Garden Gear - Gardening Books

Book Review: Rare Vascular Plants of Alberta

Rare Vascular Plants of Alberta
by the Alberta Native Plant Council,
University of Alberta Press,
softcover, 484 pages, $29.95.

With so few rarities in our own gardens, it seems the plantsmen and women in Alberta have been botanizing at an accelerated pace. The Alberta Native Plant Council has harnessed the energies of 34 editorial contributors to amass a collection of 485 plant entries for Rare Vascular Plants of Alberta. Almost every plant in the garden falls into the vascular category, which is scientifically defined as any plant with tissue that carries water and nutrients throughout its stems and leaves.

Time spent with a book like this brings some perspective to gardening and distracts us from the matter of oversized peonies. Consider the one-flowered cancer-root (Orobanche uniflora), a delicate parasitic herb with charming, five-lobed, white-throated, purplish flowers of the broomrape family. “Broomrapes,” it says, “lack chlorophyll and cannot produce their own food through photosynthesis. Instead they join to the roots of host plants, which supply all of their nutrients.” Isn't that clever? And then, there is the salt-marsh sand spurry (Spergularia salina), which thrives in saline mud and has been introduced to colonize the salt-strewn shoulders of Ontario highways, where little else prevents erosion.

My personal favourite is the section on ferns and fern allies. What a straightforward term for all those odd little plants growing alongside ferns, but not of them. Straightaway I recognized bog club-moss that grows in a dark and damp spot at the bottom of my garden. Many of these rare Albertan gems have insinuated themselves eastward, making this a diverting book for those who travel the garden slowly and observe closely.

A generous section of line drawings, identifying the plant parts of many common wild flowers, is particularly useful, as are the excellent colour photographs of each plant and the superb glossary. All in all, a gift from Alberta.
-- Judith Adam

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