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Reviews in this issue cover Native plants of Melbourne and Adjoining Areas: A Field Guide by David and Barbara Jones, The Wollemi Pine: The Incredible Discovery of a Living Fossill by James Woodford and two publications by Murray Ralph on seed collection and growing of Australian native plants for revegetation, tree planting and direct seeding.
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Native plants of Melbourne and Adjoining Areas: A Field Guide
David and Barbara Jones

Published by Bloomings Books, Hawthorn, Victoria, 1999
262 pages, elongated pocket book size, soft cover, colour illustrations. $AUS20.50

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

David Jones is well known to many ASGAP members for his many books on Australian plants, ranging from palms, ferns and orchids through to his co-authorship with Rodger Elliot of The Encyclopaedia of Australian plants. His wife Barbara also has a long interest in Australian plants and creates embroidery designs with native plant themes. Together, they have produced a useful field guide to 252 mostly common plants of the greater Melbourne area, each one illustrated by excellent colour photos. This is around one quarter of indigenous plants in the area.

The authors' reason for writing this book are simple - to provide a pocket field guide to many of the common plants of Melbourne and to indicate where people may still find them in their local habitats, habitats which have shrunk rapidly in recent years with urban expansion. In many ways, it follows on from that pioneering effort Flora of Melbourne, published in the early nineties by the SGAP Maroondah Group, which introduced many of us to the range and variety of plants which could still be found around Melbourne.

The authors have deliberately opted to keep the text and description simple and concise. The illustrations and descriptions were prepared to assist users with identification and, where necessary, the illustrations are supplemented by additional small photographs. Common names are given for each species as well as information on flowering period, distribution, habitat, notes, similar species and cultivation. As many of the local plants have small flowers and are difficult to photograph, I was particularly impressed with the clarity of the well-chosen illustrations – they add immensely to the usefulness of the book. It also contains a short glossary, an up-to-date list of references and an index.

Perhaps my only criticism concerns the choice of the yellow band across the top of each page in the first section of the text. Both Latin and common names are printed in white on this and are almost impossible to read, particularly at night. The publishers should choose another colour in future editions. Apart from this minor blemish, I believe this is a valuable field guide which is also useful outside of Melbourne because many of the species are widespread in Victoria. The price is reasonable for a fully illustrated book and its size and weight make it excellent for a back-pack.


Reprinted from the September 2000 issue of Growing Australian, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).

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The Wollemi Pine: The Incredible Discovery of a Living Fossil from the Age of the Dinosaurs
James Woodford

Published by Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2000
212 pages, soft cover, colour/black and white illustrations. $AUS27.00

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

You may wonder how a whole book can be written about one tree. But nothing about this plant is ordinary. Its discovery was likened by one scientist to " the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur alive on earth". The author compares it with two other great living fossils discoveries of this century. One was that of the coelacanth, a primitive fish brought up in a trawler's net off South Africa in 1938 that had changed little in 385 million years. The other was the confirmation in 1948 that a towering tree first rumoured to exist in China in 1941, and now known as the dawn redwood, was another living fossil. It is a relative of the sequoias of California and like the coelacanth, was previously known only from fossils. The fossil record showed that it was abundant in the northern hemisphere when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

I was fascinated by the story James Woodford tells. It is one of intrigue, bitter disputes and bureaucratic interference but also of excitement and unsolved mysteries. Woodford is the science and environment writer with the Sydney Morning Herald and has won several awards for his journalism writings. He first wrote on the Wollemi pine, as it is now known, on 14 December, 1994, just three months after the discovery by a bushwalker named David Noble. He chronicles the friction that developed between the discoverers who established that it was an entirely new genus and who were essentially amateurs, and the "establishment" in the form of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the New South Wales National Parks Service. This friction was to lead to the exclusion of the discoverers from the site in 1997 when the authorities took over sole site management responsibility. Their reason was to protect this exceedingly rare plane, and its location is still jealously guarded - fewer than 20 people know exactly where the trees are and even accredited visitors are blindfolded for part of the trip into the Wollemi gorges.

Only 40 specimens exist in the wild today although a successful propagation program has been set up and several plants are on display in the various annexes of the Botanic Gardens. I have seen the largest plant, nearly two metres tall, in the Gardens in Sydney where for security reasons it is caged. The plant is now being commercially propagated and it is hoped to have 150,000 available for sale by 2005. In this way, it is hoped to preserve the trees in case a major catastrophe such as a bushfire or landslide wipes them out in their natural habitat.

The publishers describe the book as a "scientific thriller" and this is no exaggeration. Woodford writes in an interesting and engaging style and explains the incredibly complex scientific investigations involved with DNA testing for example, in simple language. The unsolved mystery of this piece of work was that irrespective of the source material, all specimens tested from the two known populations and cultivated plants were absolutely identical genetically. This has enormous implications – all plants are also equally susceptible to disease and the entire population could be wiped out if a disease were introduced by visitors. He also explains geological history and the conditions under which the fossil ancestors grew and the story that fossil pollen grains tell – that around two million years ago, the large forests of Wollemia growing in areas like the Gippsland Basin, began to disappear. Why, no one is sure.

I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it and the author is to be congratulated on writing what is indeed a "scientific thriller with a happy ending".

Reprinted from the September 2000 issue of Growing Australian, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).

Footnote: James Woodford has reported the discovery of a third population of the Wollemi Pine (Sydney Morning Herald, August 12, 2000). This population is in a a different sub-catchment than the two previously known populations and scientists are hopeful that it may exhibit genetic variability from the earlier discoveries.


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Seed Collection of Australian Native Plants for Revegetation, Tree Planting and Direct Seeding
Growing Australian Native Plants from Seed for Revegetation, Tree Planting and Direct Seeding
Murray Ralph

Published by Bushland Horticulture
$AUS11.00 and 15.00, respectively.

Reviewed by Marjorie of Cashmere

Tucked away in the Queensland's Region Library are two useful little books by Murray Ralph - one on seed collection, the other on growing from seed. These books are concise, affordable, up to date and immensely practical.

* Seed Collection

This title has been updated twice, last year being "reprinted" with substantial revisions. (It should have been published as a third edition.)

Legislation changes are reflected in updated guidelines for collecting. Overall editing clarifies advice on approaches to selection, harvesting, labelling, cleaning, storage and so on. Over 400 genera are listed alphabetically with notes on specific characteristics and treatment. Then a table gives optimum harvesting and retention/release times for nearly 900 species, with additional margin notes. Finally there is an extensive bibliography - the hallmark of a serious author.

* Growing from Seed

This other little gem should be the reference of choice for those of us less inclined to go stalking through the bush, wading up streams, writing to private landowners and government departments and waiting, waiting for a reply...

This title is on growing from seed once you have it. There is much general information on seed development, structure, viability, germination requirements and treatments. Several pages deal with ways to overcome seed dormancy and several more cover media, care, transplanting and direct seeding. Nearly 900 genera are listed alphabetically with specific notes, this section taking up most of the text. Finally there is a small glossary and an eight page bibliography.

Murray Ralph has been involved in this area for nearly twenty years. He has worked for CSIRO, Greening Australia and the National Trust, and passes on this expertise with great clarity.

Reprinted from the June 2000 issue of the Bulletin, newsletter of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Queensland Region).


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Australian Plants online - September 2000
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants