Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast
By Carol Gracie
Review by Maryann Whitmanspring wildflowers

The flowers of early spring hold a special place for gardeners and naturalists. Rising out of the detritus of the preceding fall and winter, before the leaves of trees green in, they herald the return of life to the soil. In the Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast, Carol Gracie lets us experience spring at any time of the year.

In fifty sections, each of which could be a stand-alone monograph, the author covers forty nine species of native early spring flowers. Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), a non-native, is included in order that native celandine-poppy (Stylo pho rum diphyllum) might adequately be differentiated. The book is arranged by the common names of the plants, in alphabetical order. Where she can, the author avoids technical jargon, and defines that which she does use.

Gracie covers naming history, the plant characteristics, reproductive strategies, including photos of pollinators, related species and habitat preferences, range of distribution, special biochemistry, and interactions with local fauna. She has added, where relevant, ethnobotanical uses by indigenous peoples, followed by discussions of the validity of those applications today.

To supplement her own observations, she includes twenty three pages of references. Further, I highly recommend reading the author’s preface to the book, which succinctly covers modern taxonomy and renaming of species and genera.

She says of herself that she is a “visual learner”. As a result she includes images to impart information; photographs richly supplement what is being discussed in the text. Each plant is illustrated with large, clear, colour photographs; twelve of Dutchman’s breeches and twenty-four of trillium, to thirty-nine of violets. The photography makes the book truly special. These photos of twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) exemplify the author’s attention to the details of each plant’s seasonal phases.

Soil removed to expose roots and new shoots.
Soil removed to expose roots and new shoots.
Flowers resemble bloodroot, but the stigmas and stamens  are quite different.
Flowers resemble bloodroot, but the stigmas and stamens
are quite different.
Twinleaf leaves emerge in early spring, red-violet colored.
Twinleaf leaves emerge in early spring, red-violet colored.
Even as blossoms open leaves remain tinged with purple.
Even as blossoms open leaves remain tinged with purple.
Mature green leaves of Jeffersonia diphylla.
Mature green leaves of Jeffersonia diphylla.
Two capsules of twinleaf. Note the line of opening does not completely encircle the fruit.
Two capsules of twinleaf. Note the line of opening does
not completely encircle the fruit.