From afar, the Sonoran Desert is a stonewashed, monochromatic expanse. Look closer, and you’ll swear that fantasy writer Lewis Carroll did the landscaping.
rainy seasons each year give the Sonoran Desert stunning
biodiversity and some pretty quirky plant species — many so
specialized to a particular place that budding naturalists are
likely to need help finding them. That’s where
Sonoran Desert Plants comes in.
paperback edition is a revised and expanded update of the classic
1972 guide by Raymond Turner and the late Rod Hastings, which has
stood the test of time. Little wonder: It was the product of a
century of native plant research by the U.S. Geological Survey, the
Carnegie Institution, and universities and plant museums the world
Sonoran Desert Plants covers 339
perennial species, mostly trees, shrubs and succulents. It’s
friendly to nonspecialists: Each listing includes the plant’s
scientific and common names, a distribution map, an elevation
chart, and botanical details such as flowering season, plant
structure, and associated pollinators. About one-quarter of the
entries feature black-and-white photographs.
There’s plenty of useful scientific description, so desert
rats can tell Ferocactus wislizeni from
Ferocactus emoryi while sneaking up on
Idria columnaris — otherwise known as
boojum trees, bizarre columns of green that hold up the heavens.
And there’s a bit of history tossed in, too, so you can
settle a debate about which came first, the boojum tree or
Carroll’s whimsical creature of the same name in "The Hunting
of the Snark."
During an update of this text in 1995, the
authors expressed a sense of urgency about field work — and
about popularizing their results — because they saw that the
fantastical, fragile plants they describe are in trouble.
"An unprecedented influx of people into the region has resulted in
substantial changes in many biotic communities," they wrote. "Basic
knowledge of native species will be an essential tool for creative,
sustainable human habitation of the Sonoran Desert."
It’s a welcome whiff of mission in an otherwise technical
manual — and the call-out to citizen scientists is more
relevant now than ever.
Stalking the boojum in the Sonoran Desert
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