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A Book Review: 'Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Arkansas' by Jennifer Ogle, Theo Witsell, and Johnnie Gentry

by Produced by the Ozark Society Foundation | March 22, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.
Richard Mason

With just a cursory glance, it is easy to see that this detailed cataloging of Arkansas trees, shrubs, and woody vines will be a defining work on the various subjects. Especially noteworthy are the wealth of color photos — some 1,500 — along with the range of each individual species to help identification.

Honestly, just to document the species and range without any description is a monumental job considering the vast number of species in our state.

Figure One in the book, showing the seven major Ecoregions in the state, starts the process, and it immediately gives you the understanding, “This ain’t Kansas.”

No, Arkansas is a diverse ecological state because of the number of Ecoregions, and to me that is certainly a positive inclusion, especially to a non-scientist, who must certainly wonder about the diversity of plants in the state.

The thickness of the book, 520 pages, will give you a grasp of the detailed work that went into the digest. I especially like having the list of common names matched with the scientific names. I grew up literally in the south Arkansas woods, and as a young boy, I picked up the names of dozens of different shrubs, trees and vines by word of mouth, and as I read through the book, I smiled, recognizing the colloquial name for a tree or shrub, which I had let slip my mind, such as possumhaw.

I’m also a former president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and a graduate geologist, so as a hobby and as a professional matter, I’m a natural and a professional student of the Arkansas woods and nature. I also write a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the El Dorado News-Times, which is heavily influenced by the natural part ofArkansas. As a practical matter, since I live on 37 heavily wooded acres with a stream flowing through the property along with two large ponds, I have a wide variety of trees, etc. and since I have a wife, children and grandchildren who are always asking, “What a you call that tree?” etc, I can pull out my Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Arkansas Book, and not only give them the common name, but dazzle them with the scientific name, and since Union County is in the West Gulf Coastal Plain Ecoregion as noted on page 7, I can toss that out to really impress them.

The Guide is useful as a practical handbook for the average individual, but it is certainly scientific enough to be used as a college course manual. I think, since our state leans heavily on the natural theme, using this guide book in the classrooms from the high school through college would be very beneficial. It could easily be an accessory manual to a Botany or Biology class.

Invasive Species are clearly designated in eye-catching red. I’m sure there will be a number of readers who will be surprised at the various trees, shrubs and woody vines that are not native to our state and considered invasive. I was shocked when spotted Bradford pear as being an invasive species. I have personally planted over a hundred in downtown El Dorado, and today as I write this, they are in full bloom. However, I would have reconsidered if I had known they were an invasive species. But today, as these trees are in their spring flowering, I realized I’m not the only one planting invasive species.

While we may be surprised at the Bradford pear, we should be even more surprised to learn the mimosa, honeysuckle and wisteria are also invasive species. That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to invasive species, and the book clearly categorizes several dozen more. Then there are also numerous species labeled as Introduced Species, which include the catalpa and several pine species. As you might guess, the Invasive Species have a negative impact on the state and the Introduced Species a positive impact.

The state map of every species was especially interesting. You might think there would be a different variety of life in the various Ecoregions of the state, and of course you would be right, but would you think there were counties that were the only county in the state with a certain species, and there were single counties with a total absence of a species that was present in 74 other counties? That certainly gives you an understanding of how complete the data research was for this book.

The combination of a detailed glossary of technical terms with botanical drawings and an index of scientific and common names combine to give the book depth not found in other similar publications. In summary, I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys the abundant natural beauty of our Arkansas. It is well worth having in every home as a reference manual to the natural plant wonders of our state.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]


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