Book of the Week: Vegetation Description and Data Analysis

Continuing our selection of the very best titles available through NHBS:

Vegetation Description and Data Analysis jacket imageVegetation Description and Data Analysis

Martin Kent


Second edition of the key text for plant ecologists.


The new edition of this essential guide through the various practices and challenges in the field of vegetation description and multivariate analysis has been updated to reflect all new developments and technologies introduced since the previous edition was published in 1993.

Clearly, a significant proportion of that which has been introduced in the last two decades is related to developments in computer hardware and software, but this edition reflects also the international nature of the field, with the establishment of new journals giving it truly global scope and relevance.

New material includes: the nature of plant communities; induction and deduction in plant ecology; the potential relevance of Bayesian statistical analysis; recent advances in methods of ordination and classification (cluster analysis) and links to spacial analysis; a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the wide range of computer software now available; the increasing importance of R-related software.


Martin Kent is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth.

Available Now from NHBS

Mycologist Geoffrey Kibby on childhood discoveries, woodchip mulch, and his long time passion for the genus Russula

British Boletes: With Keys to Species jacket imageGeoffrey Kibby, senior editor of Field Mycology, and author of two recent best-selling photographic keys to fungi – British Boletes and The Genus Agaricus in Britain – talks about how childhood discovery in a woodland wonderland led to a life spent mushrooming…


What first attracted you to the curious world of fungi, and what are your mycological credentials?

I have been mushrooming for over 45 years; as a boy of 13 I was convalescing from some surgery and was staying in a cottage very close to the Queen’s estates at Sandringham in Norfolk. Opposite the cottage was a large area of fenced-in woodland with “Private, property of HM the Queen” on a gate. Like any self-respecting schoolboy I completely ignored the sign and climbed over the fence and into what I can only describe as a wonderland. A damp, mossy conifer wood, dripping with lichens and ferns and with fungi everywhere. I still remember the first fungus I was ever consciously aware of, a beautiful, small and intensely violet toadstool (Laccaria amethystea) and I thought I had never seen anything so amazing, so magical. I soon purchased my first book, the Observer’s Book of Mushrooms, and quickly realised that I needed a bigger book! I have been collecting and writing about them ever since.

For most of that 45 years I have been a member of the British Mycological Society and for the last 12 years have been the Senior Editor of the journal Field Mycology which deals with all aspects of mycology (the study of fungi). For about six years I lived in the USA and was at one time the President of the New Jersey Mycological Association. I have published numerous books on fungi including general field guides as well as more specialist monographs.

Your recent publications on British Boletes and The Genus Agaricus in BritianThe Genus Agaricus in Britain jacket image have become instant bestsellers. Who are they aimed at and what can the reader expect from them?

My specialist books are aimed at the enthusiastic amateur all the way up to the specialist – usually people who realise that the popular field guides are not sufficient to tackle some of the larger or more difficult groups of fungi. I have tried to make them more user-friendly than the traditional identification keys, often using a synoptic system whereby the reader only has to decide on 6 or 7 principal characters before attempting to key out the particular species. My keys include lots of illustrations to aid the reader in making these decisions. In some cases a microscope is required but the techniques needed are not that difficult and of course a microscope opens up a whole new world of wonderment in all areas of natural history, not just in mycology!

Generally, what part do fungi play in the world’s ecosystems?

Without fungi to digest and break down the decaying organic matter in our woods and fields the world would soon be swamped in enormous depths of fallen twigs, leaves and other debris. Most trees are dependent on fungi and form specialised symbiotic relationships with them, they cannot grow well without them and vice versa. Other fungi of course are parasitic and attack other organisms (including ourselves…) and many others have strange life cycles which we scarcely understand at all and this all adds to our fascination with them.

We’re in fungi season now – to what extent are there annual changes in the fungi ‘populations’ throughought the UK, and is there any way in which fungi acts as an indicator of wider environmental changes?

In recent years there have been enormous ‘invasions’ of new fungi and as the climate has changed we have seen corresponding changes in the way fungi behave and fruit. Our penchant for covering the world in woodchip mulch has paved the way for numerous exotic species to come into the country. Some species have spread to every British county, using this newly invented habitat, within 5 years of their first discovery, an amazing colonisation by any standard.

