Books for Nature Lovers
Flora: A Gardeners Encyclopedia
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Review By: Urban Green File Sept/Oct 2004

This book, which truly deserves to be called a tome (Concise Oxford: a large, heavy book), is published in two volumes and runs to 1 584 pages. It has been called the bible for the world's gardeners, horticulturists and landscape designers. There is coverage on over 20 000 plants in a user friendly A-Z format and all the horticultural plant groups from trees and shrubs to bulbs and herbs and on to lawns and groundcovers, climbers and eqiphytes, are covered. These plants are illustrated by over 11 000 fabulour colour photographs. Organised alphabetically according to botanical names, the individual plant entries provide a detailed description of each plant and its feature, notes on its natural origin, growth habit and cultivation requirements. 

According to international publisher Gordon Cheers of Global Book Publishing in Australia, eight editions of Flora have been published so far for the following countries: Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, UK, India, Japan and South Africa, and he is talking top publishers in other countries about further editions. There are already over 100 000 copies of this encyclopedia in print. 

Hardiness is a major focus of Flora and each plant's region of origin places it in one of 12 hardiness zones, depicted on a map of the world and indicating the plant's ability to grow in a particular set of physical circumstances. As South Africa is a signatory to the Biodiversity Convention and has recently promulgated the Biodiversity Act, Urban Green File, with its strongly environmental thrust, was relieved to see very clear mention of the dangers of importing and planting alien species that are invasive in South Africa, because of this impact they may have on our indigenous species and our environment as a whole. Any importing of new species, according to law, require an Environmental Impact Assessment. In the introduction, a statement is made that there is increasing awareness of "the urgent need to preserve what is not yet destroyed or irrevocably altered, so that the delicate balance that keeps our planet livable is not damaged beyond repair". Landscape designers and nurserymen need to be environmentally aware and use this encyclopedia with discretion?.as it says in that same introduction, gardeners need "to ensure that any plant purchased or imported will not endanger our natural environment". 

Other than the extensive coverage that is given to the world's plants, the most remarkable aspect of this book is the many, many stunning photographs of plants, normally associated with cultivation, growing in the wild - in their natural habitats. To name a handful, there are pictures of Blue or Rocky Mountain Columbines (Aquilegia caerulia) in Juan National forest in Colorado, USA; masses of the Broad-leafed or Mountain Arnica (Arnica latifolia), usually associated with its medicinal use as a balm for bruising, in full flower in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, USA; the renowned Australian Protea, floral emblem of New South Wales, commonly known as the Waratah (Telopea speciosissima), in its natural environment in Australia; the Waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos), better known as an addition to Cape stews, in flower on a stretch of open water in the Cederburg in South Africa; Delphiniums (Delphinium barbeyi) also native to the Rocky Mountains in the wild at Mount Sneffels in Colorado, USA?.along with rare endemics such as Dendrosenecio erici-rosenii photographed in a fairytale forest in the Ruwenzori Mountains of Uganda and Namibia's extraordinary desert plant Welwitchia mirabilis, individuals of which ar up to 1500 years old, seen in the Namib Desert. 

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