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Book Review

Banksias: A Field and Garden Guide - Ivan Holliday and Geoffrey Watton

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh

Ivan Holliday is one of the doyens of Australian plant writers, having authored sixteen books on Australian plants.

He published his first book in 1964, "Growing Australian plants" in collaboration with the then director of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Noel Lothian, and his first book as lead author, in collaboration with Ron Hill, in 1969. This was called "A field guide to Australian trees" and in common with most of his subsequent books, it has been reprinted several times. His first book on banksias was published in 1975, written in collaboration with Banksia expert Geoffrey Watton, and the current book is the third revised edition, aiming to bring us up to date with a very popular genus which has undergone some extensive revision in recent years. As the authors admit, so recent are some of these changes that they were not able to include them, such as B. croajingolensis (described in 2007) and the nettle that no one seems willing to grasp, the wholesale transfer of Dryandra to Banksia, also proposed in 2007. In addition, there are three other taxa not included, B. ashbyi subsp.boreoscaia, B. incana var. brachyphylla and B. sphaerocarpa var. pumilio. These were described by Alex George in 2008 for the new book "Banksias", by Kevin Collins, Cathy Collins and Alex George. Nevertheless, the book includes 108 banksias - 77 species, 16 subspecies and varieties, 11 registered cultivars and another four available from some specialist nurseries which are essentially good or unusual forms of naturally occurring species.

The book follows the format of many of Ivan Holliday's other books, being of field guide size with a short introduction to the genus and information on cultivation requirements. The bulk of the book deals with the individual taxa and most have a double-page spread, with text on the left page and a habit or habitat picture of the plant. The right hand side has a large format (12 by 9.5 cm) close-up picture of the flower heads to help identification, a map of Australia indicating distribution and a photograph of a fruit. The text is comprehensive, very readable and not overly scientific, covering a general plant description, botanical information on the leaves, flowers and fruits, ecological information on its habitat, its distribution and brief, practical advice on cultivation. It concludes with a bibliography (somewhat dated: eg. the only reference to Victorian flora is the 1972 "Handbook to plants in Victoria" by Jim Willis), a detailed glossary with many of the terms illustrated, a list of cultivars, and indexes of common and scientific names.

This is an ideal and relatively inexpensive book to gain an overview of most aspects of the genus Banksia, and amply fulfils the claim of its subtitle to be a "field and garden guide". While much of the cultivation advice is orientated towards South Australian conditions, it is informative enough to be used throughout Australia. I do have some concern over the quality of a number of the illustrations, due, I suspect, to some inadequacies in digital processing. Around 21 of the photographs appeared in the first edition, and even some of these are not as good as in the original edition: eg. B. sphaerocarpa var sphaerocarpa, B. oreophila (in the original as B. quercifolia var integrifolia), B. dryandroides. Some of the habitat pictures are not sharp and I found the blue-green cast on the leaves of some species such as B. blechnifolia and B. elegans to be distracting when I expected them to be a dark green. However, these are only minor and probably arguable blemishes on what is otherwise a very useful book.


Banksias: A Field and Garden Guide

Ivan Holliday and Geoffrey Watton
Third Revised Edition; Australian Plants Society (SA Region), Adelaide 2008
RRP $29.95
192pp. soft cover, colour illustrations.

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), June 2009.

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