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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 30 May 2009
This is an excellent book. Messrs Poland and Clement have invented a whole new system of keys. They are so easy to use that I managed to get the hang of them within ten minutes of taking the book out of its packaging!! As a botanist I would recommend this book to all others of the same persuasion, both amateur and professional. I have to admit to being a little dubious about buying this book, but it has now taken the place of Francis Rose's Keys in my backpack!!
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on 20 November 2009
At last a book for beginners and us experienced Naturalists to get our teeth into. As a Wild Flower Society member this book has settled many an argument re mints at Foxley Wood Norfolk and other difficult genera. As a professional ecologist I can now survey all year round and I know its cheating but can always return to confirm the plant in flower. It is very user friendly and very strongly I would advise any Botanist or Naturalist to have this in their rucksack, I bought two one for the field and one for looking up vegetation in the comfort of my own study.

Us scientists have found the book to be a breakthrough in vegetative recording.
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on 29 April 2012
I am very impressed by the scholarship, enthusiasm and imagination that has gone into this book. The authors have gone back to basics - i.e. the actual plants - rather than just rely on what has previously been published. They include both native spp and alien spp likely to be found in the wild. I will not repeat what has been written in the earlier enthusiastic reviews, with which I largely concur, but will add a few whinges and tentative suggestions for any future edition.

1. The structure of the book is to have a main key (1 page), leading to secondary keys (1 p each) and then final species keys (1 - 2 pp). This is excellent. The keys are of the indented kind, rather than numbered dichotomies (as in CTW and Stace). (They must have been a pig to typeset!) In some cases there are 3 or 4, rather than 2 options. I can understand why the authors did this arrangement, but after 4 months' use I still find them a bit fiddly to use. This is partly because the indents are so tiny (less than an em), and there are further even tinier indents for the more detailed descriptions of spp, that it's easy to get lost, especially when turning the page. In partial admission of this, the authors have marked the highest-level splits with a small black square. On some pp I have had to pencil in extra symbols to help me find my way. To be quite honest, I would have preferred the numbered system, even if "thrichtomised" in places.

2. In the headings of some keys we find statements that "species X and Y may key out here". Presumably in future editions X and Y will be included actually in the keys.

3. The colour plates of Carex leaf sections are very helpful for this not-very-easy genus. I do, however, wonder about the necessity for, and logic behind the arrangement of, the colour plates of the various leaf forms, which are basically green silhouettes. I would have thought that some drawings would have been just as clear, and cheaper, and have made the book a bit lighter. The resulting saving could be used for more little illustrations in the keys, which the authors themselves hope to do in later additions.

4. It would be good to have keys of some of the more critical genera (e.g. Taraxacum, Hieracium), but I can see that this would not be an easy, or even possible, task.

5. My first 2 attempts to use the keys using species that everyone knows (dandelion, daisy) resulted in failure at the first hurdle - the main key. Apparently, when you work back from the answer, the leaves of these species are alternately arranged, but you'd be a better plant morphologist than I am to know this. CTW describes them as having leaves spirally arranged in a basal rosette, so having to make the choice in the key of opposite vs alternate is a bit of a facer. Perhaps a "basal whorl only" key category for species with basal whorls and leafless stems would help here.

6. In this world of dumbing-down and bite-sized factlets, it is good to have a book that is not scared of technical terms. I have been botanising for over 50 years, so I was surprised to see so many terms I had not encountered before, and have had frequent had recourse to the glossary. I am surprised to see myself writing this, but I feel the authors may have gone a bit too far: e.g. using "applanate" for "flat", and "arcuate" for "curved" - but "awl-shaped" for, well, "awl-shaped". This is all a matter of opinion, but at least the authors are erring in the right direction.

CONCLUSION: Don't be put off by these comments. This is an excellent publication. If you want to identify native (and many garden) plants out of flower, buy this book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 June 2014
I've had this book for a couple of months now. I started with the usual (and excellent up to a point) small, picture-based field guide such as Collins. The acquisition of a digital camera and my love of wildflowers in general saw me search out an old Collins guide and the rest is history! It wasn't long before I started searching Amazon and reading reviews of this apparently miraculous book that promised (and was indeed said) to enable it's owner to identify (very) many British wildflowers. I was not in any teeny-tiny way disappointed. This book is simply superb - I still work through an ID with just a few pictures of a plant's leaves and stems and get a huge surprise at just how good this book can be when used well. To get the best from this mighty beast which upon first flick-through can appear startlingly devoid of pictures and full of mysterious terminology the reader must 'learn to use' this book and it's keys....

1) Don't panic - the devil really is in the detail with this book - start at the beginning and carefully read
the preface and introduction several times, it is very worthwhile to do so.
2) Have a good (and usually very cheaply-priced) botanical dictionary to hand - it will make things a lot
easier whilst deepening your understanding and increasing your enjoyment.
3) When reading the description and keys, get into the habit of close and accurate reading. In every one
of the several books I own in this vein the wording is every bit as important as the terminology.

To sum up, a rewarding approach to this book (and others like it) is all about being careful and accurate
about small details. If this sounds boring and tedious to you then you may become frustrated by this book.

This book IS NOT HARD TO USE, it simply rewards the reader's attention exponentially in my experience.

