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Clark, H.O., Jr. 2010. Review of California’s Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy and Biological Invasions by Richard A. Minnich. Western North American Naturalist 70:132-134.
Western North American Naturalist 70(1), © 2010, pp. 132–134 BOOK REVIEW California’s Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy that bunchgrasses were never a prominent and Biological Invasions. 2008. Richard A. component of California’s vegetative cover Minnich. University of California Press, and rejected the bunchgrass idea based on cli- Berkeley. $49.95; 360 pages. ISBN 978-0- mate. Minnich quotes Twisselmann’s A Flora 520-25353-7. of Kern County, California (1967:91–92) on page 174: Richard A. Minnich, professor in the Depart- Various authorities [including Munz ment of Earth Sciences at the University of and Keck] conclude that this region California, Riverside, has produced a valuable was once covered by a perennial contribution to the growing body of literature grassland that has been destroyed by attempting to capture the botanical appear- grazing. Impressive evidence can be ance of pre-European California. The book [marshalled] to reject this assumption; has 5 chapters, 23 figures (maps and photos), [I] doubt that the scant rainfall could 18 data-rich tables, and 14 pages of botanical ever have supported a perennial grass- references, which are a treasure unto them- land . . . It is probably safe to assume selves. The 5 chapters are arranged chrono- that the primitive flora was largely logically, starting with California’s vegetation one of native annuals that still occur in the 16th and 17th centuries and ending with but whose number has been greatly its current vegetation. reduced by the dominance of immi- Minnich tries to make a very strong case grant annuals. that pre-European California was a wildflower paradise and not a bunchgrass prairie. Previous Minnich writes that the main goal for his authors, such as Clements (1934) and Heady book is “to assess pre-European herbaceous (1977), argue that pre-European California vegetation and its transformation to modern was dominated by bunchgrasses. But as Min- exotic grasslands” (page 7). Minnich tackles nich points out, this hypothesis was “created his goal in a methodical fashion, using a vari- by range managers and scientists influenced by ety of investigative tools to accurately describe the Dust Bowl tragedy of the 1930s, to a point the botanical condition of pre-European Cali- that it became an idée fixe that has kept blind- fornia. He begins by examining the Quater- ers on us” (page 262). Clements, for example, nary period and the last glacial maximum to wrote his 1934 paper during the Dust Bowl ascertain if his hypothesis is correct. He states era of politics that encouraged government that “wildflowers had long been part of Cali- influence on and interference with science. fornia’s heritage” and found that “the same Minnich, now writing over half a century later, genera of desert flowers, many closely related states that “the bunchgrass-grazing model is to species found along the coast, have been a classic case of too little data and too many recorded in pack rat middens since the past ideas” (page 181). Pleistocene” (page 178). However, Minnich is not the first to sug- Another set of tools Minnich uses to reach gest that bunchgrasses did not dominate the into the past and provide early California botan- early California landscape. Aptly included in ical descriptions is the Spanish exploration the book is the botanical wisdom and insight journals and Spanish botanical survey efforts. of W.L. Jepson and E.C. Twisselmann. Jep- He focuses especially on the Viceroy Mandate, son (1925) concluded that much of the Central which recorded the local resources for mission Valley of California was dominated by native purposes, such as vegetation, pasture, timber, forbs rather than perennial bunchgrasses. and fuelwood. Within these journals and survey Rancher-botanist Twisselmann (1967) asserted documents, he carefully evaluates what early 132 2010] BOOK REVIEWS 133 Spanish explorers meant when they used words traveled to the Mojave Desert and the Ante- like zacate and pasto in their writings. Several lope Valley near Lancaster to enjoy the floral English translations of Spanish journals typi- displays. cally dismissed these 2 terms as simply mean- At the end of chapter 4, from pages 225 to ing “grassland” (see Brown 2001), but is this a 258 (section entitled “Historical Development fair translation? Minnich thinks not and applies of Exotic Annual Grassland”), Minnich pro- new light to the botanical wording used in vides an excellent summary of his entire book. these journals. We soon learn that these words The summary is eloquently written and could can actually mean “forbs,” “pasture,” “green stand alone as an exceptional essay on the food for cattle,” “herbage,” and “pasturage and topic. Chapter 5, entitled “Lessons from the grass” (page 26), which may paint a much dif- Rose Parade” (pages 259–264), wraps up his ferent early-Californian floral landscape. treatise with a soapbox tone, urging