Some of us have been lamenting the lack of resources for native plants in our various regions. Go-to books, vendors, and other authorities are hard to come by. There is Alan Armitage’s Native Plants of North America, Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Lanscapes by Robson, Richter, and Filbert; and the excellent database maintained by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
So, though it’s not as precisely targeted as I would like, Donald Leopold’s Native Plants of the Northeast(Timber) is a welcome addition to my growing collection of books that list plants. And, increasingly, that tends to be my favorite type of plant book, other than those of the great personalities of gardening, like Christopher Lloyd. As Leopold mentions in his introduction, he organized the book according to what he likes best to do: browse through plants, with information on how best to cultivate them at hand. I love to browse through plant books, too, especially when they’re as generously illustrated as this one.
The book is organized by type of plant: ferns, grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. The big caveat is that of course the Northeast is a huge area, and what’s native for Maine could be totally invasive and unsuitable for Southwest PA. It’s a problem that common sense and further research can solve, however. Leopold does give broad ranges within the NE area for each plant; many of the habitats stretch far further than what we would define as NE. Plants are kind of independent that way.
The descriptions are matter-of-fact for the most part, but I did notice that Leopold waxes most enthusiastic about trees—as well he should, as they seem the most important natives to plant (which Doug Tallamy so eloquently insists upon in his Bringing Nature Home). Here’s what he says about robinia pseudoacacia: “Black locust … is apparently too familiar to the public to be appreciated . Yet, few trees have such a wonderful flower display, and the ability to restore the most degraded land in eastern North America.” But then he points out its possible insect problems and indicates where it could become invasive.
Forthright, warts-and-all description are common throughout, and at the end of the book a series of lists addresses specific site needs and habitat-providing attributes.
I have two copies of this book (hardcover, large, with great pictures) and would love to send one to a reader who would find it useful or enjoyable. Here are three questions where you must give the botanical or common name of the native plant described (from Leopold’s “attributes” section of his descriptions). Whoever answers them correctly first will get the book.
1. “A fine addition to the shade garden in spring (long terminal clusters of white flowers), summer (rich green flowers along arching stems), and fall (clusters of red fruit).”
2. “Straggling shrub to about 5 feet high and wider, spreading by root suckers; leaves simple, opposite, about 6 inches long; flowers, white, in 4-6-inch-wide, rather flat clusters in summer …”
3. “12 to 36 inches tall; bright orange to red-orange to even yellow flowers in upright, flat clusters in summer; foliage rich green and narrow in shape.”
If it’s too hard (I wouldn’t think so), I’ll just draw from whoever comments.
KYLEE IS CORRECT! Interesting comments. It’s a complex issue, but I think this book, though not perfect, can at least offer some plant selection ideas. Now for finding the plants!