Plants and Habitats combines the species and habitat approaches to plants and vegetation. Most of it is an identification guide to 700 plant species selected as those which are common, conspicuous or useful ecological indicators; species which collectively make up most of the vegetation in Britain and Ireland. There is also a separate habitats section describing the flora, ecology and management of habitats. With this combination of approaches Plants and Habitats aims to help people understand our vegetation at all scales, from individual plants to whole landscapes. The structure and plain English writing style are designed to help with species identification by non-specialists.
Plants and Habitats is illustrated throughout with colour photos and some line drawings. For those working with habitat classifications, National Vegetation Classification (NVC) codes are incorporated throughout and there are summary tables cross-referencing various classifications. The book is written for a wide readership including those working or training in subjects connected with ecology, conservation, land management, and other environmental matters.
"I was so intrigued by this book that I bought it on the strength of its advertising. I was keen to improve my plant identification and also gain a better understanding of the habitats they are found in.
The author Ben Averis is a botanical surveyor of no little experience, a bryologist and an artist. He has used all his skills and expertise in their fields to produce an excellent book. This book sets itself apart from other identification books as it seeks to be an introduction to both common plants and their habitats, giving a context to each and also indicating how the habitats we see relate to the current and historical land management of the area. I would have to say that it achieves all this rather well.
Seven hundred common and obvious species are included in the book and there are usually more than one colour photographs of the species in question, with the leaves and flowers given an equal billing. It is also written in plain English, so that those without an education in botanical description can understand what is being described. In addition coloured text highlights the main points on identification, habitats and human-related matters.
Interestingly plants are grouped by appearance, so similar looking but unrelated species are on the same page. The species are ordered into woody, grassy and other. Woody species are divided up trees and shrubs according to bud arrangement, dwarf shrubs and climbers/ scramblers. This works pretty well as it is a logical splitting of the group. Other species are split up into grasses and other grass-like plants and other plants. The latter group are divided up according to leaf shape and includes ferns, some mosses and a few lichens. I found the grouping of similar species useful but it may not be for everyone. In each section there are tables to help identification, for example flower shape in sedges.
The habitat section takes up forty pages and I really liked being able to see the various habitats and having them explained. I now know I have squelched about in lots of S9 and 10 and M3, 4 and 6 looking for dragonflies.
This book will be a very useful tool to those who are okay with plants but not experts and still get stuck on sedges, foiled by ferns and suffer bryophyte block. With excellent pictures and text explanations there is no excuse not to get better at identifying these species. The true test of the book will be using it in the field, so it will be residing inside for a few more months, but I am sure I will find it a great help. That said during the course of this review, I have found out that the mystery plant growing at the corner of my house is Tutsan, so it is already proving to be useful."
- Jonathan Willet, Biological Recording In Scotland (BRISC) newsletter no. 92 (January 2014)
"Perhaps like many other birdwatchers, I've been fascinated by plants over the years but have often found some of the standard identification guides a bit of a struggle, especially with more difficult groups like grasses and sedges. From the viewpoint of a keen relative beginner, however, I can report that this book is an excellent adjunct to more traditional guides. It quite clearly doesn't set out to be the final word on the British flora, but instead covers about 700 of the most common and characteristic species, including a selection of common mosses and other lower plants. Entirely self-published, this book is a real achievement by the author.
The book appears to have two (interlinked) aims: to help with identification, and to set the plants in their habitat and landscape contexts. In terms of the former, the approach to identification is very much based on common sense, focusing on particularly useful features for quick recognition. This works well since, in not attempting to be 100% comprehensive, it does not need to include excessive detail of minor points simply to rule out rare and unlikely alternatives. The identifications are based, so far as possible, around non-flower characteristics, with the author exhorting us not to be afraid of tackling grass identification even when no flowering heads are present. Technical botanical terms are kept to a minimum, although obviously some are necessary. The text is relatively sparse but focused as appropriate to the species, and is refreshingly personal and non-repetitive. The photos are well selected, not necessarily to be beautiful but to be useful, and they often portray plant jizz better than in some of the traditional guides.
