Sample text for Taylor's encyclopedia of plants / Frances Tenenbaum, editor.

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Counter Introduction

Although gardening has many aspects, and gardeners have special interests,
the single incontrovertible fact is that everything begins with plants. Whether
you are a new gardener or a longtime expert, whether you collect books and
articles on your favorite subject or want a single volume that you can refer to
today and twenty years from now, you need an encyclopedia of plants. In
many ways this book is the culmination of the series of Taylor"s Guides that
began in the 1980s, inspired by horticulturist Norman Taylor, whose classic
garden encyclopedia was first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1936 and last
revised in 1956.
As with all of the Taylor"s Guides, the aim in this book is to be
thorough, accurate, dependable, and useful to North American gardeners. As
we have shown in the plant guides, as well as in the other Taylor"s books, it
is quite possible to make a practical reference book attractive and
pleasurable to use. The text is readable, and the pictures and layout are
beautiful. Like gardening itself, this book will give you immediate joy as well
as long-term rewards.


To make this book useful to both experienced and novice gardeners, as well
as professionals, the plants are organized alphabetically by genus name. A
genus is a group of plants that share a certain number of characteristics.
Within the genus are species, and the species name refers to only one plant.
A genus may have a single species or it may include hundreds. The genus
Cornus, for example, has a number of trees: flowering dogwood, Cornus
florida; Pacific dogwood, Cornus nuttallii; pagoda dogwood, Cornus
alternifolia; and several others. It also has shrubs, such as red osier
dogwood, Cornus stolonifera, and the elegant little ground cover Cornus
canadensis, or bunchberry.
This system of terminology is easier to use than it sounds; to find
any of these plants in the encyclopedia, all you need to know is its common
name. The index of common names (page 431) will lead you to the botanical
name of the genus that the plant belongs to, which you can find listed
alphabetically. "Dogwood" or "bunchberry" will lead you to Cornus, and there
you will find entries for all of the Cornus species covered in the book.
Why not arrange the encyclopedia by common names in the first
place? The reason is that although common names are often charming and
descriptive (and none of us is likely to call a marigold a Tagetes), only the
botanical name identifies the exact, specific plant. In this book there are at
least ten very different plants whose name begins with the word "false," such
as false indigo and false Solomon"s seal, and five that begin
with "glory." "Ironweed" could be Ostrya, a tree, or Vernonia, a wildflower. Is
the plant you admired in a friend"s garden love-in-a mist, love-in-apuff, or love-
lies-bleeding? Or might it be bleeding heart? Harry Lauder"s walking stick
(named for an early-twentieth-century British comic entertainer) is both
descriptive of this corkscrew shrub and easier to remember than Corylus
avellana "Contorta". Poached-egg plant is certainly a more colorful name than
Limnanthes douglasii. And I"d hate to see names like lion"s ear and tidy tips
and blue-eyed grass disappear from the gardener"s vocabulary. But when you
are looking for accurate information, you need to know what plant you are
talking about. Is your prince"s feather an Amaranthus or a Persicaria?
Look up any of these names in the index of common names, and
you"ll be referred to the genus to which the plant belongs. In the entry you"ll
find a description of the species and an illustration to help you identify the
plant in your friend"s garden. Should you want to grow it yourself, you"ll learn
whether it will survive in your climate, how to plant it, and what further
information you need to know to succeed with that plant. You"ll also find the
names of hybrids and cultivars that may be improvements over the species.
(In the glossary on page 424, you"ll find definitions of the terms hybrid and
cultivar and of many other botanical terms used in this book.)


In an encyclopedia like this, more is not necessarily better. We have
included at least one thousand species of desirable plants for American
gardens; to list all available species would require a volume as large and
unwieldy as a Manhattan phone book. We have obviously had to make
choices, based on the knowledge and experience of the Taylor"s Guide
editors. For example, you"ll find here the dawn redwood, Metasequoia —
once thought to be extinct but now available as a desirable garden tree — but
not the Sequoia, the tallest tree in the world, or the massive giant sequoia,
Sequoiadendron, both of which are recommended mainly for public parks and
large estates.
Some plants are not recommended for home gardens because
they are invasive, but deciding which ones to eliminate turned out to be a
rather complicated issue. A handsome perennial like purple loosestrife
(Lythrum) does not appear in this book because the plants are such rampant
invaders of wetlands that some states actually ban them; even the
supposedly sterile cultivars have been found to set seeds. Some popular
genera include species that are invasive and species that are not, as well as
some that are problematic in one part of the country but not in others. Some
common plants that fall into these good/bad categories are privet (Ligustrum),
bittersweet (Celastrus), burning bush (Euonymus), barberry (Berberis), and
honeysuckle (Lonicera). Before you decide on a plant for your own property,
be sure to read the entry for that species. Readers who are concerned about
this subject should consult the handbook Invasive Plants, published by the
Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


Will the plant you are considering grow where you live? For gardeners, this is
the question that matters most. If you do not know the plant zone of your
geographic area, look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness
Zone Map on pages 446–47. The zones range from Zone 1, the coldest, to
Zone 11, the hottest. (In a new map, scheduled to be published in 2003, the
major changes are the addition of the tropical zones, 12 through 15.) No
zones are given for annual plants, which live for one growing season only, no
matter what the climate. You"ll also find some plants listed as tender
perennials. Although these will live and rebloom in succeeding seasons in
warm or tropical zones, in most parts of the country they are grown as
Except for annuals and tender perennials, the plant descriptions
give a range of zones. The first number in the range indicates the northern
limit of hardiness, while the second is a guideline to how much heat the plant
can handle. For example, peach-leaved bellflower (Campanula persicifolia),
hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 7, is fairly cold-tolerant: it withstands Zone 3
winters, with average annual minimum temperatures of -30° to-40°F. But it is
not particularly tolerant of heat and doesn"t grow well in the hot summers
characteristic of areas south of Zone 7.
The northern limits of the zone ranges are based on average
minimum temperatures taken from 6,700 weather stations and do not include
any of the other variables that can affect a plant"s hardiness, such as a freak
ice storm, an unusually warm winter, a year of drought, or being planted next
to a south-facing brick wall. A good predictor of a plant"s success in your
garden is finding it in other gardens in your area. But the USDA Zone Map is
a useful place to start, especially if you are considering a tree or other
valuable plant. The second number in the zone range, the southern heat limit,
is based on the experience of professional growers and gardeners. If your
own garden has a cold microclimate, you may be able to succeed with that
Zone 3 to 7 bellflower even if you live in Zone 8.

At the very least, gardening is an enjoyable pastime; at the most, it is a
passion. To all who use this book, we hope it will fulfill your needs and
increase your pleasure.

— Frances Tenenbaum

Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Plants, Ornamental Encyclopedias