This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
THE want of a systematic, illustrated work on the Flora of the United States has long been felt. Some time ago the author of the present volumes seriously entertained a project for such an undertaking, and even went so far as to issue a prospectus. But the difficulties in the way of the enterprise seemed so formidable that it was thought prudent to abandon it. The difficulties alluded to can readily be perceived. A glance at the vast extent of our country, with its widely differing conditions of soil, climate, and position, is sufficient to convince even the most superficial observer that the task of describing and illustrating its Flora is one which might well cause even the most courageous of botanists to hold aloof. To complete such a work in the lifetime of one man would be impossible, and this consideration was one of the main reasons which determined the author to abandon his project. In this determination he was strengthened by another consideration, which, although of an entirely different nature, seemed to be quite as potent as the first. A purely scientific and systematic treatise on the Flora of the United States, in the sense in which such a work would be understood by the botanist, must necessarily be limited to a small circle of readers, and even in this small circle there would be but few who would care to subscribe to a work, the end of which they might never live to see. While, therefore, such an undertaking was clearly an impossibility from the author's point of view, it was equally evident that no publisher could be found ready to invest in it.
Under these circumstances, the fact that a work on "The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States" is offered to the public may need a few words of explanation.
The plan of the present work differs totally from that of the one previously contemplated. In treating the subject, no attempt will be made to be scientifically systematic, from the botanist's standpoint. Instead of the Flora of the United States, the work will embrace simply a selection of the flowers and ferns indigenous to our country. It will be an anthology in the truest sense of the word, and will not aim at anything further than to cull the most beautiful, interesting, and important from among the vast number of plants which grow in the different parts of our country. Again, in order to secure the wide patronage which is absolutely necessary to sustain an undertaking of this nature, it has been deemed advisable not to devote the text exclusively to scientific descriptions, but while making it accurate in this respect, to seek rather, by a familiar treatment of the subject, to lift our native flowers out of the confined limits of pure science, and thus to make the work serviceable and accessible, not only to the botanist proper, but also to the practical cultivator, and to the great body of intelligent people at large.
It must not be inferred from this, however, that the work is absolutely without system. It will be seen that the selection made for these two volumes covers a wide range of country, and offers a number of representatives of leading genera, chosen with reference to their various habits, and to different geographical centres. These volumes are therefore absolutely complete in themselves, and may be said to give a good general idea of the floral wealth of our country. Those who are satisfied with the knowledge thus obtained may rest here. But it is hoped that the more enthusiastic lovers of flowers will welcome the succeeding volumes, which it is proposed to publish after the conclusion of this series. Each of the following series is also to consist of two volumes, and to form a complete whole by itself.
With such a plan of publication settled upon, and with the assistance of a competent botanical artist assured, the author felt no hesitation in again taking up his favorite project, more especially when Messrs. L. Prang & Co. consented to become the publishers. The work of Mr. Alois Lunzer, who painted from life all the plan's treated in these volumes, the writer heartily commends, believing it will favorably com-pare with the best hitherto attempted in this country, both as regards scientific accuracy and pictorial excellence. To extol the merits of the chromolithographic reproductions executed by the publishers would be simply superfluous, in view of the widespread reputation of the firm, and with the plates in this work before the eyes of the reader.
Much of the success of the enterprise is due to the kindness of botanists all over the country, who have furnished specimens of plants from their various localities with the greatest readiness. The author must, for the present, content himself with this general expression of his gratitude, as the list of names to be mentioned is altogether too long for insertion in this place, and as due credit will be given in the text in each individual case. But justice and gratitude both demand that a special acknowledgment should be made, even here, of the many favors received at the hands of the authorities of the Botanical Garden at Cambridge. The unrivalled facilities of this institution have been extended to the writer, and to all those associated with him in the preparation of this work, with an unfailing courtesy, for which it seems almost impossible to return adequate thanks in words.
It only remains that the author should say a word in regard to his own share in the undertaking. As already stated, the present work is not exclusively botanical in its character, but is intended to be a contribution to general intelligence. American botanists have done their task so well, that there is scarcely room for even an illustrated work with botanical aims alone. Indeed, but for the labors of Professor Gray, Professor Wood, Dr. Chapman, Mr. Sereno Watson, and other botanists still living, and of the many who have gone before, the work could not have been undertaken at all. The author's task, therefore, has been chiefly to point out the lessons which their labors teach. They have sown the seed, - he shows how to gather the crop. He may not have told all that might have been said ; but he believes enough has been brought together to lend fresh interest to the even more than twice-told tale of our native flowers.
Germantown, Philadelphia, May, 1878.