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on 13 September 2006
The first edition of Rose's "Wild Flower Key" appeared 25 years ago, immediately becoming one of the handiest illustrated plant guides ever produced and about the best available for British flowering plants. It covered all native and long-naturalised flowering plants of the British Isles except for grasses, sedges and rushes in addition to the commoner plants of NW Europe. That added up to 1450 species covered.

The second edition is similar to the first in most respects and builds on the strengths of the previous edition. In fact, it is so similar that I think I could have got by with my old, well-thumbed first edition copy. As one would guess from the title, this guide has a strong emphasis on keys, and they are meant to be used in plant identification - together with the text and illustrations, of course. There is a 23 page general key to families at the beginning of the book and additional keys throughout that treat important families and genera. In this edition, some groups are provided with entirely new keys. However, the 51 pages of vegetative keys by habitat remain unchanged. I used the keys of the first edition a lot and found them to be very good indeed.

As for the plates, most of them are unchanged, although the quality of printing appears to have improved somewhat. The illustrations are simple, clear, detailed and ideally suited to plant identification. In some cases there are new line drawings comparing the key features of similar species. The succinct text is set opposite the illustrations, so that all information on a species is found on a single page spread. The text has been revised and there are new "ID tips" boxes to highlight differences between similar species. Over 1600 species are now treated and the coverage has changed slightly to focus exclusively on the British Isles. The species selected include all native flowering plants except for grasses, sedges and rushes, plus the commoner introduced species. The extremely difficult complexes such as Alchemilla, Rubus, Sorbus, Euphrasia, Taraxacum and Hieracium are partially treated. Scarcer introduced plants, widely planted conifers and non-flowering plants are not covered.

The only other similar guide to the British flora would be Blamey, Fitter & Fitter's "Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland", published in 2003. At the end of the day, the choice comes down to personal preference, since both guides are authoritative. Rose perhaps has the technical edge and is often recommended for use on university field courses. The following points may be helpful in deciding between the two:-

*both cover the British Isles
*both include the plants you are likely to see - basically all native flowering plants plus the widely established exotics
*both sell for approximately the same price - about £15


*excludes grasses, sedges & rushes (that's fine as these are well-treated in other works)
*excludes ferns, horsetails & clubmosses (fair enough, since they are not flowering plants)
*emphasises the use of keys as the principal means of identification
*includes textual range information

Blamey, Fitter & Fitter...

*includes all grasses, sedges & rushes
*includes ferns, horsetails & clubmosses
*employ few keys
*include maps

If you can afford it, but both these books - you won't be disappointed. If you are serious about identifying British plants, you should also get hold of Stace's "New Flora of the British Isles" or its compact edition, the "Field Flora of the British Isles".
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on 24 November 2006
The second edition of this classsic guide has been long coming: in 25 years since the book was published, many people are surprised to learn that there have been many changes to our knowledge of wild plants.

Many features used in identification have been shown to be inaccurate. Scientific names have changed. Many non-native species have become relatively widespread.

This second edition does differ dramatically from the first, but it's all in the detail:

1. there are over 100 new line drawings of diagnostic parts of plants;

2. there are 150 new colour plant portraits;

3. over a third of the genera keys have been re-written as many did not work!

4. national referees (i.e. top experts) have written keys for difficult groups such as willowherbs and water-starworts;

5. there are completely new keys, which did not appear in the old edition e.g. to fine-leaved mayweeds;

6. the new introduction is twice as long, with much additional information to assist beginners;

7. the new glossary is three times as long, packed with new line illustrations;

8. there are new features to assist those working in conservation, such as marking plants as BAP species and with their protected species and/or red list status;

9. there is a compilation of the lastest research on ancient woodland indicator species;

10. the new edition includes extra identification tips, from the new author's experience and from specialist publications like Plant Crib, not published in any other field guide.

This book is not really a competitor with the Fitter and Blamey books, as suggested by reviews here - it goes beyond just 'picture matching' and is the only book to bridge the gap between picture guides and non-illustrated, academic floras. Plus I have to say, the illustrations in the latest Fitter and Blamey book (2003) are mostly dreadful! There are many errors, sometimes just a bit misleading (e.g. meadow buttercup lower leaf) to unidentifiable blobs (e.g. purslane) to pictures of completely the wrong plant (e.g. narrow-leaved ragwort (it should have linear leaves!!)

In case anyone thinks I am biased as author of the new edition, please note that I revised the book because I got fed up with teaching using the old, out of date edition, and I do not get royalties!
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The original edition of this book was released when I was only a 1 year-old. As a young girl, growing up near to a forest, surrouded by lovely countryside, I remember taking a passing interest in the wildlife and the flowers. For a time, this interest left me, and I began to forget all the knowledge my mum had passed onto me about the wild plants. Recently, I have longed to get this knowledge back, and to expand on it. Finding this book on Amazon, I felt I could not pass it by.

Although it is not meant as a handy field book - the sheer size of it prevents this - this is a great book both for the beginner (like me) and for those who already have a fair bit of knowledge.

The book is organised well, with lovely drawings of the plants. There is also a good introduction to the book, followed by lots of information about how to use the book, the equipment you may want to get, a guide on flower structure, where to find out more, along with other titbits of info.

For the true beginner, there is also a list of abbreviations, as well as an illustrated glossary at the back of the book.

The general key to plant families is a valuable asset to this book; beginners could not be without it.

This is an excellent edition, of what I understand to be a classic text on wild flowers and their identification. I am very pleased with my choice in beginning with this text to guide me on discovering more about wild flowers, trees and shrubs. Although I have a long way to go, I think this will help me immensely; now, as a beginner, I would not be without it.
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on 2 September 2007
Chooosing a wild flower guide is a challenge - each has its flaws.

