Book Review: Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses

Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses:  From Emerald Carpet To Amber Wave:  Serene And Sensuous Plants For The Garden, by William Cullina

Unfortunately, this book was not quite as serene as I would have wished it to be.  While I have a great interest [1] in reading books about gardening despite my own modest accomplishments in that endeavor, this book was not enjoyable to read.  Had the book been more focused on providing pictures of various native plants (something it does a good job of already) and less focused on criticism and whining about matters of evolution and global warming, it would have been a vastly better book.  This book is a notable example of what happens when a reader has preoccupations related to his subject of interest that alienate him from readers with very different scientific and political worldviews, and that make even a subject as seemingly innocuous and apolitical as encouraging the growth of native plants and mosses a less than enjoyable matter precisely on political and philosophical grounds.  When one cannot even write about gardening without causing offense, one knows that one lives in a world that has gone deeply awry.

This book is a somewhat complicated volume, as one might expect given the fact that the author has overly ambitious aims that he only imperfectly realizes.  The book begins with some introductory material that speaks out against wild collecting and provides acknowledgements.  The first part of the book looks at ferns, providing an introduction to them as well as their anatomy and an encyclopedia of selected species that goes on for about sixty pages.  After this the author looks at mosses, providing an introduction, anatomy, a discussion on how to garden with these plants, and then  an encyclopedia of selected native moss species.  A plurality of the book’s slightly more than 200 pages of core content is contained in the third part of the book, which discusses grasses, sedges, and rushes, and after introducing them and discussing how to garden with them and a discussion of warm- versus cool-season grasses, contains a lengthy encyclopedia of selected species that goes on for about 70 pages.  The fourth part of the book examines the subject of propagation, for many of the plants discussed on this book are on the difficult to impossible level of propagation and take considerable expertise and probably some amount of good fortune to get it right.  The book then closes with some discussion about various “allies” for ferns as well as native plant societies and botanical gardens and arboreums that focus on showcasing native plants along with various credits and indices.

This book is a key example of what happens when someone forgets that they should be sharing their love of plants and tries to pass themselves off as an expert on other matters that are only tangentially involved with one’s expertise in plants.  The author’s pontificating on global warming and evolution was especially unwelcome to this reader, and in general the author appeared to be afflicted with the belief that the plants of his own native New England and other east coast areas was what was most worth focusing on, which only served to alienate me further as a reader.  The author simply lacks the skill to serve as an expert on the wide net of subject matter he casts for himself in this book and as a result he tends to beclown himself on occasion by aiming for too ambitious of a scope.  That said, if this book had been a picture book with some minimal and targeted text that focused on how these plants could be successfully raised and where samples of the beautiful plants included could be obtained, this book would have been an excellent one.  Sometimes less truly is more.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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