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 by lordorman


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									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

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-
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:

                 LITERATURE CITED
BROWN, A.K. 2001. A description of distant roads: original
    journals of the first expedition into California, 1769,

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