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Reviews in this issue cover Guide to the Wildflowers of South Western Australia by Simon Nevill and Nathan McQuoid, Sydney's Bushland: More than meets the eye by Jocelyn Howell and Doug Benson and two publications by Nick Romanowski, Planting Wetlands and Dams and Farming in Ponds and Dams.
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Guide to the Wildflowers of South Western Australia
Photography by Simon Nevill, text by Simon Nevill and Nathan McQuoid

Published by Simon Nevill Publications, South Fremantle, Western Australia, 1998
Paperback, 115 pages, large A4 format, colour illustrations and maps. $AUS25

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

The wildflower paradise that is Western Australia is a Mecca for many growers of Australian plants. Yet the State is so large and the number of species so numerous that it is impossible to see even a fraction of the 8,000 or more which are estimated to grow in the south west alone. Any wonder then that there are literally dozens of wildflower guides and scientific books written on the flowers of WA. So why yet another one? Simon Nevill is an expert ornithologist and operates a wildlife tour company but has recently turned his attention to WA's wildflowers. Travelling over 45,000 kms through the south west and taking more than 5,000 slides, he produced this book because, as he says, "I'm not a botanist but I wanted to share my new found passion with others, as I felt there was a need for such a book".

Produced in large A4 format on glossy paper, it is not a field guide. Rather, it is a book for those who want to plan trips to "good" wildflower area. Its first chapter contains maps to aid location of "flora rich" localities and suggests places to stop to find particular plants. The maps show the main roads and identify nearly all the National Parks and Flora Reserves while the accompanying text highlights features of the Parks and roadsides. The second chapter gives an overview of features of the flora and explains why the plants are so diverse. It also includes some basic botany - derivation of plant names, examples of plant structure with simple sketches of the flower parts and a useful double-page spread of photographs of typical members of the major plant families. Short sections on pollination, growing native plants, landcare and conservation issues and another double-page spread on plants of the roadside verges complete a brief but useful introduction.

The bulk of the book is taken up with photographs of more than 900 species, arranged under the seven primary botanical zones of the South Western Botanical Province. Sketch maps of selected National Parks are also included. The quality of the photographs is generally excellent and most would allow identification of a species. Perhaps my only criticism is that some of the photographs are almost too colourful, eg the intense yellow and green of Banksia attenuata (p. 32) and Banksia grandis (p. 38) seem almost overpowering. Indexes of scientific and common names (including a list of aboriginal names) and a list of references complete the book.

I was very impressed with the author's novel approach to this book and while the many maps and sketches reflect Nevill's tour-guide background, I think they would be quite helpful to someone planning a visit to Western Australia. Much of the information he imparts is not easy to come by for the first-time traveller and for this reason, I recommend this book. The photographs of over 900 species from the south western area alone make it a valuable resource but I must also caution users about incorrect identifications. Several that I believe are incorrect include the dryandras D.horrida, D.cuneata and D.baxteri on page 62 and there may be others. The author is aware of possible misidentifications and comments in a note on page 115 asking for feedback to correct information given. This criticism aside, Guide to the Wildflowers of South Western Australia is a book well worth having.

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

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Sydney's Bushland: More than meets the eye
Jocelyn Howell and Doug Benson

Published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, 2000
128 pages, soft cover, colour photographs. $AUS27.95

Reviewed by Brian Walters

Over the past 6-7 years, staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney have authored several books on the native vegetation of the Sydney region. These include:

  • Taken for Granted: The bushland of Sydney and its suburbs (Howell and Benson)
  • Mountain Devil to Mangrove: A guide to natural vegetation of the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment (Benson, Howell and McDougall)
  • Rare Bushland Plants of Western Sydney (James, McDougall and Benson)
Book CoverSpacer Although all of these books cover the same geographic area (more or less) it is a geographic area with an enormous range of plants and plant habitats. Throw in the fact that the bushland co-exists with the 3.5 million residents of Australia's largest city and you have the ingredients of a complex interaction between plants and humans. This co-existence is, in fact, graphically illustrated on the book's cover where foreground flannel flowers and coastal heath give way to high density urbanisation across Sydney Harbour.

