Nodding blue lily: Here in the ACT we are blessed with a remarkable diversity of native plants. Photo: SuppliedPHOTOGRAPHIC GUIDE TO NATIVE PLANTS OF THE AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY By Meredith Cosgrove Meadow Argus, $45
Here in the ACT we are remarkably, perhaps unreasonably, blessed with quality field guides to what is, after all, a small part of the world. We are also blessed with a remarkable diversity of native plants, from the high Snow Gums to the wet ferny mountain gullies to the flowery dry forests of the Canberra hills to the grassy woodlands. There have been several plants guides (including, I should acknowledge, a couple of my own efforts), but until now however there has been no comprehensive guide with both text and illustrations to cover the whole territory. I am delighted to inform you that the hiatus is now ended and we need take only one book with us on any walk in the bush. I’ll probably even leave my own titles behind!
Meredith Cosgrove is a PhD student in botany at the ANU and a very good photographer. I’ve long voiced my reservations about photographic field guides, but she has got around most of the problems by using multiple photos per species – mostly four but up to five – each species being allocated a page. This leaves plenty of space for a breadth of information about each plant: habit, height, flowering, fruiting, occurrence (i.e. how common it is), habitat, key identification features and brief notes on interesting features or similar species. Maps are precise, based on herbarium specimens, and usefully extend beyond the ACT borders – plants rarely feel constrained by human boundaries. There is also an innovative, and again useful, little vertical graph of altitude frequency (how common it is at different altitudes). The inclusion of life-size scale bars for leaf, flower and fruit size is an excellent one.
One strength will probably also be a source of some initial frustration to the less flexible amongst us. She uses the most up to date taxonomy, and every now and then I open it and think “wow, when did that happen?!” when I notice that a plant has been unexpectedly moved an entirely different family.
The book’s arrangement, into plant families, may initially feel a bit of a challenge to a lay user, but there is a cleverly designed table at the start of the book to help us painlessly past this issue. (And of course we’re doing ourselves a favour when we learn the main families anyway.)
Anyone with an interest in plants who lives in or around the bush capital, as bushwalker, landowner, gardener, wildflower rambler or even serious plant student, will benefit from this book. I already love it and I think we’re all in Cosgrove’s debt.
Ian Fraser is a local naturalist, broadcaster, natural history blogger and author, whose most recent book is Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide.
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