Nature Book Review #3: Little Big Bend

November 3, 2008

Third in an occasional series of natural history book reviews.  Books reviewed here can be purchased through by following the links from my Southern Arizona Desert Botany homepage.

A few weeks ago, a Texas naturalist named Roy Morey sent me a fern photo for ID confirmation.  Out of the blue, I received this gift – a picture of rare Notholaena greggii, a Mexican xerophytic fern that enters the U.S. only in the Big Bend region.  It makes a lovely addition to my online guide to desert ferns:

The agave-like leaves in the photo are Hechtia texensis, which looks like a lechugilla but is actually a bromeliad – and a sure indicator that you’re looking at a plant from Big Bend, not Arizona!  I was delighted.  In addition to its spectacular scenery, Big Bend National Park is famous among botanists for its plant diversity.  I have never been there, but for years we have been hoping to take a vacation there to look for some of the rare endemic ferns, small cacti, and shrubs.  A few days after he sent the photo, Mr. Morey sent me a copy of his book, LITTLE BIG BEND, which is reviewed below. 

Little Big Bend:  Common, Uncommon, and Rare Plants of Big Bend National Park.  Roy Morey, 2008.  Published by Texas Tech University Press, 329 p.

There are several regional field guides available for plants of the Big Bend region.  This one is a bit different from others.  It’s a sturdy, glossy, 7.5″x10″ paperback, too large to fit in a backpack but just right to keep at camp, in the car, or to study at home.  This format showcases the beautifully crisp photos, printed much larger than in most guides, so the tiny details are easy to see and admire.  Each plant is given a page for one or more photos and a detailed description which is non-technical and very readable.  The book includes annual and perennial wildflowers (many of which are either rare or have rarely been photographed), a few trees and shrubs, and even two ferns (Pellaea ternifolia and P. intermedia, both of which are also found in Arizona).  This is not a comprehensive regional guide, but an introduction to some of the plants that are less common, inconspicuous, or just overlooked.  Some are endemics whose range is limited to the park itself, some are found throughout the Trans-Pecos region, and a few have wider distribution in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and even Mojave deserts.  For me it was especially interesting to compare Texas species of genera that have similar representatives in the Arizona deserts.  My only complaint about this book is that the color in many photos is slightly oversaturated, and in bluish or purple flowers it is shifted too far towards the red end of the spectrum.  This appears to be a problem with the printing process rather than the original photos.  But the photos are spectactular, and the lighting and contrast are especially well done.

The book also includes a brief illustrated overview of Big Bend National Park and its natural history, specific locations and conservation status for selected plants, a checklist, glossary, and list of references, photography details, and other interesting information.  Technical data (authors of species, classification problems, etc.) is kept to a minimum, so the species discussions are informative but not cluttered.  The result is an impressive book that carries on the 19th century “gentleman naturalist” tradition of scholarship, enthusiasm, beauty, and meticulous accuracy in illustration.


One Response to “Nature Book Review #3: Little Big Bend”

  1. […] 24, 2008 I recently reviewed Roy Morey’s book, Little Big Bend.  Mr.  Morey has sent me some of his beautiful Texas fern photographs and given me permission to […]

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