Book Reviews

Rainforest Plants of Australia: Rockhampton to Victoria

rainforestplantsofaustralia2Rainforest Plants of Australia: Rockhampton to Victoria

by Gwen Harden, Hugh Nicholson, Bill McDonald, 

Nan Nicholson, Terry Tame and John Williams.

Reviewed by Glenn Leiper

L to R: Bill McDonald, Gwen Harden, Nan Nicholson, Hugh Nicholson


This work has been a marathon effort, taking 13 years to complete, through many stages of development and form, and now culminating in an electronic format on USB. 

Most native plant enthusiasts (as well as anyone interested in bushwalking, rainforests, and our natural heritage in general) would already be aware of what we all fondly refer to as “The Red Book”, which is more accurately called “Rainforest Trees and Shrubs – a guide to their identification” by Gwen Harden, Bill McDonald and the late John Williams. It’s the “bible” on rainforest plant identification for species as far north as Rockhampton, and has undergone a few transformations over the years, commencing with the initial version in 1979, then undergoing a radical make-over in 1984, and further enhancements in 2006. An additional volume, “Rainforest Climbing Plants” (or “The Green Book” as we know it) complemented the red book, and aided rainforest flowering plant identification to a comprehensive level.

And now it has metamorphosed into this amazing body of work – an interactive electronic version on USB, that incorporates over 11,000 photos, excellent line drawings by Gwen Harden, distribution, and other detailed information for each of the 1,139 species. Each species is dealt with comprehensively with photos of leaves, bark, fruit and flowers, and other important diagnostic features that assist in its identification. And the photos are superb rainforestplantsofaustralia4throughout. As a plant photographer, I am in awe of what this project reveals. Hugh has travelled far and wide to photograph these plants and, when he has been unable to capture certain features, other photographers have helped out. In this way, it has achieved a level of comprehensiveness that is astounding.

And wait, that’s not all. The key to the plants’ identification doesn’t rely merely on photos, line drawings and information. Each species can be identified by using the specially developed key based on the Lucid system, that uses plant features such as whether the leaves are opposite or alternate. I’ve trialled the key many times and found it absolutely wonderful … you can see it eliminating unlikely species before your eyes as you enter the plant’s details and, as you enter more features, it narrows the field of potential species gradually down to one! You can imagine the amount of groundwork undertaken by the authors to ensure that all variations of each species are catered for over the entire geographic range. 

Additionally, there is a section on the rainforest types, complete with intricate representative transect paintings of each by Terry Tame, and with many high quality images that provides a detailed overview of the rainforests of the region.

This Rainforest Key will quickly establish itself as the new “bible” I predict, and it sets a new high standard for all botanical works in the future.




It is available for $80 from Nan and Hugh Nicholson at:

or Gwen Harden at Gwen Harden Publishing at:

To ensure that the USB doesn’t get easily misplaced because of its size, it is packaged with a lanyard and in a DVD case so it can be filed with your books or DVDs. Purchasing this USB will provide you with information that will probably have to be omitted from the app. version when it is released because of the limits to the amount of information able to be stored in that format.

I recommend it as an essential reference for rainforest plants of the region. But one thought … we had “The Red Book” and “The Green Book” before, but what will this new version be nick-named?

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