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Early Spanish explorers in the late eighteenth century found springtime California covered with spectacular carpets of wildflowers from San Francisco to San Diego. Yet today, invading plant species have devastated this nearly forgotten botanical heritage. In this lively, vividly detailed work, Richard A. Minnich synthesizes a unique and wide-ranging array of sources—from the historic accounts of those early explorers to the writings of early American botanists in the nineteenth century, newspaper accounts in the twentieth century, and modern ecological theory—to give the most comprehensive historical analysis available of the dramatic transformation of California's wildflower prairies. At the same time, his groundbreaking book challenges much current thinking on the subject, critically evaluating the hypothesis that perennial bunchgrasses were once a dominant feature of California's landscape and instead arguing that wildflowers filled this role. As he examines the changes in the state's landscape over the past three centuries, Minnich brings new perspectives to topics including restoration ecology, conservation, and fire management in a book that will change our of view of native California.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. The Golden State
2. Pre-Hispanic Herbaceous Vegetation
3. Invasion of Franciscan Annuals, Grazing, and California Pasture in the Nineteenth Century
4. A Century of Bromes and the Fading of California Wildflowers
5. Lessons from the Rose Parade
Appendix 1. Location of Franciscan campsites, Franciscan place names, and modern place names
Appendix 2. Spanish plant names for California vegetation
Appendix 3. Selected earliest botanical collections of exotic annual species in California
Appendix 4. References to wildflowers in the Los Angeles Times, The Desert Magazine, and the Riverside Press Enterprise
Richard A. Minnich is Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside. He is author of The Biogeography of Fire in the San Bernadino Mountains of California: A Historical Survey and Land of Chamise and Pines: Historical Descriptions of Northern Baja California (both from UC Press).
“Fascinating . . . . The firsthand descriptions [are] worth a peek.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Minnich successfully takes us on a journey from the wildflower paradise of pre-European California to the exotic grasslands of today. . . . For anyone interested in a well-research manuscript on early-California flora, this book should be the first on his or her list.”—Western North American Naturalist
“An important synthesis illuminating the diversity and beauty of the original herbaceous vegetation of southern California. . . . This book is a valuable reference and a good primer for anyone wanting to gain a historical understanding of the dynamics shaping southern California’s vegetation over the past two centuries.”—Ecology
[It] will become valuable as a documentation of a changing and diminishing ecosystem.”—Sherwin Carlquist Qtly Review Of Biology
"Much more than a lament for a vanishing landscape, California's Fading Wildflowers
is a meticulously researched and compelling revision of the Golden State's ecological history from the pre-colonial era to the present."—Louis S. Warren, editor, American Environmental History
"A wonderful achievement. . . . An incredibly rich synthesis of history, plant geography, and landscape ecology, which Richard Minnich uses to describe a place—coastal and interior California—that within 200 years experienced one of the most complete human-caused landscape transformations in the world."—Michael Barbour, University of California, Davis