2010-06-19 / Front Page

A Walk on the Wild (Flower) Side

Dawes botanist authors book
by Scott Rawdon

JACKSONTOWN- Legendary botanist John Thieret described Dawes Arboretum Taxonomic Botanist David Brandenburg as a "born botanist," with great passion for his work. Brandenburg dedicated his newly published book, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of America, to Thieret, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Northern Kentucky University, who traveled North America as Brandenburg and other students' mentor. Thieret passed away Dec. 7, 2005.

"I hope this book changes people's lives for the better," said Brandenburg. "That's really why you do something like this." In the same way Thieret encouraged Brandenburg, a former chemist, to pursue his love for botany, Brandenburg hopes his book will inspire others to explore the subject, or at least help them take a much-needed break from their busy lives as they pause to identify one of the more than 2,200 species of wildflowers the book describes.

"It took a while" to write the book, said Brandenburg. In fact, the book is a culmination of his entire botanical career, which includes years and years of traveling some 150,000 miles of North America, sampling and recording thousands of wildflower species. He said there are many great books published about wildflowers on a regional level, but he said his is the first to describe North America's wildflowers in a single volume. Brandenburg said he originally planned to chronicle about 500 species, but, "It took on a life of its own," and escalated to more than 2,000 species.

Brandenburg said his book is unique in that a map accompanies each species, showing exactly where it grows in North America. He also describes each wildflower genus, so even if the specific species of wildflower isn't listed, the reader can tell the approximate species according to its genus. "But there's a really good chance your wildflower is in there," said Brandenburg, holding a copy of the 700-page book, which weighs nearly two pounds.

Even though Brandenburg spent a lifetime photographing wildflowers and natural settings, he tapped others for his books' more than 4,000 photos. "I didn't want to use any of my own pictures," he said, which he described as old and grainy. "The photographs were a lot of hunting." Fortunately, Brandenburg knows many botanists, many of whom are accomplished photographers. His daughter, Michelle, handled typing all the text.

Brandenburg worked as a field botanist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and served as curator of the herbarium at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York before joining Dawes. He said his long road to botany began with chemistry. When he was young, he had a laboratory in his parent's basement. "I still love chemistry," said Brandenburg. He said he gained his appreciation for plants in college and combined his interests to study pharmacognosy, or the study of plants' medicinal qualities. He eventually earned his Ph.D in botany.

Brandenburg considers himself extremely fortunate to be able to pursue his interests at Dawes Arboretum with his colleagues. "This is all a labor of love for us," he said. He knows the vast majority of children visiting Dawes have no plans to become botanists, but he hopes the time they spend there will help them appreciate the value and beauty of nature as they shape the future.

The National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of America is available on line and where it was created. "It was written right here at the Dawes Arboretum," said Brandenburg.

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