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A Good Read

.....what's current in print?

Reviews in this issue cover "Wildflowers of the Snow Country" by Ian Fraser and Margaret McJannett, "Australia’s Most Threatened Ecosystems - the Southern Lowland Native Grasslands" by Jamie Kirkpatrick, Keith McDougall and Michael Hydet and "Creating an Australian Rainforest Garden" by Ralph Bailey and Julie Lake . Books Diagram

Wildflowers of the Snow Country - A Field Guide to the Australian Alps
Ian Fraser and Margaret McJannett; Illustrations by Helen Fitzgerald

Published by Vertego Publications, GPO Box 3268, Canberra, ACT, 2601. Email: ianf@pcug.org.au, 1998
Softcover, 186 pages, 157 watercolours; $AUS24

Reviewed by Brian Walters

A reasonably regular question received at the Society’s internet site is, "Can you recommend a good field guide to the Australian flora....something like the several good field guides to Australian birds?"

Unfortunately it’s a question without a ready answer...there are just too many plants to make an "all encompassing" field guide practical. The usual reply is to find out the geographical area (or the particular group of plants) that the person is most interested in and take it from there.

Field guides come in all shapes and sizes, many produced by local groups or individuals. Because of this the format of many of them is idiosyncratic....sometimes a field guide to the field guide would be useful! There are no such problems in "Wildflowers of the Snow Country". The authors have devised a classification system based on obvious characteristics of the plants. The main classification is based on flower colour and divides the plants into the following groups:

  • Mostly white or cream
  • Mostly yellow
  • Mostly blue, mauve or purple
  • Mostly red or pink
  • Mostly green, brown or inconspicuous flowers

Within this main subdivision, numerous other characteristics help the user to narrow down the identification to a small number of possibilities. These characteristics include the size and symettry of the flowers, number of petals, the floral arrangement (eg. clusters at the ends of the stems, "spidery" form, etc) and the habit of the particular plant.

Once a possible identification is made, the detailed characteristics of the individual plants lead to a (hopefully) correct identification. Each species is described one to a page with its key physical characteristics, details of similar plants that may cause confusion, information on distribution and habitat and general comments. Invaluable aids are the superb watercolours by Helen Fitzgerald. These are far more useful in a field guide than photographs as they allow specific identifying features of flowers, fruit and foliage to be highlighted.

"Invaluable aids are the superb watercolours by Helen Fitzgerald....they allow specific identifying features of flowers, fruit and foliage to be highlighted."

Both semi alpine and true alpine habitats of north eastern Victoria and south eastern New South Wales are covered by the book. This includes Namdagi, Kosciuskco Victorian Alpine and Mt Buffalo National Parks.. The book confines itself to the flowering plants (ie ferns, fungi etc are excluded) and also it also excludes trees, grasses and sedges. The exclusion of trees is my only quibble. The authors state the relatively few eucalypts in the region are "...dealt with elsewhere..." and their identification "...does not rely strongly on flowers". Fair enough. But inclusion of the eucs would have been nice!

Apart from the species descriptions, the book also includes some broad comments on alpine vegetation and habitats and provides clear diagrams and explanations of basic flower structure. Particularly useful are the guides to pronunciation of each plant name... as in "cal-IST-e-mon pit-ee-OY-deez" (Callistemon pityoides).

The authors have been involved with the local environment movement in the ACT for many years and have collaborated on 6 previous publications about the flora and fauna of the region. Since 1984 they have run the successful Environment Tours programme which has introduced hundreds of people to the wonder of the Australian bush.

"Wildflowers of the Snow Country" will be an indispensable aid to anyone interested in alpine flora. It might just be enough to make me finally visit the high country this summer.


Australia’s Most Threatened Ecosystems - the Southern Lowland Native Grasslands
Jamie Kirkpatrick, Keith McDougall and Michael Hyde

Reviewed by Neil Marriott

"On a global scale the ecosystems most reduced and endangered by human activity are the prairie and steppe grasslands of the temperate zone, which are almost extinct". So begins the history of grasslands in SE Australia, of which "only 0.5% of the original area remains in even semi-natural condition".

