Hot off the Press: Jewels of the Plains

This review originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Northern Gardener.

Jewels of the Plains
By Claude A. Barr
University of Minnesota Press 2015

Claude A. Barr was a college-educated homesteader in early 20th century South Dakota who became an international expert on wildflowers of the Great Plains.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.50.27 AMAfter giving up farming for ranching, Barr grew enamored of the prairie’s wildflowers. He founded a mail-order nursery, which supplemented his income during the Dust Bowl era and expanded his horticultural contacts. Barr became convinced that the unique wildflowers of the Great Plains—its “jewels”—had to be catalogued. The project took him almost three decades to complete as he traveled extensively throughout the Great Plains and consulted with numerous experts.

This revised edition of Barr’s original 1983 volume includes supplemental horticultural information from James H. Locklear, the director of conservation at the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Neb., who also contributed historical and scientific context.

In his preface, Barr, who died in 1982, reveals through his spare language the type of man he was.

“In investigating a neglected region, its evolving environment and its resources, I have benefited from a willingness to make the best of often difficult situations and from a determination to carry through. … The search for unusual forms of plants has given me skills in close observation and discrimination, and has lent a sense of purpose and zest to this best of all hobbies.”

After a chapter on the geography and geology of the Great Plains, Barr offers brief essays about more than 500 wildflowers. He follows those with a chapter about growing Great Plains native plants. His deep knowledge of and profound affection for the Great Plains wildflowers permeate every sentence and make the book a delight to read.

—Julie Jensen