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Book Review

Australian Rainforest Plants VI - Nan and Hugh Nicholson

Reviewed by Cherree Densley

Book cover

Don't you just love to open a new book on Australian plants and be instantly captivated by both the wonderful photos and the interesting writing - both of which take you away to another place?

Reading the latest volume on the Australian Rainforest plants by Nan and Hugh does that and more. It is just so interesting. Did you know that the flowers of the Mountain Aspen (Acronychia chooreechillum) are used by the Golden Bowerbirds to decorate their bowers? Or that the Lacewing Vine (Adenia heterophylla subsp. heterophylla) attracts the Red Lacewing Butterfly? Or that the Aboriginals used the Fish-Hook Vine, Hugonia jenkinsii, for just that? Or even that the Beach Aglaia, Aglaia elaeagonia, is being investigated for use as an insecticide? These are just examples of some of the fascinating information within the descriptions of the 120 species of Australian rainforest plants in the sixth volume. Don't you admire the dedication these authors/growers/photographers have for this mammoth task they have set themselves? It is now 20 years since their first book in this series. This volume is just as good as the others.

Plants from less favourable habitats are featured this time - the drier rainforests and vine scrubs. The descriptions are extremely well written, and even apart from the great background information to each plant, there are notes on distribution, cultivation and propagation. Vines, sundews, orchids, palms, gingers, daisies, herbs, fruit, climbers, trees, shrubs, mistletoes and pines (including the recently discovered Wollemi), all get represented in this book. The beautiful, the poisonous, the edible, the medicinal and the endangered are all represented here. It probably comes as no surprise that one of the MOST endangered plants in Australia is a rainforest plant. It is Fontainea iraria from Lennox Head where only 10 plants remain (only three of which are certainly female). "Housing development, vandalism, weeds and plant collectors are serious threats on top of the usual perils facing very small isolated populations, such as natural disasters and inbreeding."

The photographs, as mentioned, are a real feature - they are clear, beautifully balanced in their frames and enable easy identification. Don't you just love the photo of the Matchbox Bean (page 33) Entada phaseoloidesi? This is an enormous climber with the mature pods at 1.33 metres - the photo gives a good indication of its impressive strength. I remember clearly the film showing breaking off of these beans from the pods in one of David Attenborough's rich videos on the plant kingdom (the one on seed dispersal). "The beautiful hard shiny seeds are great travellers, riding the ocean currents for years and still retaining viability". I would love to see one of these growing in northern Queensland, north of Rockhampton to Cape York. Maybe one day?

The authors make many pertinent remarks in the summing up at the end of the plant descriptions. "The Right Rainforest" struck a chord with me. It is worth a careful and thoughtful read. "Planting a rainforest shrub from Caims in Melbourne is fine but it is not planting native."

Australian Rainforest Plants VI

Nan and Hugh Nicholson
Terania Rainforest Publishing, 2004.
RRP $16.95
Soft cover, 72 pages, colour photographs

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Victorian Region of the Australian Plants Society, September 2005.

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