For many years, I relied on Francis Rose's wild flower key , although some of the keys were a bit dodgy. I'm delighted that Rose's 1981 guide has finally been updated by Warne. It has an authority that not readily challenged, except by Fitter (see below). This new edition includes an improved key which, as many naturalists will confirm, is the fastest way of identifying a species once you've gained a little experience with using it.

Another alternative for the naturalist is Fitter, Fitter and Blamey's The Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland: A New Guide to Our Wild Flowers, published by A&C Black. That lacks a key, but makes up for it to some extent with a mini-key that heads up certain groups of difficult plants. It also covers a lot of plants that Rose does not, including grasses and ferns, which makes it a better choice for beginners or those looking for a single guide.

For a great book at home (rather than a field guide), I enjoy Cassell's Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe, also by Fitter and Blamey. When purchased with Cassell's parallel guide to Trees, it is great value and a joy for browsing, but lacks of a key. On the downside, some of the illustrative details get a little fuzzy here and there, sometimes lacking precision.

Both Blamey and Fitter guides, however, were published in 2003 and I I note that Claire O'Reilly, in her review below, warns that their 2003 guide contains "many" errors. I'm not sure which of the two she is referring to but it is likely that the errors are found in both, so the Rose Key is probably the best choice overall. Enjoy.
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on 9 July 2008
I'm sorry, Tony in Edinburgh, but if this book is bigger than the Edinburgh 'phone book; then there can't be too many people who have 'phones!! I have just purchased a copy of the "keys" and put it straight into my backpack. I have been using the original version for many years as a professional botanist (in fact it was my "Bible") and it was literally falling apart. This new version is even easier to use than the last, I would recommend it to anybody interested in British flora.
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on 1 July 2011
Yep never really had much interest in them as some one with degrees in zoology and freshwater fauna, plants where always just "those green things" yes I always knew they where important and I did try to get interested in them a few times but just couldn't keep any interest. A little bit of a career change where I did need to know a little more about them or at least be able to identify particular ones brought me back to trying to get interested again and so I purchased a copy of The Wild Flower Key and set off on some self study and exploration of the botanical world.

Why did I never buy this book before and use that to help me push back the verdant green foliage that was blocking my view ? I don't know but I'm glad I bought this. I have found it so simple and easy to work through the keys and the first couple of times I used the vegetative key I thought I would be hopelessly lost - yes I took the odd wrong turn but the detail in this book quickly let me know I had and a quick back track and continuation put me back on the right track again. To me identifying a plant with no flower and using the vegetative key should be like trying to read Sanskrit - fortunately it's anything but ! I now find myself walking in the park or countryside or even down the leafy streets where I live and being able not only to identify a good deal of the plants I see there but also to recall their binomial latinised names - absolutely amazing and I owe it all to this little book!

It really is very well set out the pictures/drawings are amazingly detailed, there is really good detail in the text describing the various characters of the plant that helps you to really double check that you have followed the key correctly or if you've just "jumped in" as you know the common name of the plant or you think that you are pretty sure of what it is again it helps you to quickly confirm you are correct or that you've made an error. The only slightly annoying thing about this book from a beginners point of view is the amount of abbreviations that it uses e.g. fl for flower etc but there is a glossary explaining these and it covers these at the start as well and you do very quickly get used to them and soon recognise the abbreviations as words without even thinking about it.

The tight fitting plastic dust jacket is also great as it not only keeps the cover clean but also keeps it dry when using it in the field! the book is also reaonably light in weight and easily slips in to a small rucksack pocket or even the pocket on a pair of field trousers, depending on the type you are wearing obviously !

All in I would highly recommend this book to a beginer but also to a botanist/ecologist that has a good deal of experience and expertise as well - I now know quite a few more experienced botanists that also swear by this book for taking it in to the field.
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on 25 August 2009
Not much else to say really. The guide is very thorough, with very helpful pictures. It seems to cover "everything", although it should be said that I'm pretty new to this lark. For me it's been the next rung up the ladder--the first being the excellent Collins photographic guide. Its glossary is a real godsend (and that's where the Collins guide fell down a bit). My only quibble might be the step-by-step identification guides, which are an excellent idea, but, if I understood correctly, are occasionally less than useful when an identification step involves whether or not the plant is biannual or perennial etc. What am I supposed to do? Wait? That said I use it all the time in conjunction with the Collins guide, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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on 19 November 2014
WARNING unless the edition being sold is a reissued version after the first 2006 printing you will be led astray unless you have the 88 item errata list. This was not supplied with my copy (bought some time ago). It was bought as a course book, the first thing our tutor (who knew the revising author) did was give us each three sides of A4 paper listing all the errors. I trust this has been sorted by now but check with the seller that you are being sold a re-proof read edition or that you will getting the errata list. This may not be a full blown academic flower key but after a full days professional tutoring using the book it was still a bit of a struggle to get the identification right every time. This is a book for fairly serious flower hunters, it is not a book to answer the occasional what is that UFA question. UFA = Unidentified Flowering Object
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on 31 July 2009
As a disciple of the original Key i can only add to others praise of that book, and i continue to use it. However, i find the illustrations in both the old and new are poor and much prefer Fitter Blamey and Fitter, but not just for that reason... F, B and F also covers more species including more recent aliens which we are all seeing so much more frequently, and for which recording is SO important. Also there are some edits required as noted by other reviewers. For this reason i'm reserving 5 stars for the next edition!
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on 3 April 2010
This is an excellent book with a mass of detail. However, initially it is not simple to use, but with time and experience getting to understand the layout and abbreviations I would not be without it when out in the field. Furthermore, it was at an excellent price and very quick delivery. Highly recommended.
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