Book Review by Jan William
“Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians” by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart
“Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians” is a long title for one of my favorite books in my gardening library. Most people consider this book by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart the ultimate guide for identifying wildflowers in Tennessee. It is to my knowledge the most complete and detailed book in its field.
For the students that attended the Dickson Arboretum tour this was the book that Gail showed you, and that she used on the trail to identify a wild flower blooming along the way that one of you asked about.
The layout of this book is ideal for use by the amateur as well as the experienced native wild flower searcher. The easiest and quickest way to use this book for amateurs like myself is to start with the Color Key section where pictures of blooms are arranged by color, in all shades of that color like pink, blue, etc., as well as color combinations like Yellow and White, Pink/Purple and White, even as detailed as Green/Tan/Brown/Maroon. This makes the initial identification so much easier when you have no idea of what you are looking at. Your flower will be identified by name which will also include the plant family.
After finding a picture closely resembling what you are looking at in the wild, you are then directed to a page with a larger bloom picture which includes the
leaves and stem of the flower. After you have checked the pictured plant at this page identification, and if it still doesn’t match exact enough for you, just continue checking under that plant family and there will be more blooms pictured and more plant family descriptions.
An example of how to do a more exact identification is my finding of a wild violet plant with a yellow bloom growing at the foot of a large oak tree in my yard. I was used to the wild violets with the solid purple/blue or blue and white blooms, but this one had a YELLOW bloom. I quickly grabbed my Wildflowers of Tennessee book and immediately found a picture under the yellow section for a Halberdleaf Yellow Violet. After turning to Page 98 I was disappointed to find that the larger picture of this plant with the leaves did not exactly match my plant discovery, and under the information on “Where Found” it also did not seem to fit my plant.
But I continued searching under the section where I had been directed, “Violets & Relatives, Violet Family”. I very quickly found two more pictures of yellow Violets, and with further comparison of leaf and bloom description and the photo I was able to narrow down my find to a Roundleaf Yellow Violet.
Under the more detailed description of a particular plant there is general information given first, then descriptions of Leaves, Flowers, Fruits, and Where Found. This is followed by Notes that gives even more interesting information ranging from the meaning of the name, to specific plant characteristics. For instance, under the Aster or Sunflower Family, Spotted Gnawed, we are told that the seeds of this plant can remain viable for over 5 years in the soil, and the plant produces a toxin in its foliage and roots, which when released retards the growth of surrounding plants, thus allowing the Spotted Knapweed to spread more rapidly with less competition for sun, water, and nutrients.
This book is a great book just to peruse for its treasure trove of information on wildflowers, even if you are not looking to identify a plant. The names alone of plants are interesting. Hairyjoint Meadow Parsnip, Lesser Rattlesnake Plantain, Fairy Wand Devil’s Bit, and Fly Poison are just a few that make you want to stop and read more.
This book is just chock full of information about Wildflowers of Tennessee it is impossible for me to adequately give a complete and thorough review for you all, but hope you will find this information tantalizing enough to seek out your own copy. Club member Linda Hartmann informed me she has used it extensively at her place in identifying plants in and around her yard. This book is a go-to book for both and native and non-native Tennesseans interested in our natural habitat. My new autographed copy that I purchased at the Nashville Lawn and Garden Show some years ago cost $22.95, but good used copies can be purchased through Thriftbooks.com, Amazon Used Books, or other used book sites.
Happy reading everyone.