Fremontia, CNPS Journal
Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change
by Rob Badger and Nita Winter
Review by Matt Ritter and Dena Paolilli
If you aren’t already awed by California’s wildflowers, you will be after looking through Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change, by Rob Badger and Nita Winter. This spectacular book is packed with hundreds of gorgeous photographs, 18 inspiring essays, a glossary, a map of California’s ecological regions, and an index to both plants and places. As Dan Gluesenkamp, former executive director of the California Native Plant Society, points out in the first of three introductions, California has more native plants than any other state, comprising a remarkable diversity that Badger and Winter beautifully capture in their captivating photos.
When first paging through this large, coffee-table format book, you’ll be drawn in by the photographs, yet it’s the essays from prominent botanists and other scientists, nature writers, environmental leaders, and educators that will hold your attention. In Badger’s introduction to the project, he invites each of us to join him and Winter on their mission to document and preserve California’s rich botanical diversity. They asked the authors to engage a wide audience through science and inspiring human stories, and they have achieved just that.
The essays are organized in three sections: “The Gift of Beauty,” “The Human Connection,” and “Ensuring the Future.” Topics range from educating the reader about botanical wonders to relating personal stories and reflections, all aimed at inspiring action toward conserving and sustaining California’s floristic treasures.
Beginning in “The Gift of Beauty,” Susan Tweit writes evocatively about California desert ecosystems, unlocking a deeper understanding of this special landscape. In “The Human Connection,” Robin Wall Kimmerer and Gordon Leppig write about the importance of a relationship to the land. Kimmerer expands on how this connection relates to the history of naming plants, from Indigenous people to Linnaeus. Wendy Tokuda and Amber Pairis, in “Ensuring the Future,” offer personal anecdotes for action in a time of climate change. Tokuda shares her firsthand experience with habitat restoration, following her retirement from her job as a TV news anchor, while Pairis offers practical advice on how to stay positive while brainstorming creative solutions to climate change with children.
Complementing these inspirational essays are the book’s striking photos, from close-up images of iconic flora to picturesque vistas of broad landscapes. Badger and Winter take particular care with their photos, using only natural light and capturing all the subjects in their natural habitats. Few photographers have done a better job of documenting our state’s rich flora. The “Behind the Scenes” section, one of the most interesting in the book, reveals their methods.
It’s easy to see why Beauty and the Beast and the talented conservation photographers behind it have won so many awards, including the Sierra Club's 2020 Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography. It’s a significant and captivating book. There’s little doubt that the essays and enchanting photos will inspire manyreaders to “become a voice for wildflowers.”
—Matt Ritter and Dena Paolilli, Cal Poly University Botany Dept., San Luis Obispo, CA
Foreword Reviews Magazine
Review of “Beauty and the Beast” by Katherine Morris will be featured with several other Nature/Environmental titles in the upcoming May/June issue of Foreword Reviews.
Katherine writes about these titles:
"Writing about the natural world isn’t easy at a time when climate change is making its ugly face known, with swings between devastating heat, record cold, prolonged drought, and torrential rains. It would be easy to fall into despair. But the books featured here are hopeful instead. Celebrating Earth’s beauty, warning of the fragility of its ecosystems, and demanding change on behalf of the planet, they’re all about taking action. Read and be inspired!"
"Beauty and the Beast is the story of an imperiled glory. Part of an inspiring documentary art project created by photographers Rob Badger and Nita Winter, it highlights California’s famed wildflower superblooms” that, when conditions are favorable, herald the arrival of spring with a riotous display of color.
Shimmering in vast waves across the landscape or revealing their intricacies in intimate portraits of a single bloom, the wildflowers were all photographed in natural light using harm-free methods that are shared in detail at the end of the book. Sixteen short, insightful essays by a diverse group of writers tell the stories of these imperiled wildflowers and inspire action with suggestions for helping to tame “the beast.”
The book celebrates California’s remarkable biodiversity. Home to more native plant species than any other state, its varied landscapes—cool north-facing mountain slopes, scorching desert terrain, bay estuaries, and beaches—are the result of millennia of tectonic upheavals. The resulting microclimates have sheltered ancient organisms that are now extinct everywhere else, though they are now under threat as overconsumption destroys natural habitats, pollutes, and wreaks havoc on ecosystems.
While Earth’s long and tumultuous evolution has always included periods of climate change, the book reveals that what is happening now is different. Sped up by human activity, climate change is occurring much faster than ever before, leaving plants without the time they need to adapt to changing conditions or migrate to environments better suited to them.
Sensitive and thought provoking, Beauty and the Beast is a delight for the eyes and nourishment for the soul—a strong reminder of fragile beauty on the cusp of destruction, given in the hope that people will be moved to care and then to act on its behalf."