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Wildflowers of the Fairest Cape: The Wildflowers of the Western Cape, South Africa

Wildflowers of the Fairest Cape: The Wildflowers of the Western Cape, South Afri
Peter Goldblatt and John Manning
Cape Town, South Africa: Red Roof Design in association with the National Botanical Institute (distributed in the U.S. by Timber Press, Portland, Ore.)
Publication Date: 

paper, 315 p., $34.95

Peter Goldblatt of the Missouri Botanical Garden and John Manning of the South African National Botanical Institute have put together a photographic atlas of more than 600 common wildflowers in South Africa in an attempt to simplify wildflower identification. Their approach is based on a flow chart on page 20, which shows how to follow a few basic steps to get to the family level of classification. At this point, you can then use the extensive and detailed photographs to narrow your search to a possible genus. With genus in hand, say Syncarpha, Osteospermum or Arctotis, you can move to the text portion of the book and read brief and nontechnical descriptions to pinpoint the correct species.

It's a great idea, although the physical format of the book does not easily lend itself to flipping back and forth between illustration, text and (sometimes) flow chart. Had this book been published spiral-bound and in a slightly smaller and more convenient format, I might agree that the methodology works well. However, the constant flipping back and forth means that the spine will fail at some point (even though the signatures of the book are both sewn and glued, which means they will resist wear).

Of course, I was not able, as part of the review process, to test this book in the field, in the Bokkeveld or around the West Coast National Park. As an armchair visitor to the Cape, however, I found this introduction to an amazingly diverse plant kingdom intoxicating. The photographs literally jump of the page in color and detail, and the descriptive text can be understood easily by anyone with even the slightest interest in plants. How well this book works in the field will be for others to judge.

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden