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Cultivated Plants of the WorldBOOK REVIEWS

Cultivated Plants of the World
Trees, Shrubs & Climbers

By Don Ellison
Published by Flora Publications, Australia, 1995

Reviewed by Gordon Collier

Don Ellison's eagerly awaited pictorial dictionary of cultivated plants of the world is a work of heroic proportions. Its 598 pages are beautifully designed and bound, a significant new corner to a world already well endowed with books. The title proclaims a publication of unusual scope. How could so much be encompassed between two covers? The short answer is, it can't. It is not at once apparent that angiosperms (flowering plants) only are covered, gymnosperms including conifers, are excluded.

The author is Australian, a Brisbane based horticulturist with a lifetime's experience in nursery work, both selling and propagating and who latterly operated a seed production business. Ellison has also been active in radio and has written about gardening over a long period. Herein lie the clues to the context of this plant dictionary.

Beginning with brief notes on plant classification and nomenclature, the author moves on to cover planting distances, climate and soil, propagation and plant selection. This information is basic but will be helpful to many. Ellison is in deep water when discussing plant classification. He writes "true breeding hybrids are given species style names with the addition of the sign. For example Daphne burkwoodii". It is my understanding that the sign denotes a hybrid between two species, in this instance between Daphne caucasica and D. cneorum. The progeny of this cross do not breed true.

On casual inspection this dictionary is all it promises. Clearly printed on glossy paper, the photographs, up to 10 per page, are of sufficient size to make identification of a vast range of plants possible. Mostly close-ups of flowers and foliage, the images are sharp and the colour accurate. Approximately 5,000 plants are reproduced in the 566 pages of pictorial reference. An excellent index concludes along with indexes of common names and synonyms. A helpful feature through the book is a coloured margin which contains guide reference information. Clearly this is value for money.

"Cultivated Plants of the World" will become a standard reference in Australia. The question must be asked, Will it be equally valued by New Zealanders? It would be easy to allow one's judgement to be clouded by its magnitude and scope, by the multitude of wonderful photographs and by the enormous effort of author and photographer alike. Further scrutiny shows however, that from a New Zealander's viewpoint there is not only an imbalance in the plant selection process between warm and cool climates, there is also a clear bias towards Australian and to 'nursery' plants, that is, plants with showy flowers and/or foliage. For instance there are 42 illustrations of Callistemon, 80 of Grevillea, 87 of Hibiscus, 84 of Bougainvillea, 40 of Melaleuca, 39 of Banksia and 24 of Poinsettia (Euphobia pulcherrima), while there are only 9 of Quercus, 4 of Betula and none of either Tilia or Nyssa. Rhododendron is represented by 45 photographs, 9 of which are species and there are an additional 50 pictures of rhododendrons belonging to the vireya section. Most of these are hybrids unfamiliar to New Zealanders and there are no species.

Don Ellison has travelled extensively photographing plants. He has yet to visit New Zealand. Readers will smile at the cordyline on p. 178 which is clearly not C. indivisa yet marvel at the dazzling variety of C. terminalis available in Australia. Understandably few of our native plants have been selected and puriri has become pururi. There are few errors otherwise.

A number of plants dear to New Zealand gardeners are missing: Magnolia 'Iolanthe', Photinia 'Red Robin', Azara microphylla, Cornus 'Eddie's White Wonder' spring to mind. Few gardens here are without Lavatera 'Barnsley' and Rhododendron yakushimanum, both of which are world wide favorites. Meanwhile be content with such unfamiliar plants as Acokanthera, Acrocarpus, Aeschynanthus, Afgekia, and Anthotroche, not forgetting Tetratheca, Theobroma, Thespesia and Theretia. This is a book for the plantaholic.

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1996 1(1): 26

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