The second theme of the books is that of habitats, and again the experience and indeed enthusiasm of the author for the subject comes across well. The habitat elements of the book are also tackled in a variable level of detail, as appropriate; many species warrant a few words while, in contrast, seven pages of detail are devoted to covering the condition of heather. For many species, reference is given to the principal National Vegetation Communities in which they are found. In addition, notes on human-related matters are included throughout, such as whether species are introduced and how they respond to grazing pressure.
Given that the author lives and works in Scotland, and given that the book was supported by Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, it is unsurprising that the book is somewhat biased to more northerly habitats and species. I found this refreshing and it in no way detracts from the value of the book to naturalists in the south of Britain. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in developing their knowledge of our native flora and the way it relates to our landscapes."
- Andy Musgrove, Wednesday 10th July 2013, www.birdguides.com
"There are those (l suppose) whose pleasure in plants is purely 'twitchy’: head for an unknown plant, perhaps look at it for a bit, then on to the next. But for most, interest deepens by putting plants in their environmental context. Amateurs not only want this kind of knowledge for its own sake, but find it increasingly useful when engaging in volunteer recording projects. Meanwhile, professional ecological surveyors may lack the identification skills that are now hard to come by in our education system.
Beginners can, of course, find plenty of field guides, which have terse notes of plant habitats. But many will never get from there to a technical flora; and anyone wanting a modern account of vegetation comes up against the bulwark of British Plant Communities – until the publication this year of Michael Proctor’s invaluable Vegetation of Britain and Ireland. Neither is for taking into the field.
Ben Averis's new book, then, has admirable aims – to provide a portable illustrated handbook for 700 common and characteristic species, with information on their habitats, NVC communities, and responses to management. As a co-author of the Illustrated Guide to British Upland Vegetation, he appears well placed to undertake this. He avoids technical terms and eschews keys, preferring comparison tables covering a range of characters. Appropriately for considering vegetation ‘in the round’, there is a focus on the most prominent
The total of 700 species, rightly encompassing bryophytes and significant non-natives, amounts to about 13% of the groups covered. I would expect a book like this to include everything which is a constant in all but the rare NVC communities. This is quite well achieved, rather less so for the bryophytes. Borderline exclusions are bound to be arbitrary, but sometimes an omission is unhelpful. For instance, a page devoted to Common Couch Elytrigia repens gives ‘the drier parts of saItmarshes' as part of the habitat range, but there is no mention of Sea Couch E. atherica anywhere in the book. The author gives a justification for a bias towards upland Britain, but I think that readers in the south-east will feel the imbalance.
Identification is first by growth form, then largely by leaf characters. Below this the treatment varies, using comparison tables, accounts of similar (but often unrelated) species on one page, or simply giving full-page treatment to a species without direct connections to others. This mixed presentation can lead to lots of page-turning, undermining one of the justifications for omitting a technical glossary. The characters chosen are of varying value; for instance, making a primary separation of I\/larsh and Fen Bedstraws by (non-overlapping) counts of leaves in a whorl is not good. The photographs are variable in quality but mostly good, and helpful as a ’sanity check’ on ID.
Descriptions of habitat and environmental factors are terse, going barely beyond the best floras or field guides. Cross-references are given from species accounts to NVC community codes, but coverage is not exhaustive, particularly for coastal and open-ground communities. For a necessarily brief exposition of the codes, there is a 40-page section on habitats and communities, more than half of which is taken up by photographs. This is not enough to support analytical fieldwork, but will give novices a flavour of the classification system and help them to find their way into more detailed works.
This is an attractive book that could have been better with professional editing support. Colour-coding for text topics is a nice idea, but will disadvantage the colour-blind. All readers would benefit from a systematic separation and ordering of topics. Consistent typography
in the heading hierarchy would make for easier navigation through some of the larger species groupings; and when running the eye down a lengthy comparison table, it's unhelpful to have columns that are not aligned. There are indexing omissions and page cross-referencing errors that should be picked up on a reprint.
There is really nothing on the British flora to compare with this book, and credit is due to the author not least for breaking new ground. Plants and Habitats has the potential to help beginners to a more rounded understanding of our plant life. It won't be the only book you want to take out, but it could become your starting point, especially it you've been putting those grasses, sedges and rushes off for another day."
