by Richard A Minnich, University of California Press, 2008, 344 pages, $49.95.
This scholarly book by a UC professor of earth sciences surveys historical observations of California flora and compares theories about the original pre-European vegetation and how it has changed through the increase of exotic invasive plants and the “fading” of native plants.
There are reams of data about plants and places, surveys and statistics. As a layperson, I initially found it difficult to grasp the key issues in this tidal wave of information. But gradually a wonderful, sweeping picture of California flora emerged. I saw California before it became heavily populated. I saw the different types of California terrain. I saw the fields of flowers–now so diminished–through the eyes of writers and botanists and visitors from earlier eras.
There is no doubt that the vast fields of wildflowers are gone, that many native plants are at risk, and that we must change the way we manage land to preserve what’s left. But I was left with some hope, having learned that a huge bank of native seed remains in the earth, waiting for drought to kill off some of the invaders and for post-drought rains to revive those seemingly lost natives.