Like a Sunday afternoon ramble
through the country with
kinfolk, Paul Green’s Plant
Book: An Alphabet of Flowers
& Folklore gently guides the
reader back to a time when a farmer’s
intimate connection to the land produced
an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge
regarding plant usage - an era when
herbalists used jimsonweed to treat
asthma, young girls rouged their cheeks
with the velvety leaves of the mullein
plant, and the appearance of Quaker
ladies in the spring indicated it was time
for young boys to go barefoot.
   But unlike a stroll through fields and
forests, the vibrant photography,
descriptions, and fascinating folktales on
the pages of Paul Green’s Plant Book,
with photographs by his daughter, Betsy
Green Moyer, allow the reader an
up-close and often awe-inspiring view of
several hundred species of flowers, vines,
shrubs, trees, and yes, weeds found in
North Carolina.
   Although it was Moyer’s lifetime of
experiences that provided the collective
impetus for the book, it was a small
series of framed photographs of
wildflowers that hang in the Paul Green
cabin on the grounds of the North
Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel
Hill that ultimately inspired her to begin
a three-year journey to assemble her
father’s writings on plants into a book
with her own photography. Even then,
the idea lingered in the back of her mind
for several years.
   “I love Dad’s last work, Paul Green’s
Wordbook: An Alphabet of
Reminiscence, and when I saw the
modest display of photographs of
wildflowers combined with his text
about those plants, something clicked,
and I thought, ‘Now, I can do that,’ ”
says Moyer. “Make a whole book of it.”
Blending text and photos
  
   Moyer says for as long as she can
remember, her father, a North Carolina
native and Pulitzer Prize-winning author
for the Broadway play In Abraham’s
Bosom in 1927, kept in his pocket 3-by-
5-inch cards on which he jotted down
words and phrases he had heard or
remembered from his youthful days
among Harnett County neighbors and
acquaintances.
   These cards were filed in alphabetical
order, stored in shoe boxes, and
eventually became the basis for Paul
Green’s Wordbook: An Alphabet of
Reminiscence, two volumes containing
1,241 pages of words, proverbs,
anecdotes, remedies, games, expressions,
superstitions, ballads, and stories. The
book was published posthumously in
1990 after his death in 1981.
   For this one, however, only the entries
pertaining to plants would be included.
“As I gained more experience as a
photographer of wildflowers, this idea
became more of a goal,” says Moyer.
She has won numerous awards for her
macrophotography of flowers and
plants and is the co-founder of the
Sudbury Valley Nature Photographers
in Wayland, Massachusetts, where she
lives with her husband, Bill. “To go
forward with the project, I would need
to work with a botanist who could tell
me where I could find these flowers to
photograph - and could make sure I
was photographing the right plant,”
says Moyer. “Wildflowers can be
very confusing.”
   Enter Ken Moore. After a
serendipitous call to the North Carolina
Botanical Garden asking about possible
interest in the project, Moyer discovered
that Moore, the former assistant director
of the garden, was an English major in
college and a great admirer of Paul
Green. She says his knowledge and
enthusiasm encouraged her to set forth
on the project.
   Moore, described by a fellow botanist
as “the only botanist I know who can
identify a plant while driving down a dirt
road at 50 miles an hour,” agreed to
assist Moyer in preparing the book with
taxonomy and botanical notes, and he
became her co-editor for the project.
Betsy Green Moyer, above, put her photographic skills to work for the book project, getting up close for shots like this one of a mullein plant (right).
© Betsy G. Moyer