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Robyn Stacey and Ashley Hay
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 156 p., $75.00

Among Australia’s most acclaimed photographers and equally recognized for her scholarship in the field, Robyn Stacey has brought together an exhibit of her photographic work, showing some of the rare beauty of Australia’s flora, as found in the major herbarium collection of that continent. Through the magic of her lenses, many plants float in space as abstract art. Others, so delicate that time has withered their foliage and flower, are caught in the pose the botanists selected when they were first laid down for storage.

The text by Ashley Hay is an adventure story, relating the trials that botanists faced as they discovered the flora of Australia from its earliest colonial days through the 20th century. The brief narrative reflects a common theme for these adventurers: the overwhelming excitement when the pioneer scientists first faced the unknown world and the glory of discovery; the obstacles they encountered, not the least of which were those put there by rigid authorities; the trudging labor of preserving their floral treasures while crossing a continent; and, the tremendous task of identifying each specimen in a constantly changing classification system. Early death, due to disease or unfriendly natives, was frequent among these pioneers, so the specimens they collected serve as fragile memorials. A list of botany notes connects each specimen in the collection to its history and collector. The author’s scholarship in the field is formidable, yet her literary style is engaging. The book is highly recommended for all readers.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden