A Field Guide to Australian Trees: A book review

No matter how much you know about trees, there is always something more to learn. This book was a fortuitous used book find.

Originally published in 1968, by Ivan Holiday and Ron Hill, it is the perfect book for throwing into your backpack or purse when heading out to hike around in the forested parts of Australia. The trees are listed in alphabetical order by scientific name, but there is a handy index in the back that lists many of the popular local names for trees.

There is a glossy, color picture of each tree as well as line drawings that depict, leaf, twig shape, seed shape and blossom. Most of the entries are short, about a page each, and lack some modern information such as whether a tree is endangered. Nor does it contain directions for planting, growing or caring for the trees if they happen to be in your backyard.

The book has been revised and updated several times. This particular edition was updated in 1989 to include taxonomic changes, and reprinted in 1994 and again in 1995.

You will not find every tree in Australia in this book, but it is a reference for people who are new to identifying trees. Just for fun, we looked up some of our trees to see if they were in the book. The results are surprisingly hit or miss, with some unexpected sideways references.

It comes as no surprise that the trees such as aloe, mango, or olive are not listed since Australia is not their country of origin. But native Australian Limes do not get even a tiny mention, while the Queensland bottle tree, Brachychiton rupestris, gets a scant paragraph under “kurrajong”!

Perhaps this would be a good place to mention that there is a third edition, published in 2002. However, one reviewer comments, “not as complete as would have liked.”

Here are a few of our trees that I did find in A Field Guide to Australian Trees:

  • Bottle Trees: Our Queensland bottle trees, brachychiton rupestris, are mentioned in a paragraph at the bottom of page 84, under the entry hybrid flame tree. The page is worth visiting if only to view the magnificent photograph of rupestre on the facing page. The line drawings are also accurate, and can be helpful in identifying a particular tree type.

Correctly identifying a Queensland bottle tree can be especially important because the other Australian tree known as a “bottle tree” is the baobab or boab, scientific name Adansonia gregorii, which is the only boab tree that grows in Australia. Thanks to recent climate change, the baobab or boab trees have been declared endangered because they are dying from unknown causes, which is why the successful transplantation of the Gija Jumulu was such a monumental big deal.

Bottom line here: you can purchase a Queensland bottle tree, brachychiton rupestris, from Designer Trees and have a gorgeous architectural feature tree for your home or office, but you cannot purchase an Adansonia gregorii. To enjoy that kind of tree, you will need to go to a park where these trees are being nurtured in the hope of saving them for future generations.

  • Grass Trees: There are many sorts of trees that are called “grass trees” but the type we focus on is the Xanthorroea glauca or blue grass tree. Grass trees are mentioned in the Field Guide under the entry “Black Gin” on page 238. The book notes (remember, it was originally published in 1968) “It is a tragedy to see fine mature plants being destroyed in new housing estates where they could, if they were preserved, become unique and trouble-free assets to the garden.”

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will know the enormous pride we take in preserving these “unique and trouble-free assets to the garden.” Fully licensed to transplant, grow, and sustainably harvest these and other endangered trees, we look upon preserving these slow-growing natives as an activity in which we can take great pride.

  • Native Australian Finger Lime: Citrus Australasica, in spite of being as Australian as kangaroos or kookaburras, does not even receive a mention. Perhaps it is because it is more of a shrub than a tree, and is part of the brushy tangles that grow up around bottle trees in the wild. If so, we would feel remiss not to mention this tasty Australian treat that can easily be grown in many backyards.

Despite its omissions and different emphasis, A Field Guide to Australian Trees is well worth examining. Having a copy of it could easily help prevent cutting down or destroying a valuable tree that could be carefully preserved or transplanted.

And that, dear readers, is what we are all about: preserving, planting, transplanting and generally caring for beautiful, precious trees.


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