Increased annual temperatures are affecting the way in which fungi fruit; species which formerly fruited only in the autumn are now often fruiting twice a year in both spring and autumn. Others which were specialists in fruiting only in the spring, such as the common and deliciously edible morel have been appearing as late as November or even January!

Do you have a favourite mushroom?

Almost an impossible question to answer, but I certainly have favourite groups. The boletes have been a favourite since my childhood as they are for many other mycologists. Their large size and often bright, exotic colours are very appealing and they are relatively easy to identify also, hence my recent book on the subject. I also have a long time passion for the genus Russula, a sometimes very difficult group with around 170 species in Britain, often of very bright colours once again and very common everywhere. I am putting the finishing touches to my ‘magnum opus’ on that group as I write this.

Can you describe a particularly interesting species, or feature of a species of a mushroom found in the UK?

Many fungi form associations with other fungi, some of which we are still in the process of discovering. Many boletes for example, particularly in the genus Suillus form associations with a group of fungi called Gomphidius. Each species of bolete seems to latch onto a particular species of Gomphidius, very specific, and we don’t really know what is going on, although the best guess is that one partner is sort of hitching a ride on the other, tapping into its associate’s ability to obtain nutrient from the particular conifer with which it grows, without having to do the work itself.

British Boletes: With Keys to Species internal imageThere is some great photography in the keys – I guess a mushroom is a perfect still subject for the nature photographer – is photography a hobby of yours that has grown from your work?

I have been photographing for as long as I can remember and using fungi as subjects was a natural extension of this. I now teach digital photography and the use of Photoshop to enhance and edit photographs as part of adult education courses at local colleges. Fungi are ideal subjects since they don’t run away or even sway in the breeze as wild flowers do, and of course their strange shapes and colours are wonderful subjects to try and capture.

I went mushroom hunting recently and always ended up way off a positive identification. Given the dangers of mistaken-identity, what advice would you give the amateur fungi hunter? 

Start small: learn to recognise the basic groups where possible, that is half the battle. Go on as many guided mushroom walks as possible and learn from experts in the field – there is no substitute for that. Field guides can only take you so far and cannot show you all the many variations that fungi are capable of. My favourite saying is that “mushrooms don’t read the books!” Meaning that they don’t always conform in size and appearance to the illustrations in the book, they vary enormously as they age. Get as many books as you can afford, each will offer some extra information and pictures that another might lack. Finally, never, ever eat a fungus you are not confident of. All mushrooms can be eaten once but sometimes not twice……the history of mushrooming is filled with people who have eaten and become very sick or even died from making an error in identification.

On which cautionary note…

Geoffrey Kibby’s keys are available now from NHBS:

British Boletes: With Keys to Species

The Genus Agaricus in Britain

New botany from Redfern Natural History – coming soon to NHBS

This Autumn sees the publication of four new books from Redfern Natural History, publishers of fantastic titles about unique flora from around the world. Author and publisher Stewart McPherson is the adventurous British geographer who is the force behind Redfern. Many of the books are written by McPherson – and his tireless and diligent approach to the fieldwork involved has led to the discovery of many new species, and the re-discovery of others which have not been seen for nearly 100 years.
Sarraceniaceae of North America jacket imageSarraceniaceae of South America jacket imageA Monograph of the Genus Genlisea jacket imageThe New Nepenthes jacket image

Sarraceniaceae of North America and Sarraceniaceae of South America will be published in October are AVAILABLE NOW with A Monograph of the Genus Genlisea and The New Nepenthes to follow later in the year.

Book of the Week: Britain’s Plant Galls: A Photographic Guide

Continuing our selection of the very best titles available through NHBS:

Britain’s Plant Galls: A Photographic Guide

by Michael Chinery


A photographic guide to the natural history and field identification of the “strange lumps and bumps that we call galls…” (Introduction, p5).


Plant galls are a great subject of research for the amateur naturalist. Bridging the sciences of botanyBritain's Plant Galls jacket image and entomology, they are a fascinating example of the symbiotic interdependence of nature, and the diversity of their size and appearance – from exquisitely attractive orb-like features and spiked swellings, to leaf blisters and discolourations – gives the interested naturalist a satisfying range of study.

