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Ozark Wildflowers: An Ecological Guide to Flowering Plants in the Region

Ozark Wildflowers: An Ecological Guide to Flowering Plants in the Region
Thomas E. Hemmerly
University of Georgia Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 256 p., $24.95

Lately, there seem to be many wildflower guides being published with glossy color photographs depicting the most photogenic species of a particular region. These guides are targeted for the local amateur naturalist or homeowner interested in knowing a few of the wildflowers in their neighborhood. Such a book could also find its way to the shelf of professional botanists or naturalists in the region as an occasional reference.

In many ways, author Thomas Hemmerly's Ozark Wildflowers is just such a guide. It is limited to the more photogenic species of the Ozark region (grasses and sedges are not included). Like most other guides of this nature, it contains an introductory explanation of the ecology of the region, with brief descriptions of the natural plant communities. Although his introduction is brief, the author provides a clear and concise review of the geologic and recent history of the Ozarks and its ecology, and good descriptions of the natural communities of this floristically rich area of the country.

The wildflower identification part of the guide, which constitutes the bulk of the book, is typically organized by flower (or fruit) color and is further separated into monocots or dicots. For each entry, photographs are used instead of line drawings. Although color photographs are more attractive, sometimes a good line drawing is more useful in identifying a plant because it can more effectively represent the general characteristics of the species, whereas a photograph depicts the characteristics of a single plant. Also, it is difficult to focus on all the details needed to identify a plant in a single photograph. Multiple photographs featuring various characteristics of the plant needed for identification would have been more useful.

The taxonomic descriptions for plants that I reviewed (I am not familiar with the entire flora of this region) were adequate. Brief descriptions of other similar species improve the usefulness of this guide. Each entry also describes the plant's habitat; this information must be what qualifies it as "an ecological guide." What I find the most interesting feature in the book is the anecdotal information, such as historical or current uses of a plant or how a plant received its name. For instance, Mr. Hemmerly writes under "doll's-eyes" (Actaea alba), "the common name refers to the previous use of the shiny white berries in homemade dolls." A commonly known fact about this plant that he fails to mention, but probably should because of its relationship to the topic, is the fact that the fruits of A. alba are poisonous, hence the other common name of "white baneberry."

Despite this omission, Mr. Hemmerly provides lots of interesting anecdotal information where appropriate. He does not bore us with the inclusion of obscure references for plant uses, which probably could be made for almost all of the plants listed. At the end of the book, the author provides a glossary of terms and a list of natural areas in the Ozarks that one can visit, with directions and main attractions.

Popular photographic wildflower guides have their limitations as taxonomic references. Inevitably, you will eventually come across a species that is not included in the book and will need to go elsewhere to identify it. However, as wildflower guides go, Ozark Wildflowers is better than many others I have seen.

— David Sollenberger, Ecologist, Chicago Botanic Garden