Book Review

A Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Orange County, California by Fred M. Roberts, Jr. (1998). F.M. Roberts Publications.  Paperback - 96 pages, 2nd edition.
by Peter A. Bowler, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-2525.

Fred Robertsí second checklist of the vascular plants of Orange County has finally appeared, and it is a must for southern California botanists. Attractively bound as a paperback, the list itself is easy to read, with the species names in bold and the common names in capitals. The format is essentially the same as Robertsí first checklist, with a brief introduction followed by the checklist, selected rare plant categories in glossary form, and appendices of excluded taxa, extinct and extirpated species, and nomenclatural cross references. Maps of the County with selected place names in 1920 and 1998, and references conclude the paper. It is interesting to note that despite nomenclatural changes, the number of native species for the county (806) is the same as those reported in the first checklist (Roberts, 1989), while recognized exotic taxa increased from 351 to 387.

Throughout the checklist Roberts maintains independence of taxonomic viewpoint from the Jepson Manual (Hickman, 1993), and frequently uses the nomenclature of Munz (1935; 1973; 1974) or others. For example, he rejects Nassella, instead retaining Stipa; similarly species relegated to Leymus in Jepson are treated as Elymus here; Brassica is retained for species placed in Sinapsis and Hirschfeldia in Jepson; Salicornia subterminalis Parish becomes Arthroceneumum subterminale (Parish) Standl. Because "Arthrocnemum is the widely recognized globally than Salicornia for the group (woody succulent perennials...)." Roberts makes many corrections of Jepson nomenclature, such as retaining Dichelostemma pulchellum over D. capitatum.because of nomenclatural priority, apparently missed in Jepson. A number of taxa such as Lupinus agardhianus not recognized in Jepson are included in Robertsí checklist. A number of families are not used by Roberts (Adiantaceae = Pteridaceae, Aspidiaceae = Dryptopteridaceae, Salviniaceae = Azollaceae, Orange County members of the Amaryllidaceae are placed in the Alliaceae, and so forth). The second checklist also incorporates nomenclatural changes subsequent to the Jepson Manual (Hickman, 1993), such as synonymizing Opuntia parryi Engelm. var parryi with Opuntia californica (Torr. & A. Gray) Cov. var. parkeri (J.M. Coult.) D. Pinkava (based on Haseltonia 4: 103-104, 1996).

Unfortunately most of these rejections, synonymies, or retentions are made without discussion, which from a local botanist of Robertsí stature would have been useful and interesting. The authors of the Jepson Manual deserve a rebuttal rather than a wordless dismissal of a taxonomic position. These provocative interpretations need elaboration, particularly since the checklist is privately published without peer review; it can only be hoped that Roberts will provide the heart of his interpretations in some other treatment, though the revised checklist would have been an ideal place for such a discussion as a longer, more in-depth work. Most southern California botanists use a nomenclatural mixture of Munz, Jepson and others, so Robertsí choices become a particularly important addition in the mix, as do his rationales for name selection. In addition to finding out what can be verified as occurring in the area encompassed by a checklist, botanists also use checklists as quick ways to look up correct species citations, and in this case they must select between Roberts, Munz and Jepson listings for many species. Nomenclatural corrections Roberts noted and might have made (valid publication of several taxa) cannot be accomplished in a privately published work. Roberts shortchanges us and himself by pursuing an overly terse approach with little narrative or discussion, which hides his remarkable insight, intuition, and originality.

Just as the first checklist did not align itself with Munz for many common names, the second checklist differs in non-scientific nomenclature from the Jepson Manual. Since common names are not restricted by the Code of Botanical Nomenclature they are fair game for poetic license, but it would nonetheless be helpful to have consistency between major treatments of taxa rather than continuing common name differences between Munz, Jepson, and again here in Robertsí latest checklist.

Including the cover, there are fifteen lovely line drawings by the author, illustrating key characters delineating difficult to separate taxa (Scirpus robustus and S. maritimus) or showing why a species was so named (the grappling hook of Harpagonella palmeri; the large pod of the bigpod lilac, Ceanothus megacarpus). None of the figures are numbered or cited in the checklist itself.

Following the checklist is a useful though very brief glossary of rare plant listings including CNPS and other citations used in the checklist. An expanded list would have been useful, including state G designations and expanding upon Fish and Wildlife Service categories. A revision of Robertsí rare and endangered plant list (1990) would have been a welcome addition. Appendix I ("Excluded Taxa") cites 43 non-native and 24 native taxa which are not considered adequately documented reports. Appendix II ("Extinct and Extirpated Species or Species Not Seen Recorded Since 1937") includes 10 exotic and 53 native taxa, with collection citations following each. It is not clear why the exotic taxa if extirpated are retained in the checklist, though the natives clearly should be. Similarly, it would have been useful to have a separate table or appendix presenting the 36 new exotics reported in the second but not the first checklist, with a discussion, their area of origin and method of introduction (if known) cited. Appendix III ("Nomenclatural Cross Reference") includes 10 pages of Robertsí interpretations (around 289 entries), which are fascinating, original and are based upon Robertsí extensive experience with the Orange County flora. These clear taxonomic judgement calls deserve an expanded discussion. The two maps are useful, but would be more so if development as of 1920 was indicated as opposed to the present (which should include major park or preserved boundaries).

First reports (since Roberts, 1990) are not cited in the checklist, which would have been useful in a more completely annotated version - where the first report could be cited by footnote or author, and the bibliography is not comprehensive in that it does not include all of the references for various new county records since Robertsí first checklist (Bowler and Wolf 1993, for example). New records by Roberts should be indicated in the checklist, as well. Although the overall technical quality of the book is high, there are nonetheless occasional spelling, spacing, or consistency in italicizing or bolding errors.Most of the documentation, or collections, for the Orange County flora as treated here reside in 14 herbaria, including IRVC, which holds much of the material forming the basis of Robertsí first checklist. With the closure and dismantlement of the University of Californiaís Museum of Systematic Biology in 1991, IRVC is now a part of the UCI Arboretum and will remain permanently there as a resource within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. IRVC may be visited and used by appointment ( during weekday working hours and through special arrangement on weekends. Material may be borrowed through standard loan procedures. As Roberts notes, a majority of the recent collections for Orange County reside in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden collection (RSA).

None of these technical observations should undermine the great value of this truly masterful work Roberts has again produced. It is a staple which will be cited by southern California botanists until the third checklist appears in the future. Despite the wonderful price and excellent product Roberts has self-published, I hope that an expanded third checklist will appear in a peer-reviewed forum so that valid taxonomic changes can be made and what must in this gray literature work be viewed as opinions will hold the weight they deserve. This book is a significant and original interpretation of Orange Countyís flora by the botanist who knows it best - and it is a bargain which should be on all of our shelves.


I thank the UC Natural Reserve System¹s San Joaquin Marsh Reserve for computer support and a grant from TCA to the UCI School of Biological Sciences.

Literature Cited

Bowler, P.A. and A. Wolf. 1993. Vascular plants of the San Joaquin Freshwater Marsh Reserve. Angiosperms - Flowering Plants. Crossosoma 19(1): 9-30.

Hickman, J.C. (Ed.). 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

Munz, P.A. 1935. A Manual of Southern California Botany. Claremont Colleges, Claremont, California.

Munz, P.A. 1973. A Flora of California and Supplement. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.

Munz, P.A. 1974. A Flora of Southern California. University of California Press. Berkeley, California.

Roberts, F.M., Jr. 1989. A Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Orange County, California. Museum of Systematic Biology, Spec. Publ. No. 6. University of California, Irvine.

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