Aboriginal practices of patch-burning and digging prior to the European invasion are discussed, along with the processes that the Europeans carried out to transform the native grassland habitat. The introduction of stock was rapidly followed by the invasion of a group of European plants. Historical documentation of this decline is recorded from various parts of SE Australia, and it is noted that "the widespread application of fertilisers, and the sowing of introduced pasture plants, in the second half of the twentieth century probably let to the demise of more native grassland than ploughing in the nineteenth century."

As a result there are few large areas left, with rubbish tips, cemeteries, railway and road reserves and the like preserving the scattered fragments of this once vast ecosystem. The greatest remnants are now to be found on private property albeit in a largely modified and degraded state. They have survived a history of light grazing and ironically now depend in many instances on that grazing to maintain their open structure essential for their survival.

"......of the grassland sites in Western Victoria recorded by John Sturve in 1986, 44% had been destroyed, severely degraded or earmarked for destruction by 1992"

The undoubted horticultural and eco-tourism potential of native grasslands are discussed, but despite these and numerous other attributes most native grassland remnants continue to be destroyed. "For example, of the grassland sites in Western Victoria recorded by John Sturve in 1986, 44% had been destroyed, severely degraded or earmarked for destruction by 1992". The next chapter goes into the ecology of lowland grassland, its pre-European distribution, the causes of ‘treelessness’ and the values and timing of fire as a management tool.

Further chapters deal with and discuss all the rare and endangered plants, reasons for their decline, the threat of weeds, and a thorough description of the major grassland communities.

The final chapter "Saving the Grasslands" discusses the reasons why grasslands are still disappearing, best management regimes, and what actions need to be taken to ensure the survival of all grassland communities. This includes advice for Governments as well as individuals and community organisations, so that we can all contribute to the conservation of this ecosystem.

There is an excellent appendix of further reading for those wishing to delve further into this wonderful plant community. With numerous line drawings and over 20 colour plates, this book should be compulsory reading for all those interested in this, our most threatened ecosystem. I found this little book to be an excellent and concise guide to the natural and man-made history of grasslands and their management in SE Australia. After reading it I can see that every small remnant grassland is of value and worth preserving.

From the June 1998 issue of the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).


Creating an Australian Rainforest Garden
Ralph Bailey and Julie Lake

Published by Lothian, Port Melbourne, Victoria, 3207, 1994
Softcover, 64 pages, $AUS12.95

Reviewed by Brian Walters

Interest in Australian rainforest plants has increased greatly over the past few years...witness the burgeoning membership of the Rainforest Study Group. However, the gardening public is still largely ignorant of the wealth of beautiful plant species hidden away in Australian rainforests. This book is aimed at a general audience but there is sufficient detail and information to satisfy the needs of even the most expert grower of Australian plants.

The book contains a wealth of diagrams, tables and photographs (some in brilliant colour) and includes sections on planning, plant selection, maintenance, weed control, pests and diseases and basic propagation. Other sections cover planting in specific situations (eg. coastal planting, small gardens/courtyards, containers and growing rainforest plants in inland areas). All sections include listings of suitable species for the particular application.

Rainforest Garden

A very useful chapter covers the selection of plants based on desirable characteristics. This includes plants with spectacular flowers, variegated foliage, edible fruit, colourful new growth and decorative fruit (including a list of no less than 30! different "Lily-Pillys"). Plants which are desirable for their fragrant flowers or foliage are also covered although, as the authors note, sometimes fragrance is a personal thing...how many would like to grow Mallotus claoxyloides, said to smell like possums? (Possum's what, I ask you!)

Another chapter is devoted to the enjoyment of the garden, something often overlooked. Here the authors discuss lighting, creating vantage points, garden furniture and attracting wildlife.

Overall the book mentions several hundred rainforest species and 50 are described in detail. A list of suppliers of rainforest plants is included; as might be expected, most of these are in northern NSW and Queensland.

This is a very well presented book at a reasonable price and is one which deserves to succeed. The authors are well qualified. Ralph Bailey is an architect/landscape planner and is the designer of the Gondwana Rainforest Sanctuary at Southbank, Brisbane. Julie Lake is a horticultural writer and Queensland correspondent for "Australian Horticulture" journal. Both are members of SGAP.

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Australian Plants online - December 1998
The Society for Growing Australian Plants