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Kentucky by Heart: Judy and Dan Dourson’s guide books offer unique look at Eastern Ky. plant life

Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

For Dan and Judy Dourson, the careful study of plant life is of great interest, particularly of such in eastern Kentucky.

The most recent product of their work is now available in two detailed, well-researched guide books: Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River and the Greater Red River Basin and Wild Yet Tasty: A Guide to Edible Plants of Eastern Kentucky. Dan is a wildlife biologist and author of ten books; Judy is an educator, researcher, field technician, and editor.

Spousal teamwork is their carrying card.

Being personally interested in trees and flowers (though most often through the lens of ones in my one-acre yard), I’m excited to have my new copies of both the guides. It gives me further incentive to get my hiking shoes on and take on the beautiful sites of the Daniel Boone Forest.

Wildflowers, according to the authors,“is the first book specifically devoted to the biodiversity of the Gorge and its watershed.” It focuses on the diversity of common and rare flora of the ecosystem, and in its 488 pages, has over 1,000 color images. The new book’s cover has a weathered look, implying that it is designed to be useful for hikers and any observer seeking accurate information about the area’s green life.

I am a sucker for white flowers. I even have a bed in my yard that I reserve for white bloomers, and that means there are times during the season that nothing is blooming, though green foliage makes the bed at least somewhat presentable to the eye. While paging through Wildflowers and looking for the whites, I realized that it was unnecessary work! On pages 127 and 128, there is a detailed listing called “Color Key to the Wildflowers.” It supplies page numbers for nine categories of flowering colors, and it even divides them into their blooming seasons of spring, summer, and fall.

Besides the excellent descriptions of plants and images, Dan shares a prologue that chronicles his personal journey to the serious study of wildflowers and ferns. “While most biologists are drawn toward the more flamboyant wildlife,” he notes, “I seek out those less charismatic and much-maligned creatures; the underdogs of the world. Why? Because they are vastly understudied, largely undervalued, and clearly more critical to maintain ecosystem equilibrium than ostentatious creatures such as bald eagles.”

Chapters one through five provide background information on the Gorge by different writers covering prehistoric and cultural history, geology, ecoregions, habitats, and a page about how to use the book.

Judy and Dan Dourson (Photo provided)

The Doursons’ Wild Yet Tasty expands the area covered and provides useful information about “the most commonly found and easily identified species, ranging from well-known edibles like morels, blackberries, and persimmons to ones that are not as commonly eaten, such as toothwort, common greenbrier, and redbud.” It’s a 44-page compact softcover replete with plant sketches, a suitable companion to carry with the Wildflowers book.

I must say that it may take some boldness on my part to actually ingest them, but looking over some of the edibles mentioned, I see that a few of them are actually sustained in my one-acre yard in Versailles. I have redbuds, wild strawberries, and, of course, dandelions! Each plant description in the book includes identification and habitat, the edible parts, and tells the best time to harvest.

From the redbud trees, for example, the Doursons explain that the flowers, leaves, and seed pods are edible. The flowers can be eaten raw or added to salad; leaves can be eaten raw or cooked; and young seed pods can be steamed or sautéed. The flowers and leaves are harvested in the spring and the pods in the summer. They mention that blackberries, besides their fruits (which we all enjoy already), have young springtime shoots which can be peeled and used in salads. There are lots more surprises for your palate in this neat little book!

I found oral reviews (below) of the two books by Roberta Schultz on Cincinnati Public Radio. Roberta is a musician and writer Roberta Schultz from Wilder who grew up in my childhood neck of the woods, at Grant’s Lick, in southern Campbell County.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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