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Book Reviews

The following are independent reviews of the Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan; Lilies, Irises and Orchids of Saskatchewan; and Sedges (Carex) of Saskatchewan by the Saskatchewan Publisher's Association.

“Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan”
by Vernon L. Harms and Anna L. Leighton
Published by Nature Saskatchewan
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 19.95 ISBN-13 987-0-921104-27-8

This book provides a keyed guide to the ferns and fern allies (quillworts, club-mosses, spike-mosses and horsetails) of Saskatchewan—a boon to medicinal herbalists, fiddlehead gourmets, and environmentalists interested in the identification and preservation of rare plants and their habitats. Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan includes 58 species from all parts of the province; several are rare or endangered but many are pervasive species that will be familiar to local readers. A first flip through the book brought waves of nostalgia for afternoons spent pulling apart the black banded segments of the hollow green stalks of Equisetum hyemale, Common Scouring Rush, on the banks of the South Saskatchewan. There was also a moment of revelation: those strange brown pillars that waved above the moss beds we hid in playing ‘flags in the woods’ at summer camp were cones, the fruiting bodies of Lycopodium lagopus, Running Club Moss. The ferns that my husband and I struggle to keep from taking over our shaded urban yard belong to Matteuccia struthiopteris, the Ostrich Ferns, and I was pleased to learn that their fiddleheads are edible—next spring we will not only dig the outliers out, but boil them lightly in salted water and make a meal of them.

Detailed line drawings, distribution maps, and plain-language descriptions complemented by an extensive botanical glossary will make identification of these unique plants accessible to amateur naturalists throughout our varied eco-zones, and the book has been thoughtfully made field ready with a weatherproof cover complete with a built in metric scale. While too complex for use by children, teachers or parents could make a fun exercise of adapting the keys to local environments and introducing children to the names and parts of the plants that they are probably far more familiar with than their elders. Ferns and fern allies creep beneath prairie grasses that hide snakes and gopher holes, blanket the low shores where frogs hide, and provide some of the best ‘hide and seek’ and flags cover in our boreal forests. This book is a first installment in the soon to be completed multi-volume “Flora of Saskatchewan” and its quality and comprehensive attention to detail promise a treat to come.

“Lilies, Irises, & Orchids of Saskatchewan”
by Vernon L. Harms and Anna L. Leighton 
Published by Nature Saskatchewan
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 19.95 ISBN-13 987-0-921104-28-5

There is something about flowers—from Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” to Spike Jonze’s film “Adaptation,” our culture celebrates their transient beauty above the reproductive bodies of other flora. Intriguing though mushrooms and pinecones may be, they just don’t have the aura of mystique that draws floraphiles to the many-coloured monocots. In this keyed field guide from Nature Saskatchewan, professional and amateur botanists are introduced to Saskatchewan’s fifty-one species of lilies, irises and orchids, twenty-one of which are considered rare or endangered.

The guide’s authors, Anna Leighton and Vernon L. Harms, are key players in the Flora of Saskatchewan Association’s volunteer-driven initiative to document the province’s flora, and in this offering they supplement detailed line drawings, colour photographs, and identification keys with interesting notes and commentary regarding the distribution and seasonal appearances of each flowering species. True to the diversity of species at large, the guide includes both native species and ‘garden-escapes.’ Thus, we see cultivated chives beside Red ‘Tiger’ Lilies in the Lily Family, and introduced German Irises alongside native Blue Flag in the Iris Family. The delicate Orchid Family contains the most diversity of native form and colour, with nine species of familiar Lady’s Slippers in the genus Crypedium, and a variety of rare boreal specimens. Anticipating that some readers may have knowledge of new locations, or flower dates, for some species, the authors invite ongoing dialogue to benefit future editions of this book, as well as the much-anticipated comprehensive “Flora of Saskatchewan”.

Following an introduction to the physiology and reproductive diversity of the monocots, Leighton and Harms provide a simple key pointing users toward identifications within each family of flowers. Thoughtful details like colour-coded sidebars, distribution maps, a printed metric scale, and weather-proof cover are promising indicators of its value as a field companion. Surpassing it’s utility as a guide, floral enthusiasts will recognize this slim volume as a treasure map. Restrain yourselves this spring, folks—grab your cameras and 'click don't pick!'

“Sedges (Carex) of Saskatchewan”
by Anna L. Leighton
Published by Nature Saskatchewan
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 19.95 ISBN 978-0-921104-29-2

Saskatchewan’s uncultivated prairie, the archetypical provincial geography, is grassland — yet many of those thin-leaves are not grasses. The sedges, or Carex, which have three sided blades as opposed to the round stems of grasses, have ‘edges’. And they increase in abundance at edges. If you have canoed through a waterside fen, recall the rough whisper of sedge blades against your hull and paddle. Hiking or hunting in the boreal forests, sedge skirt open spaces, forming thick carpets between forest stands and providing a valuable source of forage and seed to wildlife, as well as a protected habitat for flowering and medicinal plants.

With over 103 native species the sedges are the largest genus of vascular plants in Saskatchewan, yet one of the least known and most difficult to identify. Sedges (Carex) of Saskatchewan, Fascicle 3 of the Flora of Saskatchewan’s compendium of provincial botany, reveals the importance of the genus and its role in each of the provincial ecozones.

The volume is dedicated to John Howard Hudson (1923-2010), a botanist and educator whose detailed notes and archival specimen collection remain as a ‘joy and treasure’ to prairie naturalists. This book is, in fact, an updated and re-ordered revision of Hudson’s Carex in Saskatchwan (1977) and includes many of his later taxonomic resolutions, as well as materials drawn from more recent contributions to the compiled Flora of North America (1993)

In this new offering, Saskatoon-based botanist Anna Leighton has organized the Carex taxa in a clearly keyed, plain-language guide. Detailed line drawings, identifying characteristics, distribution maps, and a botanical glossary ensure that the book will be accessible to beginners, while maintaining precise and useful information for professional surveyors. In keeping with prior publications in the series the volume is attractive and field ready, bound in a weatherproof jacket and complete with a metric ruler on the rear cover to assist with identification.

Leighton invites those who consult this guide to bring forward omissions, improvements, and novel collection locations – offering the volume as a living resource. Saskatchewan naturalists will value the guide both for its own merit in aide of identifying a little known genera, and contextual details that will inform habitat distinctions and ecological understandings presented in the Flora of Saskatchewan’s showier companion guides: Lilies, Irises and Orchids, and the Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan.

The Ferns and Fern Allies of Saskatchewan was also reviewed in Nature Manitoba News and that review can be found here: Nature Manitoba News Ferns Review