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Scout Texas Reader: Rare Plants of Texas

Whether you have a backyard or a Back 40, this tome will help identify threatened plants.

By E. Dan Klepper

My first introduction to TPWD botanist Jackie M. Poole, one of four authors of the stunning and meticulous Rare Plants of Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2007), occurred while she was examining limestone pockets along the western edge of the Edwards Plateau for signs of the endangered Tobusch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus subsp. tobuschii).

This required taking a monotonous survey of earth, one square meter at a time, while crawling on all fours with the nose about a foot above the ground. Or at least it seemed that way after she recruited me, a part-time park ranger, to assist in searching for the tiny, cryptic cactus. After a few hours on my hands and knees scrutinizing inches of rocky soils, I concluded that eye strain and bad knees, not weevils and destruction of habitat, were the only things warranting its federal status. As far as I was concerned it was simply in danger of not being found. But thanks to Poole's patience, I slowly learned to spot the miniscule spiny nub and its saffron green flower. Poole also taught me that the cacti are slow growers and have a potential life span of 50 years or more.

In fact, it is Poole's knowledge and dedication, along with that of her three accomplices – William Carr, Dana Price and Jason Singhurst – that have created an opportunity for Texans to obtain a better understanding of all of the state's endangered and threatened plants.

Outdoors enthusiasts will find the number of plants included in these categories disheartening. Over 225 species of plants native to Texas have been identified and listed as endangered, threatened or in decline. Rare Plants of Texas, at 640 pages with over 200 color photographs, more than 200 maps and 215 superbly rendered line drawings by artist Linny Heagy, comes at a critical time for the state's natural world.

While a bit hefty for the daypack, the user-friendly nature guide is a must-have for any Texan with a personal library and a plot of land. Whether they own a lawn, a one-acre lot on the edge of town, a hunting lease, or a 10,000-acre cattle spread, all Texans should have a copy of Rare Plants of Texas on hand and use it to identify any plant of concern occupying their little bit of Texas.

Up until the last few decades, relatively little was known about most of the state's plant species in dangerous decline, thus making conservation action decisions difficult. But thanks to the authors of Rare Plants of Texas, every Texan now has the opportunity to take the first step by recognizing exactly what we are in danger of losing.

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