This is the second part of MSA's annotated bibliography of plant material source materials. Part 1 is here.
The Real Deal
And now, let’s leap into the world of more recently published reference books. Gil Nelson leads the way with two important volumes: The Shrubs and Woody Vines of Florida (1996) and The Trees of Florida (1994). Both organize plants by Family, as botanists are wont to do, and both include the necessary line drawings illustrating differentiating sexual parts as well as leaf structure. These aren’t volumes aimed towards the designer: they are necessary volumes for the designer correctly wanting to exhaustively understanding plant material.
Over the course of the last two decades, we have watched with some bewilderment as native plant material has come to occupy a preferential pedestal of quality. The movement persists, with several excellent books documenting the inhabitants. Again Gil Nelson comes to the fore with Florida’s Best Native Landscape Plants (2003), a compilation of 200 species from across the state. Naturally, many of these plants will not be suitable to those of us in the southern part of the state: the title is a little fanciful. However, the enclosed data is worth the price of admission for the designer with the native prejudice or similarly inclined client.
While on the subject of native plants, certainly Rufino Osorio’s A Gardener's Guide to Florida’s Native Plants (2001)belongs on your bookshelf. Osorio includes 350 species, and the thing I appreciate is the extra effort into describing the more colorful natives, as well as frank comments, such as this one forCalycanthus floridus: “…often straggling or irregular shaped plant…” in the native habitat, but “…cultivated plants have an attractive, dense, rounded growth habit…”.
And the description of the native habitat is immensely useful to the planting designer, a creature finely and correctly attuned to plant relationships.
Let’s don’t forget Alfred Graf’s Exotica (1959-1976), about as prodigious source book as exists for the world of tropical plants. Here’s the full title: Exotica: Pictorial Cyclopedia of Exotic Plants from Tropical and Near-Tropical Regions. With so many covered plants, detail is still surprisingly robust.
I don’t think I have anything to add, except this: when I was a much younger person I would occasionally find a copy of this gem in an office or library, and would dawdle for hours, much the same as I would over a seed catalog. But Exotica! What a beguiling book, with enthralling details about faraway places that made the book irresistible and the mind wonder, fertile fodder for the plantsman.
It still is. This edition is out of print, but other, newer, and alas shorter versions are available. A fourth edition is now available.
Let’s also mention Uhl and Dransfield’s Genera Palmarum (1987) with illustrations by Marion Sheehan; and if you recognize the surname, that’s because Thomas Sheehan is also widely published in the field, and is mentioned above.
The subtitle for this book is “A Classification of Palms”, and that is what it is: a book intended for the scientific and reference community, with authoritative botanical descriptions; and in case you’ve never run across any of this terse and dense descriptive writing, enjoy this small piece, please:
“ Robust, solitary, unarmed, pleonanthic…palms. Inflorescences solitary, axillary, interfolier, ± erect…Staminate flowers…[with] the antesepalous filaments free, the anterpetalous adnate to the petals or connate into an androecial ring…”
At least it’s not in Latin, as it might have been until recently.
This is an important book for the serious gardener, but clearly a second-level purchase.
A Few Remaining and Useful Titles
Fred Berry’s Heliconia: An Identification Guide (1991) will help you wend your way through the confusing world of Heliconia species and varieties, with excellent photography. Somewhat dated in the fast-moving world of Heliconia hybrids, it remains a solid base.
W. Arthur Whistler’s Tropical Ornamentals (2000) is a breezy, accessible, and dependable secondary data source with very good photographs, a useful Botanical Field Key, and a good discussion of 20 common plant families that will help a neophyte– and those more seasoned, I suspect– understand why botanists insist on familial identifications. Keep in mind that this is a field guide, intended to help identify plants that you don't know.
I don’t know what to make of Betrock’s continuing efforts in the field of plant material identification and photography. Alan Meerow’s Betrock’s Landscape Palms [2006 ]is on that imprint, obviously. By and large the photos are fine, and the descriptions accurate, but binding and printing quality are inexplicably poor. Still, it’s accessible and cost effective and worthy of consideration.
And, I do admire Robert Haehle and Joan Brookwell’s Native Florida Plants , recently updated with a 2004 edition. Photos are good, description fields simple, but: well, there are many questionable inclusions, plants certainly native but one wonders why they are in a book sub-titled ‘Low-Maintenance Landscaping and Gardening’. Take, for example, both Red Mangrove, and Myrtle Oak, two lovely plants difficult to imagine in any sort of cultivated landscape. These are important plants, certainly, but
more suitable for a field guide than as fodder for the interested homeowner.
Finally, the hugely important The Bamboos of the World by Dieter Ohrnberger (1999) a scientific tome dense with description and including historical names for the various bamboos. A second-level purchase aimed largely at academicians and researchers.
In Part Three, we will look at some of the online references available (not yet published).