If you have seen some of the previous publications and are concerned that this new title might be a bit repetitive - fear not! Certainly many of the same plants and vegetation types are covered but this book concentrates on increasing the reader's understanding of the plants and plant habitats and provides information on easily accessible areas where the plants can be observed and appreciated.

The book is divided into three general sections:

  • A closer look at Sydney's bushland - This explains the effect of geology and climate on shaping the landscape and how these factors affect the plants that inhabit different areas. The main vegetation types to be found in the Sydney area are described and illustrated including rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands, heaths, coastal vegetation and wetlands.
  • Bushland ecology - This section looks at plants in relation to their environment. It looks at the way the plants we are familiar with today evolved in response to changing climate following the break up of Gondwana. Responses to fire, interactions with soils and soil organisms, insect predators and wildlife are all covered in this section as are the impacts of weed species.
  • Out and about in Sydney's bushland - Even if you've lived in Sydney all your life you will probably find hidden gems in this section. All of the areas described are easily accessible and they include a good cross section of plant places, both cultivated and natural. A simple coding system divides the areas into half day, full day and "a bit longer" excursions.

The book is beautifully presented and illustrated with over 300 clear colour photographs. Two standout illustrations are the full page photographs of the Wollemi Pine in its natural habitat and the wonderful twisted trunks of Sydney red gum, Angophora costata (thankfully called by that name and not Eucalyptus apocynifolia, as recently published).

The book is not a field guide but it's soft cover and moderate size would make it a readily accessible companion when exploring the many locations described.

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Planting Wetlands and Dams
Nick Romanowski

Published by University of NSW Press, Sydney, 1998
80 pages, soft cover, colour photographs. $AUS20.00


Farming in Ponds and Dams
Nick Romanowski

Published by Lothian, Melbourne, 1998
212 pages, soft cover, b/w illustrations. $AUS27.00

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

Nick Romanowski is a zoologist and consultant on wetlands with a long interest in wetland plants, and all aspects of aquaculture. He is passionate about the need for us to be aware of the dangers facing wetlands and of the necessity to understand replanting and restoration of them. The first book, (and its companion Aquatic and Wetland Plants - a field guide for non-tropical Australia, not reviewed here), were written as practical, relatively non-technical guides to meet this need. Farming in Ponds and Dams might be described as a "beginner's" guide, clearly aimed at the tens of thousands of people in Australia (who) have ponds or dams suitable for freshwater aquaculture and who may wish to raise aquatic plants or animals, either for their own needs or as a small business. It does not consider the more specialised marine aquaculture business.

In Planting Wetlands and Dams, Romanowski briefly defines the characteristics of wetlands and shows how a dam or wetland can be constructed to eventually "mature into something very close to the real thing". The book is essentially practical and there are chapters on planning, construction and layout. The strength of the book is the detailed discussion on plant selection, propagation and planting of aquatic plants. It concludes with extensive plant information lists containing brief notes on horticultural aspects at the generic level, a glossary and an excellent annotated reference list. The book is enhanced by 49 colour photographs by the author which give further emphasis to information in the text.

Farming in Ponds and Dams is essentially a handbook which overlaps areas of the previous book (construction of ponds and dams, plants in aquaculture) but then goes on to treat many other aspects - the biology of water, foods and feeding, and practical considerations such as the need for permits, pests and problems and prospects for commercial production. There is a section on small-scale aquaculture (ornamental plant and fish production) while the final third is an encyclopedia of important plants and animals (including reptiles) for aquaculture. There is an emphasis on plants as commercial crops, (Romanowski established Dragonfly Aquatics, a nursery with the largest range of water and wetland plants in the southern hemisphere) but animals are given a good coverage as Romanowski also breeds rare and unusual aquatic animals. Again, a glossary and index are included. Each chapter has an annotated list of suggested readings enabling those who are interested to look further into particular topics.

I recommend both books for those who have an interest in wetlands and aquatic plants or the more commercial side of aquaculture. They are comprehensive, professionally presented and well illustrated, and written with just the right blend of technical and practical information. Nick Romanowski is to be congratulated on producing these books, summarising, in his own words, "thirty years of my interest and work in aquaculture related areas.

Reprinted from the June 1999 issue of Growing Australian, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).


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