Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia and Surrounding States is the first field guide devoted exclusively to Georgia’s wildflowers, while also including a large number of plants found in neighboring states.
Were you surprised that Georgia did not have a specific field guide like this before?
Yes, I was really surprised! All the states around us—South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina and even Alabama and North Florida—have all had field guides for years, if not decades, and why we didn’t have one for GA, I don’t know. Georgia has an incredible number of native plants species, up to about 4,000, and another 1,000 non-native plants. It’s a really diverse state and we needed our own field guide.
What was it like when you started to dig into all these different species? You picked 770, right?
Right. Well, it was pretty exciting and also it was hard because there are so many plants to choose from. What I tried to do was to choose the 700 or so species that the average person is likely to encounter if they are out on a hike or a walk through the woods or even driving down highways. Some of our showiest wildflowers pop up along roadsides. For instance, most people will know cornflower or golden rods. I tired to include a whole range of plants that just an average wildflower lover might run across.
Was this designed to be accessible to your average Georgian?
Very much so. I used English measurements rather than metric, even though as a scientist, I think the metric system works better, but most people don’t know it. I also tried to use common, every day terms instead of technical botanical terms, so people would be comfortable using the book.
How does the community benefit from having this resource?
I hope that it will help folks learn more about their environment, which includes wildflowers, and motivates them to work for the conservation of plant diversity as the population nationwide grows, especially in Georiga. We are a fast growing part of the country; we lose our wildflower habitats. They get turned into parking lots and residential developments, and I hope that by learning to know and recognize plant habitats, people will be more motivated to conserve them.
It took you two and a half years to do this. When you were in the middle of this, did it feel like it was ever going to end?
No, it didn’t sometimes (laughs). I did a book on rare plant species years ago and there were about 240 plants in that book. So, I only had to do everything 240 times. But multiply that by three, and it was kind of stunning how much work 770 species involved. But it was fun and I learned a whole lot.
Do you have any favorites on that list?
People always ask me what my favorite tree or wildflower is, and I think it’s whatever I’m looking at at any given moment. Georgia’s plants have so many interesting adaptations to all the different habitats we have in the state. However, what really fascinates me is how plants are adapted to live in really extreme habitats, like granite outcrops or beaches or mountain tops, or adapted to different pollinators. So whatever environment I’m standing in, those are the plants that I like at that moment.
Who helped with the photography for the book?
Most of the photography in the book were taken by Hugh and Carol Nourse, who are dear friends to me personally and have been really good friends to the Botanical Garden for decades. They were very helpful in putting this book together. Hugh and Carol basically turned over their archive of photographs to the Garden. So I had a wide range of images to choose from. For the plants that they had not photographed, there were several other people who made their photographs available to us from around the state.