proper A very clever investigative tool Minnich management and conservation efforts to pre- uses is his analysis of mission adobe bricks, serve what remains of the Californian native which contained plant material to prevent bind- vegetation. It also recommends reimplement- ing and shrinkage. Upon examination, these ing spring burning, invasive species removal, bricks hold an important record of the herba- and seasonal grazing, with the general goals of ceous material available to missionaries. Weeds landscape-level conservation and revitaliza- of all kinds were used, and as a result, the tion of the native seeds that are banked in mil- bricks contain a random sample of the local lions of acres of degraded California lands. He flora. Interestingly, no bunchgrasses were found. points out on page 258 that After the Spanish period, Minnich examines the numerous records and journals provided since 1960, bromes and slender wild by pre- and post-Gold Rush explorers such as oats have come to dominate all of Brewer, Frémont, King, Hittell, Muir, Wilke, interior California, with Franciscan and Muñoz. The major contrast between the oats and black mustard still prevailing journaling periods is worth noting. The early along the coast. . . . Tall-statured Spanish journals are nonscientific and limited bromes and oats tend to dominate taxonomically, but they do provide a system- in years with high rainfall, while atic spatial sampling between San Diego and Erodium, Schismus, clovers, and sum- San Francisco—a sampling unparalleled by mer mustard tend to dominate in any survey of California until the late 19th drought. Wildflowers now persist spar- century (pages 68 and 171). On the other hand, ingly in semiarid regions such as rigorous scientific botanical surveys during the Carrizo Plain, the southern San the 1840s were conducted on an already cont- Joaquin Valley, and interior valleys aminated landscape. Minnich believes that of southern California, with their although these efforts are scientifically sound, abundances increasing after invasive they do not accurately reflect the botanical “crashes” from drought or spring fires. landscape of pre-European California. The In the past, wildflower abundance was intercontinental transfer of new species that proportional to total annual precipita- would naturally occur over millions of years tion and well-distributed rains. Today, was instead compacted into 2 centuries, with wildflower splashes occur only rarely, several species reducing or displacing the in the first wet years following long- indigenous flora throughout the state. This term drought. would certainly skew the botanical inventory Although Minnich successfully takes us on of late-arriving botanists. a journey from the wildflower paradise of pre- Employing his final investigative tool, Min- European California to the exotic grasslands of nich critically analyzes the many popular press today, his book is a bit laborious and difficult articles on wildflower fields and their influ- to read. In order to prove his point about the ence on the ever-growing human population. botanical appearance of pre-European Califor- Many newspaper accounts detailed how resi- nia, he makes the reader labor over page after dents of Los Angeles, Pasadena, and other areas page of quotes, tedious documentation, and traveled to nearby flower fields. As the flower descriptions of early California by explorers. fields were converted to agricultural areas His chapter on grazing alone spans more than and urban settlements, wildflower enthusiasts 100 pages. Each chapter contains footnote 134 WESTERN NORTH AMERICAN NATURALIST [Volume 70 citations that are listed near the end of the 1770, by Juan Crespí. San Diego State Press, San book, making it difficult sometimes to flip Diego, CA. CLEMENTS, F 1934. The relict method in dynamic ecol- .E. back and forth between the chapter and the 12 ogy. Journal of Ecology 22:39–68. pages of footnotes. However, Minnich’s book . HEADY, H.F 1977. Valley grassland. Pages 491–514 in does contain valuable information and research. M.G. Barbour and J. Major, editors, Terrestrial vege- Four appendixes provide additional aid in tation of California. Wiley, New York. JEPSON, W.L. 1925. Manual of flowering plants of Califor- understanding the data. The most useful was nia. University of California Press, Berkeley. Appendix 2, entitled “Spanish Plant Names TWISSELMANN, E.C. 1967. A flora of Kern County, Califor- for California Vegetation.” For anyone inter- nia. University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA. ested in a well-researched manuscript on early-California flora, this book should be first Howard O. Clark, Jr. on his or her list. Minnich is extremely con- H. T. Harvey & Associates vincing, and his book appropriately turns the 7815 North Palm Avenue, Suite 310 tide from the often-taught bunchgrass prairie Fresno, CA 93711-5511 model to the wildflower model. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org LITERATURE CITED BROWN, A.K. 2001. A description of distant roads: original journals of the first expedition into California, 1769,
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