The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico. Volume 2. by Scooter Cheatham, Marshall C. Johnston, Lynn Marshall. Useful Wild Plants, Inc., 2000, 599 pp., hardcover, color photos. ISBN 1-887292-02-0. $135.00. ABC Catalog #B135A
In a word, this book is amazing. The second in what will be a set of twelve or thirteen volumes, and the product of more than 22 years of research thus far, this enclyclopedic project stands in a class by itself. The first volume was published in 1995 and was reviewed and excerpted in HerbalGram.1,2
I have seldom seen such praise as has been heaped on Volume 1. Walter Lewis wrote that this was "Extraordinary! … The publication is a botanical gem of the century." Gary Nabhan said, "Other attempted efforts seem pale by comparison." Rudolf Schmid wrote in the botanical journal Taxon, that this volume "sets a new worldwide standard for similar works on economic botany and ethnobotany."
Such praise for the first volume would be a hard act to follow for the second and, presumably, future volumes. However, the authors maintain their consistent high quality, use the same format, and provide extensively detailed descriptions of the plants with obvious emphasis on their uses.
The first volume covered 86 genera from Abroniato to Arundo, naturally residing in Texas and/or the contiguous areas of Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico-the range for all plants in this series. The second volume continues from Asclepias (the hearty butterfly weed) to Canavalia and describes a total of 79 genera, including numerous that are familiar to herbalists and other medicinal plant enthusiasts: Astragalus (19 pages), Bacopa, Baptisia, Berberis, Betula, Brassica, and Bupleurum.
The first volume's extensive data on various uses of the plants in that volume was a product developer's dream, and this new book follows that precedent. For example, the Asclepias section (at 76 pages, perhaps the most extensive offering on this genus) includes a detailed discussion of toxicity, food use by Native Americans, contemporary food use, nutritional value, food preparation of pods and tubers, seed oil, dye, insect repellent, fish poison, fiber, pod fiber for down, crop production potential, floss for textiles, latex for chewing gum, landscape potential, growing instructions, butterfly garden applications, cardenolide content protection for butterflies, and a wide array of medicinal properties, plus other uses too numerous to mention here. The medicinal properties discussed include hemorrhoid use, diuretic, diaphoretic, febrifuge, cardiotonic activity, contraceptive tests, menstrual stimulant, postpartum aid, galactagogue, cancer chemotherapy, and much more. All statements and source materials are extensively referenced.
The scope and breadth of detail is significant, if not astonishing. As with all sections on each genus, this work covers what one would expect: detailed botanical descriptions with beautiful, expert four-color photography, geographical distribution (complete with colored maps in the extra wide margins to show the range), and economic uses. The wide margins contain liberal section descriptors that make finding information easy and engaging. The layout is beautiful and functional. The photos are exquisite.
It has become a trite statement in reviews like this to say that a book belongs in the library of every plant lover, botanist, biologist, horticulturist, herbalist, industry product developer, book collector, etc. However, this statement is true, of course, in this case for two main reasons: First, the set is unique and offers considerable utility for users who have their various needs (its obvious raison d'etre). Second, by purchasing this volume, buyers are helping to ensure the continuation of what is probably the most massive and masterful undertaking in the history of economics and ethnobotany, as there are at least 10 more volumes scheduled for publication over the next 10 to 15 years. (Volume 3 is almost ready!). These are two excellent reasons to order now!
1. Lewis, W.H. The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico [book review reprinted from Economic Botany 1997;51(3):333]. HerbalGram 1998;44:66.
2. Cheatham S, Johnston M, Marshall L. The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico, Vol. 1 [book excerpt on Allionia and Alophia]. HerbalGram 1998;44:64-5.