- Martin Rand, British Wildlife 25(2), pp. 148-149, December 2013
"As a lapsed lichenologist, I was looking to turn my attention to getting to know flowering plants better, so Ben's book has come along at just the right moment. What a delight this book is – such a useful, friendly, easy-to-use guide to flowering plants, and (and this is the clincher) their habitats. Some years ago (1977), Barbara E. Nicholson completed a series of 15 habitat posters for the Natural History Museum: paintings illustrating plants typical of each habitat (and the little monogram BEN appeared in the lower right corner of each poster). I remember poring over these, but of course, they were huge (75 × 50 cm, a bit smaller than A1), so not comfortable to refer to.
There are of course many books on the identification of flowering plants of the British Isles, so what is different about this book? As Ben says: "It's written in plain English", without recourse to botanical terms, and that certainly helps to give confidence for those starting to look at plants; for example, instead of describing a leaf as 'ovoid-lanceolate', Ben simply says 'narrow oval'.
What is included? The layout plan is on one page and is simplicity itself: the species are ordered into three main sections – Woody, Grassy and Other. Even I can follow that – but, can an ID book on plants really be as simple as this? Yes, it seems it can, and this is the strength of Ben's book – that he has gone back to basics and laid out the plan to follow in a completely easy format. If you have decided your plant is not woody or grassy, the 'key' to get you started with attempting to ID your specimen is contained on half a page – there are six categories to choose, based on leaf shape and arrangement. So, for example, if you decided your plant had 'whorled, leaves undivided, in groups of three or more', (and there is an small photographic illustration to give you a hint as to interpreting this basic description), then you go to page 212. Here you find a page describing the main plant groups contained in this category, with a simple summary table of the main features. Then, pages of examples of closely similar species within the Bedstraws (main group), and others, which includes Horsetails.
It is a book that requires discipline though – you won't get far just flicking through to look at pictures. You have to look carefully at your specimen. So often, if you are trying to identify from photographs of plants you could find you haven't captured the crucial features. A plant in the hand is worth two on the screen. And Ben does say that you should be able to use the book even if flowers are absent. But the thrust of the book is to attempt to put individual plants into the context of their habitat and vegetation, so it is strongly geared to linking with the National Vegetation Classification (NVC), but also to management. The identifying physical characteristics of individual species are given (usually with a colour photograph), together with the habitats in which it is likely to be found, plus the relevant NVC categories, and then (where appropriate) a comment on how habitat management is relevant, e.g Devil's-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis is found in unimproved grassland, and is palatable to grazing animals. This is all such useful stuff, but very compactly delivered.
I am particularly keen on Ben's diagrams of plant parts, especially what features to look for in attempting to identify, for example, rushes. The diagrams of arrangements of dormant buds on broadleaved trees (included as a running head on the broadleaved trees and shrubs section) are particularly useful. So much detail is packed into these pages. The drawings of the main parts of a plant at the end of the book are clear, uncluttered and easy to understand: another example of Ben's careful skill and artistic talent.
It works, that's the great thing. Is it fool-proof? Yes, I think so, as I took it away with me from looking at saltmarsh and sand dunes in East Lothian, to species-rich chalk downland around Salisbury, up the acid-heathy slopes above Loch Carron in Wester Ross (where the Devil's-bit Scabious was flowering profusely), and even a stab at the flora of Jersey, and felt pretty happy that I was able to arrive at what seemed to me to be the right species.
However, with only 700 species in the book, you can stumble upon something that is not included; everyone is going to find that one or more of their 'favourite' species is missing – for me there were no Toadflaxes Linaria spp. or Hedge Mustard Sisymbrium offinale. And although Dogwood Cornus sanguinea is included, the similar Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica is not. But perhaps to offset this, Ben has been fairly comprehensive about including several agricultural or non-native species which have escaped the field and garden and are commonly found on field and road margins and waste ground: for example Oil-seed Rape Brassica napus, Black Mustard B. nigra, Charlock Sinapis arvensis, White Mustard S. alba.
There are useful sections which help to differentiate 'look-alike' and easily confused plants, such as Wild Basil Clinopodium vulgare, Marjoram Origanum vulgare, Woundworts, Hemp Nettles, Mints, Betony, Red dead-nettle and Self-heal. I always struggle with these, so was happy to be able to see them grouped and their differences clearly described.
