June 27, 2008

From the banks of the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky is a state full of natural beauty. Unfortunately, many of the state's natural treasures only occur in a few places and during certain times of the year.

To raise awareness of the state's beauty and promote environmental conservation, Thomas Barnes, University of Kentucky professor and extension wildlife specialist, traveled the state for two years, taking pictures of more than 200 rare wildflowers. The award winning photographer's pictures are published in "Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky," a book he co-authored with Deborah White and Marc Evans of the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. The book, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is scheduled to be released July 4.

In addition to the photographs of the state's most beautiful flowers, a description of each is included in the book along with their location and reasons why they are considered rare. Because of their rarity, about one-fourth of the flowers photographed are only found in one location in the state. Two of the flowers, the Kentucky Glade Cress and White-haired Goldenrod, are endemics, which means their locations in Kentucky are the only places they are found in the world. The Kentucky Glade Cress is located in southern Jefferson and northern Bullitt counties, and the White-haired Goldenrod is located in the Red River Gorge in Powell County.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people in Kentucky will never see these flowers because they are that rare," Barnes said.

"Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky" is Barnes' fourth book. His other books include "Gardening for the Birds," "The Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky" and "Kentucky's Last Great Places," which was a regional best seller and nominated for the Kentucky Literary Award. Barnes said the message of "Rare Wildflowers" is similar to that of "Kentucky's Last Great Places." Both books seek to educate the audience on the importance of conservation and protection of natural wonders. About 275 plant species in the state are listed as endangered, and approximately another 50 are considered of special concern.

"We're kind of at a freefall in Kentucky and nationally in terms of loss of our natural heritage," he said.

Many natural things, including rare wildflowers, serve not only an ecological purpose, but may contain immunities that might help fight diseases, Barnes said, adding that many pharmaceuticals are derived from plants.

"From a strictly practical, utilitarian measure, wildflowers are important. Plants are important," he said.

"Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky" costs $39.95 and will be available through most major bookstores in the state, Kentucky State Parks, University Press of Kentucky's Web site at http://www.kentuckypress.com and at http://www.amazon.com.

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