New flora of the British Isles, 3rd ed . by Clive A. Stace . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 2010 . xxxiv+1232 pp. Paperback with plastic cover. ISBN 978-0-521-70772-5 . £50 .

Having been brought up on the works of Clapham, Tutin & Warburg (1952, 1962, 1968) and Keeble Martin (1965), it was difficult to imagine that these books could have their position of pre-eminence on my bookshelves (or in the field) usurped, but with the arrival of Stace's New Flora (1991), that came to pass, and in due course the second edition of the New Flora (1997) and his Field Flora (Stace, 1999) joined these earlier volumes on my shelves. Now, these have now been joined by the third edition – and I congratulate him on this major new edition and for the botanical contribution that he has made over many years (his book on hybridization is also a much-used reference work on my shelves; Stace, 1975). I am not alone in praising him, of course, and the new edition has already received other largely complimentary reviews (e.g. Fröberg, 2011, and reviews by readers on the web pages of various booksellers).

Although it is called the third edition, it has been reworked in many ways and could equally be considered a new work. With some 160 additional species, it now contains 4800 taxa, and there are also many name changes between the second (Stace 2) and third (Stace 3) editions. These have been summarized in two articles: Ellis & Pearman (2010) provided lists in tabular form of name changes, new taxa and taxa present in Stace 2 but not Stace 3 (excluding hybrids), and the same authors (2011a) provided similar information for hybrids. These lists are of great use for anyone wanting to compare the editions.

Stace 3 will be the flora of choice for all serious botanists in Britain and Ireland for the foreseeable future. Inevitably, it is no more portable than its predecessors, but, despite this, it is a book that the current generation of botanists in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in north-western Europe will use at home and in the field. It is produced in a similar style to the earlier editions (as a plastic-covered paperback, giving a degree of protection from our volatile climate), and it is not unduly expensive for what constitutes a standard work.

My major disappointment with the new edition is that Stace decided to deviate from the now widely accepted Angiosperm Phylogeny Group Classification (APG III, 2009) and the associated linear APG (Haston et al., 2009), despite saying in the preface that the new edition is the first for the region to incorporate ‘the new molecular [sic] system of classification (APG III) primarily at family and genus levels’. Firstly, there is a need to take issue with the use of ‘molecular’. Although the APG system is based on phylogenetic analyses of (predominantly) molecular data and these led to the definition of the orders recognized, the family circumscriptions themselves were based on analyses of, in many cases, multiple types of information (certainly not molecular data alone), by experts on the group in question, and the circumscriptions of the orders were reached by a consensus of some of the world's leading botanists. The system used by Stace approximates to APG III, but varies from it in a number of significant ways. This inevitably gives rise to yet another system, further complicating the situation. The reasons behind his decisions to deviate from APG III are, at least in part, outlined in Stace (2010; ‘Classification by molecules’), and those who are interested can read his views there – I won't reiterate them in detail here, but differences from APG III include the recognition of Lemnaceae AND Araceae (vs. Araceae), Sparganiaceae AND Typhaceae (vs. Typhaceae) and Callitrichaceae, Hippuridaceae, Plantaginaceae AND Veronicaceae (vs. Plantaginaceae). He does, however, follow APG III in recognizing other ‘controversial’ families such as Asparagaceae s.l., Malvaceae s.l. (including Tilia) and Sapindaceae s.l.

In concluding the ‘Classification by molecules’ article, he quoted from Thorne's obituary of Takhtajan (Thorne, 2010) in which Thorne lamented not just the passing of a great botanist but also the passing of the time ‘before the age of molecular taxonomy when we thought it was important to have close contact with the plants we were cataloguing for their phyletic relationships’. Stace added ‘Some of us still do!’– despite the implication, he would find that the same could be said of the members of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, all of whom are as in touch with their plants as the members of the previous generation. Generations of ‘traditional taxonomists’ have regretted the arrival of a new technique or played down the value of the data resulting from, for example, chemistry, cytogenetics and in recent years DNA sequence data, but these traditionalists should realise that going into the laboratory does not exclude going into the field!