This book is a very effective tool for anyone such as myself that enjoys wildflowers and the mystery of their
correct identification. It's quite amazing just how quickly a few leaves and observations regarding their
arrangement on the plant etc can lead to a successful identification.

Being able to approach an apparently anonymous piece of vegetation with the high degree of confidence
afforded by having this beauty of a book in your armoury is always great fun! You don't even have to wait
for a plant to bloom.

This book is not cheap, but when you consider the quality and power of it's contents, and the enduring
pleasure it's use can bring, I personally say 'don't hesitate, get a copy ASAP'.
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on 11 February 2013
I am a complete novice when it comes to flora, and went for this book after reading various online descriptions and reviews, hailing it as the perfect companion for beginners and botanists alike.

The book is structured brilliantly, with the first few pages being dedicated to explaining field techniques, followed by explanations on various leaf shapes and structures- illustrated by 23 plates at the back of the book. Saying that, I find it hard to believe that any 'beginner' will benefit from the key itself.

Despite being quoted on the blurb as using 'a minimal number of technical terms', the key is littered with abbreviations and words that may be easily navigated by a botanist, but have no meaning whatsoever for a novice like myself. Even the description for a plant as simple as a Bluebell threw me at first- "Lvs 3-6, 0.7-1.6cm wide. Raceme 1-sided. Fls all soon nodding, fragrant; stamens unequal; anthers cream"... ?! I found myself flicking back to the glossary more times than I was flicking through the actual pages of the key!

The key itself is divided into 5 main divisions; Horsetails, Ferns, Clubmoss, Conifers and Flowering Plants, being subsequently split down into seperate groups within each division. Here I find the book is really lacking in illusations; at least a few simple thumbnail images showing examples of the different groups would have made it significantly easier to pinpoint the desired part of the key in the field, rather than having to manually navigate the entire key, everytime.

All in all, I'm sure botanists and experts will find this guide useful from the word go, and will have little problem traversing the key. However, I feel I have been slightly mis-lead by the author's own description of the book, and want to emphasise that this IS NOT FOR BEGINNERS. I'm sure I will start to get to grips with the book after a good few trips out in the field, but for now it will have to be used as an addition resource once I've managed to get to grips with the different families using an illustrated field guide.

Good hunting!
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on 1 June 2010
Buy it it is really really helpful.
Every botanist should have one if they haven't already!
Having said that it is best for confirming a plant that you have some idea of what it may be, rather than for staring from scratch with no idea of what you have.
Also there are a lot of new technical terms to learn, so may not be all that helpful to real beginners.
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on 1 August 2011
As a keen amateur botanist, the first time I heard someone say "We'll have to take that to Poland," I was rather confused. But not for long.

I've had my copy for four months now, and wouldn't want to be without it. It's not just useful for plants without flowers - I have frequently used it to double-check identifications, as it almost always gives other details not described in the picture books (or in the 'bible', Stace). It's also very useful for building up a deeper familiarity with some of the trickier plants, so they become easier to confidently identify quickly.

To start with I used it to check things that I already knew, so I could see whether I was going drastically wrong. Sometimes I did - I still don't like it when the key asks questions about stomata (even with x60, I find this hard to be sure about, though they're supposed to be easily visible with x20 - maybe I'm just not looking properly) or about whether plants are annual or perennial.

I often now short-cut by going straight to the genus using the index, but it is actually pretty quick to go all the way through from the first page when I'm not sure at all what it is.

I usually use it at home, rather than in the field, and it can be annoying to be asked about basal leaves when you don't have any - but that is just something to get used to (or maybe I need to take it out with me), rather than really a criticism of the book, if those are the distinguishing features.

I could be a bit hard to use for beginners as there are few illustrations (but they are very useful ones) and it takes a while to become comfortable with the terminology. However, there is a very good glossary.

All in all, very good value for money, particularly for anyone who already knows a fair range of plants, but doesn't want to be limited to ones in flower.
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on 17 September 2013
As a near-beginner I can add to the laments of those learning botanical terms. On the other hand it's great for learning botanical terms. (with some additional internet searching for illustrations). Some terms are not defined in the glossary. It does seem to work better where you have an idea where you're going. The key shouldn't really have on one side "usually", because if you knew what a plant "usually" had you wouldn't need the key. You also shouldn't have in the key "smooth stem" and have the plant key out to one with the description "finely ridged stem" - it's either smooth or it isn't. If memory serves there are also keys on annual/perennial. Can you tell on appearance or is this an appeal to foreknowledge also?

I wish there were more illustrations because the ones that are there are superlative. An illustrated glossary (using the same artists) would be fantastic, although maybe I am not the intended end user. Anyway, I find it a steep curve as a beginner and some plants I have just failed completely with. In time I hope I will get the full value out of it, but a few uses in the biggest value is as a learning tool rather than an identification one.
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on 19 May 2011
An excellent book. I had previously been finding using keys to identify flowers hard, but using this book ignore the flower and go automatically to the leaves, with the vegetative key invariably giving me the answer 9 times out of 10. An excellent book, which may only be slightly improved with more illustrations.I even love the floppy feel of the book, it seems to fall open in your hand and is very pleasant to use.
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on 3 June 2013
Highly recommended book for naturalists, particularly making it easier to distinguish between similarly-looking related species and subspecies. It's not really a book for beginners though, using a lot of technical botanical language. One of the most used books on my bookshelf.
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