Baxter State Park, north of Millinocket, is a place of secrets. To unlock them requires you to get up close and personal with the landscape. You need to hike its trails and canoe its waters. Looming above it all is the veritable rooftop of Maine: the majestic slopes of the state’s highest peak, Katahdin.
Along with spectacular scenery and barren, alpine summits, the fields, forests and meadows of the park are among the most pristine anywhere. And it’s there that the true hidden wealth of Baxter really lies, in the lushness and diversity of its plants.
Who among those who cherish the wilds of Maine has spent time in the out of doors and not wanted to ask questions about what they see and experience? Thanks to “The Plants of Baxter State Park,” the answers to many of those questions can be as close as your backpack or the shelf in your library.
Previously, in order to educate yourself as to what the park has to offer from a botanical perspective, you would have had to purchase dozens of different guides and references. And the park’s many divergent ecosystems, from peat bogs and boreal forests, to above-tree line alpine zones, presents a formidable task from a cataloging perspective. And as Mittelhauser wrote in his introduction, the park, which covers more than 201,000 acres, is home to 20 species found nowhere else in Maine. One species can be found nowhere else in the Eastern United States.
He recognizes that the guide undoubtedly will inspire people to explore on their own and explains it should be done with due care. “In the portion of the park we were not able to survey, there are likely species in specialized habitats that may harbor interesting or rare plants, including plants that have not been documented in the park,” he wrote. “With this guide in hand, and with the utmost attention to minimizing your impact, we hope that you find some of these plants, leave them undisturbed and submit your observations to us for the next edition of this guide.”
“The Plants of Baxter State Park” is artfully arranged around plant groupings. They include wildflowers and low shrubs, trees and tall shrubs, ferns and other spore-producing plants, and sedges, rushes and grasses.
Frankly, for many people, telling a sedge from a grass is a challenge, but this book makes it easy with clear, sharp, full-color photographs at every turn. And, as is often overlooked in less scholarly works these days, “The Plants of Baxter State Park” is fully indexed.
Like in his previous collaboration, “The Plants of Acadia National Park,” Mittelhauser is quick to point out that he did not put this impressive collection together singlehandedly. Park Superintendent Jensen Bissell, botanist Don Cameron, Alison Dibble, botanist Arthur Haines, park naturalist Jean Hoekwater, researcher Marilee Lovit and botanist and executive director of Friends of Baxter State Park (FOBSP) Aaron Megquier all are listed as contributors. The list of those who contributed towards the hundreds of full-color photographs in “The Plants of Baxter State Park” is too long to reproduce here.
Only with the support of several organizations, including FOBSP, the University of Maine, the park and the Maine Natural History Observatory, was the task of compiling an authoritative guide to an incredibly diverse landscape even possible.
The value of “The Plants of Baxter State Park,” both as a reference and as a baseline for future scientific study, which is especially vital in an era of global climate change, cannot be overstated. In his preface, Bissell, along with crediting Hoekwater for being the catalyst for getting the book started, noted the primary mission of the park, which was created more than 80 years ago by Gov. Percival Baxter. That mission is to protect the preserve’s natural resources. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to protect what you don’t know you have,” he wrote.
While there is no substitute for spending time in Baxter State Park and reveling in its outstanding natural beauty and pristine surroundings, reading about it, learning about it and gaining a deeper appreciation for all that it preserves is the next best thing. And for that, there’s no substitute for picking up a copy of “The Plants of Baxter State Park.”