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Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-arid Regions

New Book
by Timber Press
September 13, 2015

I’m guessing that when you hear the word steppe you picture something bleak, windswept, and Siberian. A place you get sent to for saying mean things about the czar or Stalin.

Well, steppes might sometimes be bleak, and are often windswept, but they are also intriguing, with a floral richness rivaled only by the tropics. And they may well hold the key to our future survival on this planet. (More about that later.)

There are four major steppe regions in the world: in central Asia, western North America, Patagonia, and South Africa. Steppes are usually found on the western side of major mountain chains, and are characterized by hot, dry summers and frigid winters.

Although some steppes have a significant shrub flora (think of the sagebrush of North America), the vegetation tends to be predominantly grasses and forbs (herbaceous plants that aren’t grasses). And what vegetation it is! You know those prairie perennials that are so hot right now with trendy designers? Steppe plants. All those ornamental grasses like little bluestem and prairie dropseed that everyone’s nuts about?

Steppe plants. Wheat, oats, rye, millet, barley, corn, rice, and just about every other staple grain? Steppe plants (originally, at least).

Until now, if you were curious to learn more about these vast ecoregions, you were pretty much out of luck. But fortunately that has changed: Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-arid Regions is a deep and far-reaching survey of all four steppe areas. Richly illustrated and packed with information about plants, history, geography, and geology, it brings together the talents of five outstanding horticulturists—Michael Bone, Dan Johnson, Panayoti Kelaidis, Mike Kintgen, and Larry Vickerman—under the auspices of Denver Botanic Gardens.

Remember what I said about steppes holding the key to our survival? I wasn’t kidding. Day by day, our world is becoming more steppe-like. Think of the massive drought throughout the American West, and weather events that are becoming ever more unpredictable and violent. Steppes teach us how to get cope with extreme temperature swings, crazy weather, and scant water.

If we know what’s good for us, we’ll start learning the lessons of these complex, fascinating regions. And Steppes is a great place to begin.

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