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Horticultural Flora of Southeastern Australia - Flowering Plants. Dicotyledons. Part 1.
R. Spencer. 1997. Univ. New South Wales Press, Sydney 2052 Australia. 606 pp. $96.95. Exclusive distributor in the U.S.: International Specialized Book Services, Inc., Portland, Oregon.

Delighted to pick up this nicely illustrated volume, I was pleased and surprised when it fell open to pages 118-119, respectively marijuana and hops. And that will give us an idea of how much economic botany and medicine is therein. Re Cannabis, the author says, "Cultivation of this plant is illegal and it is a declared noxious weed for the ACT, Victoria and New South Wales. Some innocuous dow THC) clones are grown commercially on a limited scale in Tasmania for fiber production. It has been used medicinally as a sedative. An oil, used in paint and soap, is extracted from the seed. But unmentioned is the sedative activity of hops, legally sold as an herbal sedative here in the U.S.

I've always had trouble separating curly dock (Rumex crispus L., Polygonaceae) from broadleaf (R. obtusifolius L.), but this flora keys them out the same way most of our U.S. floras do; the curly dock lacks teeth on the valves of the fruit, while the broadleaf dock has teeth. Though less than two inches tall, the illustrations of the plants clearly show this distinction. But there were no medicinal uses. I was disappointed that the author does not mention polygodial (a chemical sesquiterpene) now marketed from Australia for yeast, under Drimys winteri, Forster & Forster f., Winteaceae or winter's bark, one of the main sources of polygodial. Nope. All it said was "USES: Medicinal; the bark was once used as treatment for scurvy."

Like most of our U.S. floras, such books are made for the taxonomic specialists, those botanists who specialize in naming plants accurately, a rare and endangered breed of botanist badly needed but in short supply in this day of burgeoning herbal sales. This is a good book for the taxonomist, but not of that much use to the U.S. herbalist, unless planning a trip to Australia. Even then, this, as a horticultural flora, will be of more help with cultivated alien plants in Australia than with the local uncultivated Australian plants. Local floras deal with the native plants; horticultural floras deal with the cultivated things from all over the world. Thus, this will be useful to herb, flower, and crop growers of similar climates around the world, where many of the same plants are cultivated.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By James A. Duke