The Wild Flowers of the British Isles
by Ian Garrard & David Streeter
pub. Midsummer Books, 1998
Hardback, 328 pages, £24.95
ISBN 1 900732 03 3
The thing which strikes you upon opening this book is that it really IS about the visual identification of Britain's wild flowers. Over 1450 different species are illustrated (trees, some shrubs, grasses, sedges and rushes are omitted).
The aim has been to concentrate on the natural history of the species illustrated, rather than technical data, and goes from a Contents page and Introduction straight to the first of 102 beautifully illustrated double-page plates painted by the late Ian Garrard. Each of the illustrated specimens has a text entry at the back of the book which provides notes on distribution, ecology, pollination and flowering time, and other notes. What you don't get are the technical details - whether something is perennial, dioecious, has x number of sepals or petals, and such like.
The advantage of the large double-page spreads [305mm x 210 mm page size] when compared with handy compact field guides, is that the artist can lay out similar species within an eye-glance, which is particularly helpful for any amateur botanist or wild flower enthusiast relying purely on what they can identify visually. For example, there are six good sized examples of Helleborine on the same page; dandelions and lookalikes cover seven pages and almost 50 species; and twenty one specimens of Euphrasia (Eyebright family) straddle three pages. However, as the authors point out, proper classification / identification of a specimen (particularly where a subspecies is involved) will really require technical data found in a proper flora.
As beautiful as the pictures are this is not a book to be lugged around on your field trips, but rather something for the study desk. It may therefore not suit those who like the active pursuit of tracking down Britain's flowers.