After too much serious reading, reviewing a book about the 50 best wildflower sites in the world is a sheer delight and a welcome escapism.
Gibbons’ main criteria for choosing the most beautiful wildflower sites are spectacular beauty and diversity coupled with reasonable accessibility. The author has excluded areas of tropical forest in South America and South-East because of their brief flower season. Also excluded are flowery places whose beauty depends mainly on one or two species and very small sites. It is pleasing to know that most of the places shown in the book take at least a couple of days even up to a week or more to visit.
To anyone tempted to criticize the author’s subjective choice, Richard Mabey argues that, “Bob Gibbons’ lifetime in the field has developed in him, a special skill for capturing not just the character and loveliness of individual blooms but the complicated and related details of a flowering landscape, and it has earned him the right to present his own vision as a benchmark.”
“Wildflower Wonders”, is a feast to the eyes, a symphony of colors… The vast flower-filled landscapes are awesome and breathtakingly beautiful. One cannot help but marvel at how nature is always at its best when left alone. The best way to preserve wildflower sites is to grant them a protected status and indeed most of the places in the book are World Heritage Sites, national reserves, or national parks.
In a useful explanation on why some places are so flowery, the author points out that countries were hot dry summers are preceded by damp or cold winters, and heavy winter snow-cover which does not melt until midsummer, produce a major flowering peak.
This is the case in the Swedish island of Oland where the snow gives way immediately to a dry summer, so that the flowering takes place between May and early June. One of the most regal sights are the myriads of Early Purple and yellow Elder-flowered Orchids, an explosion of colors gushing from the luscious meadows.
Close to the island of Oland, lies Estonia, a country renowned for its awesome wooded meadows, situated in Laelatu, believed to hold the world record for density of plants: 76 species per square meter, and a total species count of almost 500 higher plants, including the fragrant lily-of-the-valley.
The Upper Engadin Valley, nestled around St Moritz and Pontresina, in the South-Eastern region of Switzerland, is one of the best places to admire the beautiful alpine flowers.
Meadows abound with sainfoin, yellow rattles, rampions, orchids, campions, clovers, pink Bistort, Viper’s Bugloss, Ox-eye Daisy, bellflowers and even Orange lilies.
In Italy, from mid-May to late June, in the southern part of the Monti Sibilini National Park, wildflowers offer a fabulous tapestry of purple, yellow, white and red with masses of Cornflowers, mayweeds and Field Poppies.
The Namaqua Desert, in South Africa, holds more than 3,000 species of native plants, half of which are found nowhere else in the world. There are two reasons why the Namaqua Desert has such a diverse flora. First, it’s a very old desert, which has not known the glaciations or any other climatic change in a long time. Second, its desert climate is rather mild.
Most people visit this area to admire specific annual-species like the orange Glossy-eyed Parachute Daisies. In August and September, streams of orange Parachute Daisies flowing across the Namaqua desert, offer a spectacular sight.
The tulip, a flower often associated with the Netherlands, originated in fact, in the Tien Shan Mountains, one of the longest mountain ranges in Central Asia (2800 km) which runs from western China through Kazakhstan and Kirghizia to the borders of Uzbekistan. Some 25 species of colorful tulips grow in these high mountains during the spring season.
Also, in China, the Zhongdian Plateau, has, according to the author, probably the richest temperate flora in the world. “The first impression of the plateau is one of pastoral bliss: small Tibetan hamlets interspersed with wide stretches of meadows… The extensive marshy areas of the plateau are enlivened in May by expansive drifts of purple and yellow primulas forming a haze of colour in places.”
Despite its name, the Kwongan heaths are in Western Australia. The flora with some 12,000 species, mostly endemic, is quite exceptional. In the peak flowering season, a visitor will find in almost every village and small town, a wildflower information center which indicates the best flowering sites.
The extraordinary display of wildflowers at Mazama Ridge, located in Mount Rainier, in the United States, is probably the most flowery place in the world and definitely one of the top ten most beautiful wildflower sites. Mount Rainier, the jewel in the crown of the beautiful Cascade Mountains, is famous worldwide for its high biodiversity.
One of the most striking flowery sites, shown in the book, is a fabulous display of Californian Poppies, a river of red petals gushing across the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.
However, the most amazing photograph in the book, is a view of the Temblor Mountain located in the Carrizo Plain, protected as a National Monument in the United States. At first, one only sees billowy dunes with scarce patches of vegetation. Were it not for the caption, it would be impossible to believe, that the whole area is in fact, entirely covered with a carpet of golden yellow Hillside Daisies and not sand!
This fabulous book also provides a wealth of information about when and where to see the world’s most amazing display of wildflowers. It offers several lists of useful contacts, a selected bibliography and travel agencies specialized in botanical tours.
From the very first pages, we share the author’s infectious enthusiasm for his subject. And long after the last words have been read, we are left with a lingering sensation of beauty and a burning hope that mankind will be wise enough to protect the wildflowers’ habitat.
The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World
By Bob Gibbons
Published By Princeton University Press
Hardback, 192 Pages