Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Review: Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest

The book "Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest" by Elizabeth J. Czarapata is an ambitious effort: a single book for invasive plant identification, life history, and control methods. Does it succeed? In most cases, yes. The ISW deems it to be a useful reference tool for land managers, or for anyone in the Midwest that is dealing with invasive plants.

The beginning of the book consists of the typical introductory material for virtually any invasive species document: the definition of an invasive species and how these species cause economic and ecological impacts. But then things get more interesting, with a section on how to deal with skeptics that resist invasive plant management, and then a nice introduction to control technologies. I say "introduction" even though this section is 20 pages long, since it is meant to be a comprehensive review of mechanical, physical and chemical control techniques, rather than a step-by-step manual of explicit instructions. Still, there is a significant amount of detail there, and I think anyone weighing the pros and cons of different controls will find this section useful.

The meat of the book is the guide to invasive plants, divided into three sections: Invasive Plants of Major Concern, Minor Concern, Potential Problem Species, followed by a section on dealing with weedy Native Plants. Within each section the species are organized by growth form. The plants in the Major Concern section seem to have the most space devoted to them, sometimes several pages each, while the Potential Problem species have just a few paragraphs. Following the profiles, there is a section discussing educational outreach, plus several appendices listing additional invasive species resources.

There are about 125 species profiled (I would like to give an exact count but the book does not seem to provide it, and the layout makes it difficult to count). An Appendix in the back lists the species by scientific name and gives their "invasiveness" category, but not all species in the table have a profile; indeed, some species in that table are not even listed in the index.

The profiles seem well-written, and I really like that each one has a section noting the best control options for the species. I also like the practical sense the author had of lumping together congeners (same genus, different species) that have similar growth habits and management techniques. The photos are decent and there are several great shots showing species incursions.

The large format of this book (8.5" x 11") means that it is not something you are going to want to take with you into the field. I received the paperback version, which is dense, and the soft cover makes it floppy and unwieldy. The layout could also benefit from a radical makeover - several chapters have a 2.5" margin from the spine of the book. The intent of this white space seems to have been to fill it with photos and boxes highlighting facts about the plants. Unfortunately there are very few boxes or photos in there - it really is just wasted white space. I think the book would have been better off if it were 8" tall and thicker. Perhaps the hardcover is better in this regard, but since it retails for $60 (vs. $27 for the paperback) few people may go for it.

The species list in Appendix E is the only thing I truly found fault with in this book. It does not give any details about the criteria used to determine which species got put into which invasiveness categories. The authors of the appendix are listed, and it is noted that the list is not comprehensive and has no legal status. That's fine, but I think invasive species ecologists have all gotten to the point where they recognize that lists with no criteria are going to have little value in the real world.

However, none of that should keep you from buying this book if you live in the Upper Midwestern U.S. (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin). In fact, browsing through the species profiles again, I see species commonly found throughout the Midwest and Northeast U.S., and I expect that I will be turning to this resource in the future for its control recommendations.

I was saddened to learn upon reading the introduction of this book that the author of "Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest" passed away before the book was published. It is likely that this book was a labor of love for Ms. Czarapata as well as for several other people that are not recognized as authors here. I commend them on their efforts.

This review is based on a complimentary copy of the book that I requested for the purposes of review. If you are interested in buying a copy, you can purchase it from the University of Chicago Press, or from Amazon (at a discount of $51 for the hardcover, or a staggering $17 for the softcover!!!)

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