Book Review: A Field Guide to the Plants of Armenia

By Tamar Galstyan, Filbert Press © 2022

You can find dozens (if not hundreds) of guidebooks to the flowers of Europe, North America—even the Himalayas. But there is nothing for the Caucasus, which constitutes a botanical hot spot not only for wildflowers, but is moreover the center of origin for most of the important crops upon which humanity relies for sustenance—beginning with wheat, barley, and oats, as well as many vegetables and fruits.

Armenia lies in the heart of the Caucasus, and Tamar Galstyan’s monumental field guide does much to fill a colossal void. Well over a thousand species are illustrated—often with multiple pictures (closeup, landscape) for each and cogent descriptions that include elevation, flowering season, distribution, and elevation, as well as a map showing distribution within Armenia.

So many classic garden plants trace back here: Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), Caucasian crane’s-bill (Geranium ibericum), fern leaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia), and no end of bulbs. Some, like the spring gentian (Gentiana verna), are shared with the Alps, and more—like the wealth of prickly thrift (Acantholimon)—show the influence of the Central Asian flora. For me, the predominance of endemic plants you will not see anywhere else—so many with the epithets armena and caucasica—are the greatest treat. Intriguingly, since Armenia has a modified mediterranean climate, the parallels with the California flora resonate throughout. Many of the same families and even genera occur in both regions, giving this guide an added zip for Pacific Horticulture readers!

Best of all, despite its lavish photography and text, the book is small enough to fit in a pack, should you be lucky enough to actually go to the Caucasus—in my case, to Georgia. I found most of the taxa from that country well represented in this volume; I wish I’d had it on my trip there four years ago! And I shall carry this with me should I return anywhere near this region. It’s an instant classic.

Review by: Panayoti Kelaidis, 2/2022