Saturday, March 14, 2015

Field guide to the native plants of the ACT

A few weeks ago Meredith Cosgrove self-published her Photographic Guide to Native Plants of the Australian Capital Territory.

It is a great field guide, and in my eyes much more useful than the one I used before. Every species is given a full page with several high quality photographs. Importantly, the photographs are not, as all too often, restricted to the flowers but instead cover all identification relevant characters. Thus most species will be shown in flower, in fruit, and with their overall habit, and then there are pictures of other key traits, such as leaf tips in the case of Lomandra or bark in the case of Eucalypts.

About a third of each species profile is taken up by descriptions and notes. At the bottom of each page are little bars that allow the user to check whether some character on the plant they have in front of them falls into the diversity exhibited by the species presented on the page, leaf width or flower size for example. Then there are a little map of the ACT with known occurrences and a density plot showing occurrence along the elevational gradient. All in all a very useful and informative book that will make identification of plants in the Canberra region much easier for plant enthusiasts.

Although I am very happy with it, there are two issues that other people might find unfortunate. One is that the book is restricted in its coverage to dicots and petaloid monocots; in other words, it doesn't include grasses (Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, Restionaceae). The second is that the plants are ordered alphabetically by family. That makes it easy to find something if you already have a bit of botanical knowledge and can recognise something as, say, an Ericaceae, but it will not help those who are totally at sea and just want to browse though all species with white flowers until they find something that looks right. That being said, there is an intuitive tabular key at the beginning that allows the reader to narrow families down by petal number and flower colour. Anyway, I personally prefer the systematic structure that has all members of one taxonomic group together.

The guide is also affordable at (Australian) $45, and with its A5 format it fits comfortably into a bush-walker's backpack. More information can be found at the publication website.

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