The reader is taken on a guided tour of the galls arranged according to their host plants for ease of identification, and there are over 200 detailed colour photographs of the commonest galls to be found among Britain’s 1,000 species. The interaction between insect and plant which results in the gall is briefly described in each case, and the book contains a general introduction to the subject.


Michael Chinery is best known for his field guides to insects and other creepy-crawlies, especially those that occur in our gardens, and for his numerous books encouraging young people to explore and enjoy the countryside and its wildlife. Insects and wild flowers fascinated him from a very early age and this led inevitably to an interest in plant galls, with their intimate mix of plant and animal life. He joined the British Plant Gall Society soon after its formation  in 1985, and has been editing the Society’s journal, Cecidology, since 1990.

Available Now from NHBS


Reaching for the Sun: How Plants Work – an interview with author John King

Reaching for the Sun jacket imageWhat first led you to become interested in the study of plant science?

At school and, later, as an undergraduate student, I encountered mentors who encouraged an interest in, at first, natural history, then, general plant biology, and, finally, the more specialized field of plant physiology and biochemistry. This interest continued to grow during my years as a graduate student, becoming, in time, an academic career in plant biology.

Plants demonstrate considerable variety of form and colour, and thrive in all corners of the globe – is there a realm of plant science that particularly interests you?

My own fascination is with how plants work at the most fundamental level. In my research career, I focused on plant metabolism using such tools as biochemical mutants and molecular biological techniques to investigate how plants manufacture the molecules they require for their everyday needs, such as those involved in DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis, vitamin production – including folic acid – and some of those used by plants to defend themselves against attack by fungal diseases.

Reaching for the Sun is accessible to the non-specialist as well as the student – what was your aim for the book? What can a potential reader expect?

My aim in writing the first edition was to provide knowledge of how plants work to the informed layperson who has some background knowledge of plant biology. The green organisms are the bedrock of the biosphere in that they are the primary producers of the foods nearly all other living things must have. Their ability to capture energy from the sun and use it to form complex organic molecules from simple inorganic compounds like carbon dioxide and water is a miracle of nature. Yet there are many books with a focus on the wonders of animals and animal life but not nearly as many on plants and their lifestyles; I decided I could help to rectify this imbalance.

The seventeen chapters in the first edition covered many aspects of the inner workings of plants. I approached the subject from an historical point of view thinking that showing how our knowledge of how plants work had evolved over time would carry the less well informed reader towards increasing understanding of these unique and critically important organisms.

Parts 1-4 in the second edition cover the same major topics as the first but also includes new information consistent with recent advances in knowledge. To make this edition accessible, still, to the non-specialist, some more advanced information is kept separate in Boxes. If non-specialists wish to skip this source of information, they can do so without losing the thread of discussion in the main text. More knowledgeable students can use the Boxes as a source of additional information.

Part 5 deals with the great global geological and biogeological cycles of five of the most important elements needed by plants: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur. The first chapter in this section charts how these natural cycles operated in the four and a half billion years or so of the Earth’s existence before humans began having a significant global impact. The second chapter highlights some of the effects human activities are having on these cycles and, then, on plants, since the advent of the Industrial Revolution about 300 years ago.

How are the plant sciences set to deal with the consequences of such environmental changes?

Advances made in recent years in plant biology are huge and at all levels of plant life from the ecological to the molecular. At the level I am particularly interested in, unprecedented advances in knowledge are occurring at breathtaking speed.  Our understanding of how plants work at the most basic physiological and biochemical levels improves and expands daily, it seems.

I added Part 5 to the book because of my belief that students entering the plant sciences today need to understand how their planet has evolved during its eons of existence, how the activities of a rapidly growing human population are accelerating the pace of this evolution, especially its great elemental cycles, and what effects these imposed changes are having on plants at the most fundamental level. Any plant biology student in the 21st century needs to develop an understanding of and sensitivity to the impact of human activities on plants at all levels, including the physiological and biochemical. My aim was to provide a few clear examples of how human impacts on our land, water, and atmospheric resources are affecting how plants work. After all, the changes seen at the ecological level are often a reflection of the impact human-forced changes to the environment are having on the everyday activities going on in the cells of the plant.

