Plants of the Victorian High Country: A Field Guide for Walkers, 2nd Edition
by John Murphy and Bill Dowling
Published by CSIRO Publishing, October 2018
168 pages, paperback, colour photographs, AU $39.99
If, like me, you love the outdoors but sometimes need a good excuse to stop and breathe during a bushwalk, then this book’s for you! It will encourage walkers with little botanical knowledge to take time on the track to identify the plants they see in Victoria's High Country.
This second edition describes 133 plants found in the montane, sub-alpine and alpine zones (altitudes above 900 metres). For ease of identification, plants are categorised in five groups: herbs, daisy herbs, low woody shrubs, tall shrubs and trees (other than eucalypts), and eucalypts. In practice, I found that determining which group a plant belonged to could be confusing – tall herbs and small, woody shrubs can be quite similar. Fortunately, the detailed plant descriptions are accompanied by 155 clear colour photographs of flowers, leaves, stems, fruits and seed pods.
As photos make identification much easier, it was disappointing that no photographs were included of the eight described eucalypts. Although their bark may be the most reliable distinguishing feature, a photo or sketch of the leaves, flowers and fruits would assist a layperson.
The guide includes a glossary of botanical terms and very helpful sketches of six flower types; the index lists plants by both species and common name. This edition also includes brief but fascinating information on the Aboriginal use of the plants – for food, hunger or thirst suppressant, as fibre for weaving or for medicinal use – although the authors are careful to remind readers that many plants that look edible are actually poisonous.
Whilst most bushwalkers would be aware that the High Country is located in north-east Victoria, and features national parks and Victoria’s highest mountains, I think that the inclusion of a map showing the location and breadth of the High Country would make the guide more appealing to travellers or occasional walkers. I would also have liked an indication of which plants were rare, vulnerable or endangered.
Minor criticisms aside, Plants of the Victorian High Country is recommended for walkers and nature lovers alike. It fits easily in a backpack, and with flowering seasons extending from August to May, there’s always something new to discover whilst exploring your next mountain. You can purchase the book here.