Book Reviews

Cycads of Australia

cycadsofaustraliaby Ken Hill & Roy Osborne 

Published by Kangaroo Press, Sydney

For the short version, this book is excellent, and the first to cover this subject since 30 or so new species (of the 69 described here) were named in recent years. It is written by two experienced botanists and cycad enthusiasts who have seen virtually all the species in the wild, and all the photos were taken in the field, either by them or by members of SGAP or PACSOA (Palm & Cycad Societies of Australia).

Ken Hill is a senior botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, and has over the last 15 years or so revised the genus Cycas in Australia, the Pacific Islands and Asia. Roy Osborne studied cycads at the University of Natal for 20 years or so, then migrated to Australia about a decade ago, when he became commercially and scientifically involved in Australian cycads.

The book is similar to “The Grevillea Book” in having a colour shot of each species (and subspecies where relevant) in habitat, plus close-ups of cones, seeds and fronds in many cases.

It commences with 17 introductory pages of which two deal with cycad relationships world-wide, two with cycad anatomy and morphology, three with reproduction and seed dispersal, three with hybrids, two with Aboriginal and Islander usage and cycad toxicity, two with conservation and three with cultivation. All of these are comprehensive, clear, and marvels of compression.

Then there are 95 pages on the species, one page listing books for further reading, one page on cycad-oriented web-sites, one on cycad-oriented societies and a 1-page index to species. There is no glossary as such, but the terms used, many more or less specific to cycads, are defined fully in the introductory pages.

The 69 species covered are arranged in families (Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae, Zamiaceae), and within families arranged in groups of related species, and not alphabetically (a sure sign of a professional botanist!). Each species or subspecies has a location map, notes on distribution, habitat descriptions usually including soil, topography and climate details, conservation status (rarity etc.), a list of the main distinguishing features, and notes on any other unusual features.

The book is almost error-free (a typo at p. 63 needs ‘Bowenia’ deleted from the heading), up to date, and a great improvement on any other general book dealing with Australian cycads.

While being printed, a couple more rather insignificant-looking Macrozamia species have been described and named, and I expect a few more yet to come. Also, M. machinii, which is recognised as a separate species by the Brisbane Herbarium but not by the Sydney one, has been omitted, but a note on it is on p.103.

An entire book could be written on cultivation of cycads, so that section is necessarily less than complete. However, the habitat notes give a useful guide in most cases. The lists on p.16 of cycads for various garden applications are correct as far as they go, but many other species could be listed in most categories. In particular, the list of cold-hardy cycads could be greatly extended, by Macrozamia moorei, M. fearnsidei, M. lucida, M. miquelii and many more.

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