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Book Review

Field Guide to Eucalypts - Volume 1 South-eastern Australia - M I H Brooker and D A Kleinig

Reviewed by Neil Marriott

Book cover

Since this guide was first published in 1983, the genus Eucalyptus has undergone considerable study and research, which culminated in 1988 in Volume 19 of the Flora of Australia and accounted for all species published to that time.

In 1999 Brooker and Kleinig revised their Field Guide to accommodate all the new species published. Still the research continued and to accommodate this work we now have the third edition - a testament to the popularity of and the need for this wonderful guide.

Volume 1 covers the majority of south-eastern Australia, from the top of Spencer Gulf in South Australia across to the Murray-Darling junction and east of the Darling River in New South Wales to the Queensland border as well as Tasmania, dealing with all known eucalypt species and subspecies from this region.

Following a chapter on the brief history of the genus Eucalyptus, there is a thorough analysis of the eucalypt plant - size and habit, lignotubers, bark, seed, leaves, inflorescences, flowers, fruits and much more. The information here is wonderful, with line drawings and clear colour photos of bark types, leaf glands, bud characters etc. which make the book easier to use.

Next are keys for the identification of all eucalypts in the volume, with separate, easy to use keys for each state. NSW even has separate keys for the coast and adjacent hills, the western and northern plains and rivers, the western slopes, tablelands and ranges and the Australian Capital Territory. An additional bonus in the keys is brief distribution data - often a helpful aid in identification.

We then get to the main part of the book - the species, and this is where the controversy begins! . . .

Unlike most other authors, Brooker and Kleinig have taken a very conservative treatment of the genus, lumping in Corymbia for example as a subgenus rather than as a genus in its own right. Just when we were getting used to calling the Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata, for example, we now find it retained as Eucalyptus maculata. The same applies to the other eight Corymbia species dealt with in this volume. Some will like this treatment, I find it rather disappointing.

The species are presented in their subgenera, with a brief description and background notes on each subgenus, most of which is quite fascinating. For example, the subgenus Symphyomyrtus which is the largest subgenus in Eucalyptus comes from the Greek sympho, joined, and myrtos, a myrtle, and is based on Symphyomyrtus lehmannii the original name for Eucalyptus lehmannii; readers would be aware of the beautiful fused fruits of this species. For each species a precise description is given, with the most distinctive diagnostic features printed in bold. This tends to make for quick and easy assessment of any specimen being identified. Distribution notes are provided as well as a map showing the location in the region. A full page is devoted to each species, with occasional extra pages for some subspecies (but I could not work out why some subspecies received separate treatment, maps, photographs etc while another would only be briefly mentioned under the type species). The majority of each page is used to portray the clear and excellent colour pictures of the tree, the trunk, the buds and the fruits. There are occasional pictures of leaf venation/oil glands if they are a significant feature and very few pictures of flowers. As a grower of eucalypts I would have liked to see a colour picture of the flowers of all species, although I concede that this is not necessarily a diagnostic feature in a field guide.

Of concern is the number of species and subspecies that have been lumped together. Western Scentbark (Eucalyptus sabulosa) has been lumped in as a subspecies with Scentbark (E.aromaphloia), while Grampians Gum (Eucalyptus alaticaulis) has been lumped (along with three other species!) into Eucalyptus cypellocarpa without any subspecies treatment. These are just in my region alone and as a local who knows the species, I cannot understand how these clearly distinct taxa could be given this treatment.

Despite these misgivings, the Field Guide to Eucalypts Volume 1 is a beautifully produced and presented book which succeeds in its aim to be very user friendly. I particularly like the front cover of a superb stand of Mountain Ash. The photo of the ancient Mountain Ash being admired by Trust for Nature West Gippsland Regional Manager, Anne Westwood inside the front cover is also significant - Anne was the driving force, along with many members of the Australian Plants Society and other local supporters in ensuring that this magnificent piece of Strzelecki forest was permanently protected with a conservation covenant and saved from logging forever.

I highly recommend this book for all who love our eucalypts and are keen to identify those they see in their travels around the South East of Australia.

Field Guide to Eucalypts - Volume 1 South-eastern Australia
Third Edition

M I H Brooker and D A Kleinig
Bloomings Books Pty Ltd, Richmond Vic, 2006.
RRP $129.95
Hardcover, 356 pages, colour illustrations

From 'Growing Australian', the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), September 2007.

Colin Jennings is leader of ASGAP's Eremophila Study Group

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