Desert beauties
New manual of California vegetation reveals spectacular variety of plants

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

10 July 2002 | Desert flower-gazers disappointed by one of the driest and most colorless springs on record can look forward to next year, a predicted wet El Niño season, when they’ll have at their disposal the perfect guide — the most comprehensive and easy–to-use manual of California desert flowers yet.

“The Jepson Desert Manual, Vascular Plants of Southeastern California,” published this spring by the University of California Press and replete with color photos, illustrates the stark beauty that draws people year after year into the heat of Death Valley or the Mojave Desert for spectacular flower shows.

“People find the contrast between lush displays and stark landscape beautiful and intriguing,” said Bruce Baldwin, associate professor of integrative biology and one of the manual’s editors. “The resurrection of plant life is amazing. After years and years of lying dormant in the seed bank it can burst forth into incredible displays.”

The manual’s 128 color photographs, many by Baldwin, prove the case.

“The Jepson Desert Manual presents examples of the great variety and beauty of California’s deserts,” he said.

Handy field guide
The desert manual was designed with the amateur as well as professional in mind, Baldwin said. He and the many editors worked hard to keep down the size of the soft cover book so that it could easily be carried into the field.

The plant descriptions are taken from The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California (UC Press), updated since its publication in 1993 and augmented by more detail on flowering times and distribution, several new plant keys and some 300 new illustrations.

Baldwin noted that new scientific data, much of it based on DNA comparisons, have led to extensive reclassification and discovery of Californian plants within the past decade. The campus’s Jepson Herbarium keeps a running account of taxonomic changes and new additions to the California flora on its web site,

The bulk of the color photos were supplied by John Game, a yeast researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who serves as an unpaid research associate at the Jepson Herbarium and photographs wildflowers in his spare time.

“I adore going to the desert and photographing flowers,” Game said. “What I like about the desert is that the flowers tend to be very showy and very unusual looking. You really feel you are in a different world.”

A sampling of photos from the manual are on the campus news web site,


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