Two recent offerings from the University of Arizona Press are worth looking into. Hikers especially will benefit from “Sonoran Desert Life: Understanding, Insights, and Enjoyment” by Gerald A. Rosenthal. The author, a retired botany professor, has put together a 6-inch by 9-inch color guide to the plants and animals inhabiting Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and its environs. Packaged in slick, coated paper, this useful 306-page paperback contains information on more than 300 plants and animals — each photographed in color.
The book opens with an introduction to the Sonoran Desert, emphasizing the cactus-rich Arizona Upland subdivision, which contains most of Arizona’s human population. This is followed by a mini-lesson in botany, briefing the reader on the intricacies of plant taxonomy, flower parts and leaf structure, as well as the various kinds of seeds and fruits. The next section consists of illustrated descriptions of the cacti one is likely to encounter, including an informative discussion answering everything you want to know about the state’s signature species, the saguaro.
The remainder of the book is devoted mostly to species accounts. Plants are arranged according to structure and flower color — a system that makes for easy reference, as the outer edges of the pages are similarly color-coded. Color photos accompany each account, along with insets depicting bark, leaves and other notable features. Herbaceous plants are arranged by flower color ranging from white, white-green and green through the various shades of yellows, reds and oranges to blue, violet and lavender. Also included are natural history tidbits regarding each plant’s uses, allergic properties and value, along with several accounts of animals unique to the desert.
A great guide to desert wildflowers, this little paperback will be of much service to visitors to McDowell Mountain and other regional parks in Maricopa County, as well as Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and other Sonoran Desert preserves. With plenty of places to ply your newly gained knowledge, tourists and resident readers alike need only get out their hand lenses and start botanizing!
Another 6-inch by 9-inch paperback is “Natural Environments of Arizona, from deserts to mountains,” edited by Peter F. Ffolliott and Owen K. Davis. Essentially a redo of the highly revered “Arizona’s Natural Environments” portion of Charles H. Lowe’s 1964 “Vertebrates of Arizona,” this easy-to-read 196-page version would make a helpful text for students of natural history at high schools and community colleges.
Divided into nine chapters, the book begins with an informative introduction and a visit to the arid lands of the world with D. Robert Altschul that puts Arizona in a global perspective. In subsequent chapters, appropriate authors describe our state’s climate, geology, soil and water resources, plant communities, flora, fauna and human impacts. William Sellers’ chapter on climate and Jon Spencer’s discussion of landscape evolution are particularly good and in themselves a worthwhile contribution to your reference library. The book includes more than 25 black-and-white photos, 18 maps and a listing of essential references.
–David E. Brown
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