Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers by Bob Gibbons | Paperback | Waterproof PVC cover | Mar 2013 | 192 pages | 180 colour photos | ISBN: 9781780092614

Publisher’s View: A handy and easy-to-use field guide covering about 120 wild flower species which are common in Britain and the rest of Europe. Each is illustrated using the author’s remarkable photography, while the accompanying text covers information such as ID features, flowering time, distribution, habitat, status, confusion species and interesting facts such as plant uses.

Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers is as visually impressive as it is useful in the field with many stunning full-page and double-page images to support the authoritative text. The introduction explains the basics of flower forms and their identification.

Printed on quality paper, the paperback format with flaps adds to Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers’s durability in the field and provides built-in page-markers for quick reference.

Fatbirder View: I certainly like the portability of this handy guide, small enough to slip into any pocket and light enough to barely be noticed. I am also a fan of the permanent protective cover. The basic format and content are also fine… so far as they go. Most entries carry supplementary identification info along with the crucially important flowering time. By and large the photographs are attractive, if sometimes rather dark in this small format.

However, one must judge a guide purely from the viewpoint of the potential user. Clearly this is NOT for botanists but the general public – the sort of guide one might carry on a country walk or turn to when one of the kid’s asks what is that flower. Judged from that angle its use is very limited.

Almost any photographic guide suffers from a central problem… camera’s don’t work like brains. If you take a plant photo in situ the camera doesn’t filter out everything else, nor does it pick out the most salient feature – the thing that makes a plantain a plantain or a rose a rose… the brain does. This is why I favour guides with drawn illustrations, they can cover different phases and plant parts as well as point out the crucial ID features.

Furthermore, this guide is more suited to an outing looking for target species than it is for identifying what you see. If you want to achieve the latter then there needs to be a way for the user to quickly get to a candidate species. The obvious way would be to use colour as the primary filter, with height or flower shape as a second or tertiary filter. The book is not a botanical guide or it would have to cover hundreds of plants rather than the far fewer common ones covered. However, it is set out in taxonomic order. This makes sense where you cover all species of an order, such as all the reptiles or birds found in an area, but not when you are covering the most common, for the common (wo)man. Even names are important. A botanist is likely to know Clematis vitalba as Traveller’s Joy, but I’d lay odds the majority would know it as ‘Old man’s beard’. I would also prefer less description (that’s what pictures are for) and more formulaic guiding such as the distribution etc. set out as well as is the flowering time.

In short this guide is helpful but limited and not as ‘easy to use’ as the target customers might wish.

Fatbirder Buy this book from www.nhbs.com