"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 spare beauty that
draws people year after year into the heat of Death
Valley or the Mojave Desert for spectacular flower
"People find the contrast between lush displays and
stark landscape beautiful and intriguing," said Bruce
G. Baldwin, associate professor of integrative biology
at the University of California, Berkeley, 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
The manual's 128 color photographs, many by Baldwin,
prove the case. Baldwin's photo of a carpet of desert
sunflowers in Death Valley during the wet 1998 spring
graces the back cover.
"The Jepson Desert Manual presents examples of the
great variety and beauty of California's deserts,"
These deserts include the Mojave east of Los Angeles,
the Sonoran Desert in extreme southeast California,
and the southern Great Basin environment, including
the White Mountains, east of the Sierra. According
to Baldwin, southern California's desert parks couldn't
keep the manual in stock this spring, despite the
poor flowering season.
The desert manual was designed with the amateur as
well as the professional in mind, he said. He and
the many editors worked hard to keep the size of the
soft cover book down so that it could easily be carried
into the field. For that reason, it excludes Mediterranean-climate
plants that border and often creep into the western
edges of California's desert areas, and leaves out
plants of the arid areas of northeastern California.
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. The
Jepson manuals are a project of the Jepson Herbarium
at UC Berkeley, a repository of California plants
named after the late botanist Willis Linn Jepson,
an avid desert collector. The herbarium compiled and
edited the 1993 state-wide manual that replaced Jepson's
original 1925 "Manual of the Flowering Plants of California,"
the standard reference for the state's vascular plants.
Baldwin, curator of the Jepson Herbarium, 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
Jepson Herbarium keeps a running account of taxonomic
changes and new additions to the California flora
on its Web site, the Jepson
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."
The California deserts appeared in their modern form
only within the past 10-12,000 years, Baldwin said,
overlapping the appearance of humans in the area.
Over this time, as the climate became drier, conifers
and other plants of cool, wetter environments became
restricted to high-elevation refugia and once-isolated
pockets of creosote bush and burro-weed expanded to
become the dominant vegetation over most of the lowlands.
The desert mountains and the Death Valley region are
modern hot-spots of endemism in the California deserts,
with numerous species found nowhere else in the world.
Luckily, Baldwin said, few non-native plants have
managed to invade the desert areas, with only a handful
- red brome, tumbleweed, and some mustards, for example
- marring their undisturbed beauty.
"In the desert you see the natural community the
way it was before there were humans around, so you
feel you are really out in the planet as the planet
should be," Game said.
The managing editor of the manual was Margriet Wetherwax,
museum scientist at the Jepson Herbarium. Other editors
were Baldwin; Steve Boyd, curator of the herbarium
at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden; Barbara J.
Ertter, curator of western North American flora at
UC Berkeley's University and Jepson Herbaria; Robert
W. Patterson, professor of biology at San Francisco
State University, Thomas J. Rosatti, museum scientist
at the University and Jepson Herbaria; and Dieter
H. Wilken, vice president for programs and collections
at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.