There is a section on 'Mosses and other moss-like plants', which starts off with a simple introduction: 'A few things about how these plants look and how we can look at them', which is fundamental with getting to grips with bryophytes. Thirty-two pages are devoted to bryophytes, with a particularly useful section on Sphagnum. And lichens? Yup, one page: 'A few lichens'. God bless him. Five species (or species aggregates such as Usnea species) are listed and illustrated, which is good, as this book could not deal with greater detail about lichens, but it is so important that they are mentioned, as they are of course a significant part of British vegetation.
Maybe another strength of this book is that there appears to be a slight bias on upland and northern flora, which is a refreshing change from the majority of flower identification books which seem focussed most strongly on the southern English flora. There is also a strong emphasis on putting plants into the context of their habitats, understanding what grows with what, where and why. Hence a very useful little summary giving straightforward explanations of terms such as 'acid rock', 'basic rock', 'mineral soil', 'eutrophicated', etc. At the back of the book are 39 pages describing (and illustrating) habitats – the book is certainly worth getting for this alone. There are detailed summary lists of the NVC communities, plus tables of Phase One habitats (codes, common names and NVC equivalents), UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitats, Annex 1 Habitats of the EU Habitats Directive, etc., in fact all a struggling ecological consultant craves to find described and listed in one place! In addition (and here perhaps the upland and northern bias of the book is most evident), there are seven pages (earlier in the book) devoted to Heather condition, with photographs to illustrate various stages and effects on heather moorland under different management regimes over time. What an amazing compendium."
- Sandy Coppins, Native Woodlands Discussion Group autumn 2013 newsletter
Section 1: Woody plants (trees; shrubs; dwarf shrubs etc.) 8
1a: Broadleaved trees & shrubs (leaves not like needles or tiny scales) 9
1b: Conifers (fir trees etc.; leaves like needles or tiny scales) 45
1c: Dwarf shrubs (woody shrubs < 1 m tall; heather, billberry etc.) 50
1d: Climbers & scramblers (bramble, ivy, honeysuckle etc.) 72
Section 2: Grasses and other grass-like plants 79
2a: Grasses 80
2b: Sedges 123
2c: Rushes 142
2d: Woodrushes 146
Section 3: Other Plants 149
3a: Leaves divided into lobes / leaflets along their left & right sides 150
3b: Leaves divided into lobes / leaflets radiating out from centre 191
3c: Leaves undivided: in groups of three or more (whorls) 212
3d: Leaves undivided: in opposite pairs along the stems 221
3e: Leaves undivided: not in groups or opposite pairs 253
3f: Mosses & moss-like plants (liverworts, clubmosses & filmy ferns) 304
- Definition of upland lowland 339
- Woodland & scrub 340
- Hedgerows, underscrub & tall fern vegetation 351
- Grasslands 352
- Heaths 356
- Wetlands 360
- Mountain habitats 370
- Rocks 373
- Coastal habitats 374
- Habitats disturbed by human activity 377
- Lists of UK habitat classifications (NVC, Phase One, UKBAP, Annex 1, SEPA GWDTE) 378
Further reading and study 384
Drawings showing the main parts of a plant 396
I love this book. It sets the plants out in a clear and intuitive way and makes for pleasant identification. There's no jargon, making it simple for the beginner, but due to the wide range of species presented, it also becomes an excellent book for a more advanced plant IDer to take out into the field.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in plants.
Ben Averis BA MPhil worked for some years on woodland vegetation and bryophyte (moss & liverwort) surveys, but since 1990 has worked in a very wide range of upland and lowland habitats. His MPhil was a study of bryophyte flora and ecology in over 400 woods in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
Ben and Alison Averis are professionally qualified and highly experienced botanists with an exceptionally detailed and extensive knowledge and understanding of British vegetation. They have been studying vegetation and flora professionally since 1983 and are particularly experienced with the northern and western parts of Britain. They provide a range of services including surveys, monitoring projects, teaching and advisory work. The high quality of their work is recognised by many people and organisations including the statutory conservation agencies, the Forestry Commission, conservation-related non-government organisations, and ecological consultancies.