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The latest edition of a standard popular field guide to flowers of the British Isles
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
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".