John King is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan

Five Reasons to Buy Trees of Panama and Costa Rica

Trees of Panama and Costa Rica

“This is an impressive tour-de-force of tropical plant identification. The lively writing is accessible to nonspecialists, while the broad taxonomic coverage and authoritative species descriptions make this guide useful to professional botanists.” – Brad Boyle, University of Arizona

  1. The only tree guide to cover Panama and Costa Rica together
  2. Covers almost 500 species
  3. Contains 438 high-resolution photographs
  4. Includes 480 colour distribution maps
  5. There are concise and jargon-free descriptions of key characteristics for every species

Richard Condit is a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Rolando Pérez is chief botanist and Nefertaris Daguerre is a forest specialist with the Center for Tropical Forest science at the STRI.

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Carnivorous Plants and their Habitats

Carnivorous Plants and their Habitats jacket imageThis very generously illustrated two-volume set is the product of eight years of intensive travel and research on the part of the author, naturalist Stewart McPherson. It’s packed full of detail about the natural history and ecology of these fascinating plants – the 1441 pages include 799 colour photographs! Horticulturalists and botanists are presented with unparalleled information about all the carnivorous plant genera, including four species of Nepenthes described here for the first time.

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of HistoryFifty Plants that Changed the Course of History

From the crops that have fed billions of people over the centuries to the plants highly regarded for their medicinal qualities, this fascinating offering from garden expert Bill Laws unearths the stories behind some of the world’s best-known plants. The plants are assessed by their influence in the categories of edible, medicinal, practical and commerical, allowing the reader to discover how each of the fifty featured plants has earnt its right to be regarded as changing the course of history. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History draws upon some fascinating sources from ancient wall paintings to old Japanese wood blocks, depicting traditional methods of harvesting and preparing crops.

Our favourite plant from this book? Coffee

Coffea arabica – black gold. Thought to have been brought to the West by Marco Polo in the 13th Century, coffee is an economic, cultural and social phenomenon without parallel globally… and particularly in the office at NHBS.

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History

Reed – an expert’s view

A Book of Reed jacket image

Dr S. M. Haslam is a field botanist and researcher with the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, who has made intensive studies of reed sites in Britain and Malta, and less intensively across eastern and western Europe, Israel and North America. Her studies on plant growth have made her familiar with various plants from Africa and Australia. Her new book, A Book of Reed, is published by Forrest Text. We asked Dr. Haslam for some insight into her subject…

“Reed occurs in all five continents. It is concentrated in Europe, Asia and Africa, but is most variable and abundant in eastern Europe and into Asia (much in China), in temperate climes. Here it is the commonest wetland dominant, the commonest (non-bog) peat former, and the commonest sparse species in other wetland types. Reed peat is of course a fen peat, formed under water from old plant peats. Reed beds, before much human impact, often lived for several thousand years, colonising flooded areas and building up peat until dry land vegetation could invade or land or sea level changed to increase surface water again. The plants have large rhizome systems growing at the front and dying at the back. It is thought, but without evidence, that the same plants live throughout the life of a stable bed (one that is not subject to constant disturbance and disruption).

“Before main drainage, the next most important habitat (still seen, though sparsely) is in bands along lowland streams, outside a fringing band of trees or bushes. Small dominant stands occur in other wet places, and sparse reeds are in most fens, rich and poor, in estuaries and beside some rivers.

“Reed is extraordinarily sensitive to most environmental impacts, natural and human. These variations make reed a fascinating study in plant behaviour.

“There has been a deplorable decline and loss of river plants which is quite possibly worst in Britain, among the larger countries. This has occurred over the past 30 years or so, although some decline was recorded from the 1930s through to 1980 (principally in fine-leaved Potamogetons). Among small countries, Malta seems to be approaching total loss in a few decades time, there having been a good and common aquatic flora in 1850. This loss, however, is primarily due to water loss from abstraction.”

The dedication in Dr. Haslam’s next book, “The Waving Plants of the River”, is to “the botanists of the future who dedicate their lives to reverse the present decline and devastation of river plants.”

A Book of Reed is available now from NHBS