January 20, 2013

Book Review: Beauty amid winter's chill -- it's a thrill


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"WEEDS AND WILDFLOWERS IN WINTER." By Lauren Brown. The Countryman Press. 252 pages. $16.95

"Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter" was originally published in 1976 and is here reissued in an "updated package." It is unclear to what extent if any the author has revised the text. Her comments on two particular species seem outdated, to say the least. Purple Loosestrife, she tells us, has been "quite successful in establishing itself," which seems to understate both the success and the dire ecological impact of this aggressive invasive plant.

American Bittersweet, Brown cautions, may be disappearing because of over-harvesting for its decorative berries. More likely it has been driven out by competition from and hybridization with its oriental cousin, another frightful invasive that also attracts the uninitiated with its colorful fruit. The publisher would have done a great service by pointing out the difference, or even redacting Brown's cheerful advice to "try not to take too much" and to "try planting it in your garden."

Nonetheless, it is hard not to agree with the great Roger Tory Peterson's comment when this elegant book first came out. "For many years, I have wished for a book like this." Here it is again, so take it with you the next time you venture out into the cold.

Thomas Urquhart is a former director of Maine Audubon and author of "For the Beauty of the Earth."


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