in 1988. While many of my books and literature are identification guides and how-to garden with native plants, this one has a more relaxed, holistic look at wildflowers. Certainly, the book pours out close-up photos of beautiful wildflowers, but they are intertwined with other facets of the book.
About Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson describes her love of wildflowers since she was a child, through formal education, to being the First Lady. Being the First Lady, she traveled the nation extensively, but always kept an eye out for wildflower landscapes. She embarked on the Beautification campaign in Washington D.C. with wildflowers. It was, however, after the presidency and her return to Texas that her efforts became concentrated. She worked closely with the Texas Highway Department, a branch of state government that had been reclaiming roadsides with wildflowers since 1929 (If you get a chance to travel to eastern central Texas, go in the spring if at all possilbe; you will be richly rewarded. If you already live in Texas, well lucky you!). In 1982 she donated 60 acres of land and seed money to establish the non-profit National Wildflower Research Center. The center pursues knowledge of the propagation and growth of wildflowers and serves as a national clearinghouse for those interested in re-establishing more native landscapes.
Coauthor Carlton Bell
Carlton Bell includes a very informative chapter on early botanists in North America. Most were European and viewed the New World as a treasure of undescribed plant species. He records where they traveled and the work they preformed. The explorer's names will sound familiar if you have ever keyed plants in a formal manual. The explorers often named the plants after themselves.
Wildflowers and Ecosystems
The strength of the book is linking the wildflowers with their respective ecosystems. The ten floristic provinces of the United States by Henry Gleason and Arthur Cronquist are reproduced and described. An explanation is given on how soils, climate, plant physiology and morphology all play a role in defining plant communities.
Another chapter is dedicated to the five climatic regions in the United States describing annual precipitation and monthly distribution for each region. The distinction is made for each region where evaporation is less than annual precipitation, fairly equal, or greater. How these regions were settled and the various cultivars people brought with them are also explained.
The remainder of the book is a regional portfolio of wildflowers. The photos are marvelous in and of themselves, but having previously read about the author, botantist/explorers, floristic provinces, and climatic regions, the reader feels more connected to the wildflowers. Understanding Lady Bird Johnson's campaign to bring these native wildflowers plants back into more urban settings becomes more compelling.
This makes a great coffee table book. In fact, that is where I found it at my in-laws. It is incredibly informative, yet relational and a pleasure to read. For the uniformed, it will certainly bring an appreciation of wildflowers. For the wildflower enthusist, it will bring connection and familiarity for the places you have visited and a desire to travel to the places you have not.