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Book Review

Rainforest Climbing Plants - A field guide to their identification
Gwen Harden, Bill McDonald and John Williams

Reviewed by John Moss

Book cover

This newly-published, glossy, soft-covered, A4 sized book replaces an earlier 50pp edition (1984), by two of the current authors, known as the "Green Book", which described, illustrated and compared 140 species of vines and scramblers from (mainly) NSW rainforests.

The new book of 190 pages describes and illustrates 265 species and has been completely rewritten, although keeping to the essentials of the original format.

The range of the book now extends from southern Victoria roughly to Rockhampton at the Tropic of Capricorn and includes species in vine scrubs, the drier inland extensions of rainforests. It also includes marginal species from rainforest edges and wet sclerophyll ecotone, as well as many exotic and/or weedy species.

The descriptions have been expanded and the nomenclature has been brought up to date with the addition of new illustrations of fruit and/or seed. The book also includes a comprehensive, illustrated glossary and a large reference/bibliography section. The single index is clear and easy to follow, with the main entries in bold.

The introductory section gives useful information on:

  • how to use the book for identifications
  • nomenclature and use of botanical and common names
  • plant distributional ranges
  • definitions of all rainforest types and subforms
  • descriptions of same
  • maps of rainforest areas of NSW, Vie and subtropical Qld.
  • special features of climbing plants

The mainly dichotomous, easy to follow keys to species are based on vegetative features including specialised climbing structures. These 15 keys logically divide the plants (in 15 groups) down to each species. They are preceded by another key which identifies all 15 groups enabling easy group placement of the plant in question. All 16 keys have line-drawing illustrative examples.

Book cover

The main descriptive section sensibly uses the same group nomenclature system as in the keys. The botanical descriptions use a minimum of technical language and include current botanical name, previous name (useful, as much reassigning has occurred in recent years) and common name. There are notes on: distribution, habit, habitat; whether cultivated, naturalised or neither; whether exotic or native. There are clearly written descriptions of stems, leaves, flowers and fruit and any other relevant/useful structure, plus accurate line drawings of stem, leaves, fruit seed and other parts where relevant. Although flowers could not be included in the illustrations the written descriptions are quite adequate.

One useful backup I noticed was the addition of duplicate entries for a few species which could fall into more than one group or subgroup, depending on whether or not a particular feature was present on the specimen in hand. This helps to avoid going down the "wrong track"!

This book is an essential companion to the 2006 landmark publication "Rainforest Trees and Shrubs" (or "Red Book") by the same authors and thus completes the rainforest 'macroflora'. Students of both botany and entomology would find these books invaluable - they contain a large percentage of our moth and butterfly host plants and provide the illustrations that some members have asked for.

The authors, and Gwen in particular, have put an enormous effort into producing these two books, which to my knowledge, have no competitors elsewhere. They are both unique and highly accurate and fill a gap between their earlier editions and the few (incomplete) colour photo illustrated books (such as the Nicholson volumes) currently available.

Rainforest Climbing Plants - A field guide to their identification

Gwen Harden, Bill McDonald and John Williams
Gwen Harden Publishing, Nambucca Heads NSW, 2007.
RRP $40
Soft cover, 192 pages, illustrations

This book and Rainforest Trees and Shrubs are both available directly from the senior author and illustrator via the Gwen Harden Publishing website.

From 'SGAP Queensland Bulletin', the newsletter of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Qld), June 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2008
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants