Book Reviews

Start with the Leaves: A simple guide to common orchids and lilies of the Adelaide Hills

Cathy Powers, Orchidologist
Growing Australian, December 2011
Australian Plants Society Victoria Inc

I recently met Robert and his daughter Helen while I was playing hooky during the ANPSA conference in Adelaide.  They were involved with an orchid excursion in the Mt. Lofty Botanic Gardens (conducted by the Native Orchid Society of S.A.).  It was also a ‘fireworks’ moment because they had Robert’s new book for sale and its title immediately caught my eye.  How amazing that I had just finished developing a presentation on orchid identification and the use of leaves was a component.

My next thought was – ‘I have so many orchid ID books, why would I need another one.’  The excursion was enlightening in that I had a brief opportunity to recognize the enthusiasm both Robert and Helen had for terrestrial orchids and sharing their knowledge. What I didn’t realize and now know is that their approach to this book as well as the revised version of R.J.Bates’ South Australia’s Native Orchids DVD (more DVD review).

As you can imagine, I was excited to offer my services as a reviewer for this publication and pleased when my offer was accepted.  After taking time to seriously read the book, it is unfortunate that I did as now I have to have it on my shelf.  It is a fantastic book, especially for those beginning in their quest for finding, identifying and enjoying terrestrial orchids.

The book is all it says it is in the subtitle ‘A simple guide’ and the real bonus is that of the 50 native orchid species covered, 41, can be found in Victoria.  What that means is that any beginner orchid searcher can use this book to assist them in identification.

Prasophyllum elatum or Tall Leek Orchid

Robert’s introduction has some very valid points about orchid protection, conservation. re-introduction and preservation of habitat.  It’s a stark reminder of what we should all be considering when it comes to our native vegetation, not just orchids,  The next step, before you get to the specific species, is the descriptor pages regarding orchid structure and what makes an orchid – well, an orchid.

What I particularly like is the style and design of the book, which is the work of Robert’s daughter, Helen.  It is colour coded in ways that make access to information easy and the ‘real-size’ picture of the individual orchid flower gives the new orchid enthusiast some concept of what they are searching for while it also gives the more experienced a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to find these plants.

Common names, scientific names and explanations regarding both of these introduces some of the technical difficulties when trying to discuss terrestrial orchids with amateurs and experts alike.  One statement that caught my eye was the explanation for using the generic names from David Jones’ book A Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia.  I follow this doctrine and suppose that is, in part, why I find great value in this new publication by Robert Lawrence.

Two other features of the publication are worth highlighting.  First, the inclusion of lilies and weeds in the relevant sections.  Many times I have experienced an increase in heart rate because I found a leaf that might indicate an orchid only to realize that it was from a non-orchid plant.  When I was first starting out, I was thrilled to think I found a large number of orchid leaves only to be advised that it was not an orchid at all but instead a group of Austral Adder’s-tongue (a sharp, but valuable, learning curve).

Second, the inclusion of a checklist that can be used for any terrestrial orchid and will assist in identification.  I recently had a discussion regarding the validity of documented flora finds when it came to accuracy of identification.  One suggestion was a type of generic checklist and I find the last section of this publication, which also includes a flowering time guide, to be an innovative component.

In summary, this publication is worth having on your shelf but even more valuable having it in your backpack while enjoying our wonderful native flora habitats.  It does not matter that it covers orchids and lilies of the Adelaide Hills.  The value is in the content and relevant to all terrestrial orchids, the many species found in Victoria as well as South Australia and the overall approach in orchid identification.

Thelymitra brevifolia also known as Peppertop or Short Red-leaf Sun Orchid


Tim Milne
Xanthopus Summer 2011
Nature Conservation Society of South Australia

With over 20,000 species worldwide, orchids are an object of fascination and desire for people across the world.  Most people, used to the gaudy displays of imported orchids at flower shows, are unaware that orchids form part of Australia’s natural flora.

This 192 page book describes 50 orchids of the Adelaide Hills, the bulk of which are the most commonly occurring species.  It also includes, descriptions of weedy orchids, and 20 common orchid-like native and weedy species that could be confused with orchids.

As the title suggest, the book is based upon using the leaves of the orchid as the first diagnostic feature.  Using leaves performs a valuable dual function – firstly, it is an excellent way to subdivide the orchids into eight main groups to look at secondary features for identification. and secondly there are many times that avid orchid watchers will find only the leave, and not the flowers of the orchid.  Using leaves alone will still allow positive identification to genus and on occasions even species level.

The book is well laid out and easy to follow.  Orchids within each leaf type are grouped together and colour coded, with a small leaf type diagram at the top right of each page.  Each orchid species depicted is allocated two pages, generally with a picture of the leaves, the flowers, and the whole plant in situ.  The verbal description provides appropriate distinguishing features for identification. including both the leaves and flowers, as well as appropriate notes on habitat preferences.

Even those with no botanical skills will be able to quickly and easily identify species using this excellent book.  It will become an invaluable addition to the bookshelves of aspiring (and current) botanists, and its relatively compact size means it can easily be transported and used in the field.

The book is available through for $35.


Chris O’Loughlin
December 2011, Friends of Private Bushland Newsletter 

This is a gem of a book, talking about a gem of a subject.  As Prof Chris Daniels says in his introduction ‘the Mt Lofty Ranges and Adelaide Plains are home to a staggering variety (over 200 species) of tiny, delicate and absolutely stunning orchids … Orchids are more than just beautiful.  They are extraordinary plants.  Many have a special relationship with fungi, and most are highly endangered.  The greater Adelaide area is a biodiversity hotspot for orchids an yet they are the plant family most endangered because of land clearance and habitat destruction …. we might be losing forever these tiny jewels, and not even notice they were there.’

Well this book will not only make you notice them, but will guide you gently and easily to be able to put names to them.  The approach taken is spelled out in the title – start with the leaves.  A key of 8 leaf types is given as the key, and all species are grouped into one of these 8 types.  The book is set out in 8 sections. with pages colour-coded corresponding to leaf type.

Weed species are included, colour-coded with a fiery orange band across the top of the page.  Also included are 20 species that are not orchids but are often mistaken for the, these given with a distinctive grey band. Many of these are familiar species such as Early Nancy, Bulbine lilies, Milkmaids.  These species are given the same detailed treatment as the orchids making this a handy field guide for all such small plants.

With its ‘non-botanical’ approach and brilliant photos, and covering 50 of the most common orchids in the area, this is an excellent book for land holders and bush managers, as well as anyone wanting to know more about  these great little plants.  Also excellent value.

The Leporella fimbriata or Fringed Hare Orchid is commonly found in sandy soils


Trees for Life
 Releaf, Summer 2011 

Orchids …. it’s best to Start with the Leaves

Help is finally at hand for those who have struggled to identify an orchid when it is not in flower.

One of our dedicated bushcarers, Robert Lawrence, has now written a wonderfully simple and easy-to-follow guide to the identification of orchids entitled Start with the Leaves.

Robert’s book features 50 orchids found in the Adelaide Hills as well as lilies, bulbs and some weeds that can be confused with orchids.  It has eight easy-to-use categories of leaves, indicated by a distinctive icon and coloured pages for each leaf category.  There are also photographs of each orchid showing variations within each species, as well as a life-size representation of each flower.

Also available is the updated, comprehensive DVD South Australia’s Native Orchids by R.J.Bates, beautifully re-formatted by members of the Native Orchid Society of SA (NOSSA).

  1. have purchased this book and keep it handy to refer to often. well done.

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