Flowers of New Zealand
Photographs by Nic Bishop
Published by Hodden and Stoughton, 1990
Reviewed by Rob Lucas
no mistake about it, this is an excellent little book. Wild Flowers
of New Zealand covers over 400 species of flowering plants, both
naturalised and indigenous. Many of these plants are weeds to horticulturists,
and so the book has two important functions as a reference
text for both wild flowers and our common weeds.
To me the most outstanding
feature of the book is, in computer jargon, its "user friendliness".
This text has been carefully crafted to suit the needs of the user,
not just the reader or browser. The reader is supported by a series
of strategies which help guide him to the ultimate objective
the name of a plant he has discovered. These systems include photographs,
many of which are of excellent quality; and a text which reduces
the complexities of floral classification and structure to simple
basic concepts that are directly related to identifying plants.
Students prepared to spend a little time studying this text will
be well rewarded. They will soon absorb the necessary knowledge
and skill to use the simple keys which identify the plants, and
they will also pick up invaluable understanding on floral plant
structure as well.
Very little previous
knowledge is taken for granted. The introductory chapter explains
how the book has been planned and the ways it can be used. It includes
brief and succinct explanations of plant classification, family
features, plant naming systems and how to use the keys. The major
part of the book is split into two sections monocotyledons and dicotyledons.
The plants are grouped into families. Each family has a precis of
its main floral and vegetative characteristics presented as a simple
formula easily understood after checking out the details
on the inside of the frontcover.
The species descriptions
are unique for their simplicity and brevity. One advantage of the
restricted range of plants covered is that the descriptions have
been deliberately kept to the bare essentials.
And, should you have
a personal computer there is a BASIC programme at the back of the
book which you can use to identify the dicotyledons covered. I suspect
that the this may easily be a trap for the unwary, though. I have
found with similar BASIC programmes that a lot of time can be wasted
and frustration engendered when a semi colon is typed in the wrong
spot. I would be more impressed with this aid if the programme was
made available already on floppy disc with the book, as are other
public domain programmes, sold by computer magazines.
The book has some obvious
limitations of course. I wonder at the wisdom of including sections
on orchids and alpine plants. These groups have been well treated
in various other publications. From the horticultural point of view,
we would have been better off with a few more "real weeds" in place
of the celmisias, raoulias and other alpines. Strangely too, one
of our most striking alpine plant groups, the wild spaniards, (Aciphylla
spp.), are very poorly treated, with just one species being described
along with one of the few unsatisfactory photographs.
I would have liked to
see some other widespread and/or ecologically significant weeds
included. For example: sweet brier (Rosa rubiginosa), holly
leaved senecio (Senecio glastifolius), German Ivy (S.
angulata), corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum),
wall lettuce (Mycelis muralis), bell heather (Erica
cinerea) and heather (Calluna vulgaris).
The descriptions too,
whilst excellent overall, omit to mention the threat that several
weeds are now causing to our native bush remnants. In particular,
Tradescantia fluminensis, Hedychium flavescens
and H. gardnerianum. Mycelis muralis deserves
a mention too, as it is the only naturalised composite to establish
freely within native forest.
But, the most negative
feature of the book is the presentation of the photographs. No doubt
by publisher decree, these have been arranged in several groups
rather than being scattered throughout the text. This in itself
is a user frustration, although a relatively minor one. More significant
though is their size. Up to nine colour photographs are arranged
on one page measuring 160mm x 230mm. The resulting photographs measure
40mm x 55mm and thereby run the risk of being mistaken for
postage stamps. Nic Bishop must have found this particularly frustrating.
It is a credit to his photographic skills that most of the resulting
figures are still useful. In comparison, the recently published
book on NZ ferns (by Patrick Brownsey and John Smith-Dodsworth)
has pages measuring 190mm x 250mm, with six photographs per page
(75mm x 60mm).
However, the final test
of a book such as this is "how useful is it?" I think that it should
be on the bookshelf of every practising horticulturist. My copy
is already well thumbed. I wish it had been available when I was
in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
1991 2(2): 29-30
Reviews Main Page