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A Good Read

.....what's worth a look?

Reviews in this issue cover "Wildflowers of the Snow Country" by Ian Fraser & Margaret McJannett, "The Plant Life of Kosciuszko" by Peter Codd, Bill Payne and Colin Woolcock, "Alpine Tasmania" by Jamie Kirkpartrick and "The Proteaceae of the Sydney Region" by Alec Blombery and Betty Maloney.
Books Diagram


Wildflowers of the Snow Country: A Field Guide to The Australian Alps
Ian Fraser & Margaret McJannett

Vertego Press Canberra, ACT, 1998
Paperback, 170 pages, watercolour plates; $AU21.50


The Plant Life of Kosciuszko: An Introduction for Tourists and Hikers
Peter Codd, Bill Payne and Colin Woolcock

Kangaroo Press, East Roseville NSW. 1998
Paperback, 192 pages, colour plates; $AU30.45


Alpine Tasmania: An illustrated guide to the flora and vegetation
Jamie Kirkpartrick

Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Vic, 1997
196 pages, colour plates, $AU22.95

Reviewed by Jan Hall

Visitors to the Australian Alps this summer will want at least one of these three new books. In the past, little was written on the alpine and sub-alpine flora. "Wildflowers of the Snow Country" claims to be the first comprehensive field guide to the wildflowers of the mainland Australian Alps but I feel a certain loyalty and affection for my dog-eared McCann's "The Alps in Flower" and the classic "Kosiusko Alpine Flora" by Costin, Gray, Totterdell and Winbush.

But now we can access so much up-to-date information. My first impression of "Wildflowers of the Snow Country" as a field guide was influenced by the pre-conception that I don't like colour grouping but would prefer an arrangement of plant communities and families. While respecting the work of botanical artists, for some of us it may be better to have photos and line drawings.

When visiting Falls Creek last summer, we attempted to quickly use this new book in the field and, on the first try, failed to find a specimen. However, after later studying the introductory chapter and becoming familiar with its arrangement of information I realized that this is going to be a useful guide.

The book is designed for amateurs and is arranged in groups by flower colour. Each section is preceded by a simple grouping (not quite a key) of obvious characteristics e.g. type of flower shape and petal number. Finding a plant by its flower colour is a definite plus for the lay visitor to the area during the flowering season. Those enthusiasts who may wish to identify non-flowering or seeding plants will need other books for greater detail.

We looked up the pink flowering Pimelia alpina in the 'red or pink' section and finally found it under 'mainly white'. Provenance differences can be tricky. Another test was Stackhousia pulvinaris (which I remember as being yellow) but it is placed under 'white or cream'. These are perhaps only minor problems. Devoting a whole page to a plant gives plenty of space for illustrations and 'people-friendly' descriptions. I enjoyed the comments on each page that include a lot of general information on the ecology, conservation status, human use etc.

"The Plant Life of Kosciuszko", is claimed to be presented for the interested tourists and hikers. They would need to read the text and become familiar with its contents beforehand in order to locate and identify any particular plant.

The chapter 'Visiting Kosciuszko' would be helpful when planning a trip. The Alpine walks are well described with a map and covers key plants and communities.

The introduction describes these communities and a cross section diagram shows where to find them. This is a necessary preliminary step in the quest for plant identities that are found under community names (such as "Snowpatch", "Herbfield" etc.) and later under "Families". The descriptions are simple but contain interesting information illustrated by line drawings with some photographs of plants and their habitat. The difficulty for the 'tourist' in using the index of this volume is its lack of common names and the use of indistinct italic type. The provision of page numbers to accompany the photographs would have made this book more useful (and some page number and spelling mistakes were noted.)

However, there is a wealth of general and botanical information in this book.

The mountains of Tasmania are different and possess an unusual alpine vegetation, largely dominated by flowering and coniferous shrubs. For anyone interested in the flora, "Alpine Tasmania" is an excellent guide to take on a trip to the high country.

The grouping of plants is introduced by a "key to life forms" which are types such as mat shrubs, grasses, cushion plants etc. and then under "family". This is tidy and convenient. A simple key is also used to discriminate the major plant communities that are illustrated by the beautiful photography of Peter Dombrovskis.

The descriptions are easy to read and the great botanical detail in the high quality line drawings is sufficient to separate similar species e.g. Euphrasia sp, the "eyebrights" where a photograph is simply inadequate. Old scientific names and common names are included.

The natural history, geology and climate of the alpine environment are covered. Comparisons with the mainland and New Zealand of plant distributions are very interesting.

I would take this book not only to Tasmania but also to mainland and New Zealand highlands.

Reprinted from the December 1999 issue of the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).

"Wildflowers of the Snow Country" was also reviewed in the December 1998 issue of Australian Plants online.


The Proteaceae of the Sydney Region
Alec Blombery and Betty Maloney

Published by Kangaroo Press, 1992
Hardback, colour watercolours and photographs, 216 pages; $AU49.95

Reviewed by Brian Walters

Editor's Note: Although possibly a little hard to find now, "The Proteaceae of the Sydney Region" is well worth looking for and an almost essential acquisition for lovers of the Protea family

Are there any writers on Australian native plants as prolific as Alec Blombery? At an age when most people would be content to "put their feet up" and leave the hard work to others, Alec continues to pursue his passion for the Australian flora with undiminished enthusiasm.

Thankfully, for the rest of us, Alec shows no sign of slackening the pace and may he continue to keep writing for many years to come.

In this publication, Alec has collaborated with Betty Maloney to produce an outstanding work on the proteaceous (is that the correct word?) plants of the Sydney Region.

All of the favourites are here....the waratahs, banksias and grevilleas. But the unusual and little known are here too. The beautiful little Symphionema montanum from the Blue Mountains, the rare Isopogon fletcheri, also from the Mountains and Helicia glabriflora, a small rainforest tree which, in the Sydney Region, is only represented by two known specimens.

Symphionema montanum.
Select the thumbnail image or plant name for a higher resolution image (31k).

There are a few surprises as well. For example, did you know that the Sydney Region contains two Telopea (Waratah) species? I didn't, but it seems that T.mongaensis just manages to squeeze into the southern limit of the region near Moss Vale. Or that the second most common genus (after Grevillea) is not Banksia or Hakea but Persoonia (with 19 species)?

Even among the better known genera there are some little known species. A particularly interesting one is Conospermum tenuifolium which has pale blue to lilac flowers. Another is Grevillea molyneuxii, rediscovered in the mid '80s after having been lost for many years.

In total some 14 genera and 86 species are described in this book as well as numerous varieties and sub-species.

The book devotes two pages to each species and includes colour photographs of both the flowers and the shrub or tree. The text, although brief, presents a botanical description, habitat details, the distribution of each species and some notes on propagation and cultivation. At the beginning of the book is a key to the genera to be found in the Sydney Region as well as a description of each genus.

A highlight, though, is the superb artwork by Betty Maloney. The original watercolours were presented to the State Library in 1988 by Esso and are reproduced here in a much reduced form. None the less they complement the text and photographs perfectly as they illustrate features of the foliage, fruit and seeds. The twelve watercolours which depict Banksia fruiting cones are magnificent.

This book has obvious appeal to those who live in the Sydney Region. But anyone with a love of the Australian flora in general and the Proteaceae in particular will find much of interest here.

This is a very welcome addition to the library of publications on the Australian flora.

Reprinted from the December 1992 issue of "Native Plants for New South Wales", the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW).

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Australian Plants online - December 1999
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants