Wildflowers of Northern California’s Wine Country and North Coast Ranges, by Reny Parker, New Creek Ranch Press, 2007, 282 pages, $24.95 www.renyswildflowers.com
Reny Parker is passionate about wildflowers. For 17 years, she has found and photographed them in their wild habitats around her home territory. Those images form the heart of her new pictorial and descriptive guide to 358 species of native flowers from Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. Within its pages are representatives of 83 plant families, mostly annual wildflowers but also woody perennials, vines, shrubs, trees, grasses, ferns, and several problematic exotic weeds.
Parker has made it easy for even a beginner to find a particular flower in the guide. Plants are grouped by flower color and by number of petals. Species that appear similar are placed near each other, so they can be compared easily.
Nontechnical descriptions of the species, composed by some of the region’s best native plant specialists, accompany the photographs, often with additional information about a plant’s rarity, natural and human history, and garden-worthiness, and always including bloom time and native counties. Other tidbits of information are fun and interesting: Who knew that sneezeweed (Helenium bolanderi) got its common name from its former use as powdered snuff? Or that bitter root (Lewisia rediviva), named for explorer Meriwether Lewis (who described the plant as “naucious to my pallate”), was a food staple for Native Americans? Following the main body of the book are lists and maps of wildflower hot spots in the four counties.
Wildflower guide photos are often more about education than artistry, with poor lighting, competing backgrounds, and repetitive bull’s-eye placement of their subjects. In comparison, Parker’s beautifully composed images stand out as lovely little works of art. Each reflects Parker’s devotion to her subject and her goal of inspiring others “to care for these delicate gifts of nature and preserve them and their habitats for future generations.”