Within families, there are also some seemingly idiosyncratic choices about which names to use. Following the consensus of orchid taxonomists in works such as the second volume of the major series Genera Orchidacearum (GO; Pridgeon et al., 2001), Stace recognized Neotinea ustulata (vs. Orchis ustulata) and Anacamptis laxiflora and A. morio (vs. O. laxiflora and O. morio) because ‘molecular data show that [they] should be excluded from Orchis’ (not to mention their chromosome numbers and underground structures) and, also in line with the GO system, he included the man orchid in Orchis, instead of treating it as the sole member of Aceras. In contrast, he elected to maintain Coeloglossum as a separate genus, although it is included in Dactylorhiza in the GO system (necessitating the use of the nothogeneric name × Dactyloglossum).

I admit to a degree of sympathy with flora writers who have to make a decision on which way to jump with certain groups – it is certainly isn't possible to please everyone. Two such groups are members of Rosaceae. Sorbus is a mess (we all know that), and in its broad sense, several other genera including Malus and Pyrus are embedded in it; despite this, Stace chose not to split Sorbus, stating that ‘suggestions that Sorbus should be split into 5 genera (4 British) are best not followed until unequivocal evidence is produced’. Potentilla s.l. is similarly polyphyletic, and Duchesnea indica is subsumed into it (as Potentilla indica) and Potentilla palustris (as Comarum palustre) is removed from it in Stace 3 (both changes from Stace 2, without explanation as far as I can see), whereas other genera involved in the same complex, including Alchemilla, Aphanes, Fragaria and Sibbaldia, are maintained. This is only a partial solution to the problem, and it results in some taxa being placed relatively far from Potentilla (genus 24) in the running order (Alchemilla and Aphanes are genera 34 and 35 respectively, even though they are embedded within Potentilla s.l.). Sibbaldia, represented by a single ‘scarce’ (or RR in Stace's system) species in our flora, has to occur twice in the key to genera of Rosaceae (p. 189) to accommodate these decisions.

A final note on taxonomy – as is inevitable with any work of this type, some names have almost immediately been overtaken by events. Here I note, for example, that the Committee for Spermatophyta has (regrettably and out of line with the principle of priority on the basis of publication date) voted in favour of the proposal by Meerow et al. (2007) for conservation of the younger Amaryllidaceae over Alliaceae (as used by Stace) and that Sorbus × proctoris is now correctly known as Sorbus × proctoriana as the former is a nomen nudum (Rich, 2010).

Despite my concerns about some aspects of the taxonomic system used, this is a book that you should buy if you are a botanist in Britain or Ireland (if you haven't already). It is THE book to use, and the inclusion of aliens in significant numbers means that you are highly unlikely to come across anything that isn't to be found in it.


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  • APG III. 2009. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 105121.
  • Clapham AR, Tutin TG, Warburg EF. 1952. Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Clapham AR, Tutin TG, Warburg EF. 1962. Flora of the British Isles, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Clapham AR, Tutin TG, Warburg EF. 1968. Excursion flora of the British Isles. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ellis B, Pearman D. 2010. New names and taxa in the third edition of Stace. BSBI News 115: 314.
  • Ellis B, Pearman D. 2011a. New names and taxa in the third edition of Stace – part 2. BSBI News 116: 4251.
  • Fröberg L. 2011. Book review of New Flora of the British Isles, third edition. Systematic Biology 60: 112113.
  • Haston E, Richardson JE, Stevens PF, Chase MW, Harris DJ. 2009. The Linear Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (LAPG) III: a linear sequence of the families in APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 128131.
  • Keeble Martin W. 1965. The concise British flora in colour. London: Ebury Press/Michael Joseph.
  • Meerow AW, Reveal JL, Snijman DA, Dutilh JH. 2007. (1793) Proposal to conserve the name Amaryllidaceae against Alliaceae, a ‘superconservation’ proposal. Taxon 56: 12991300.
  • Pridgeon AM, Cribb PJ, Chase MW, Rasmussen FN ( eds ). 2001. Genera orchidacearum. Volume 2. Orchidoideae (part 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rich TCG. 2010. Validation of names for new Avon Gorge Sorbus (Rosaceae) taxa. Watsonia 27: 370.
  • Stace CA ( ed ). 1975. Hybridization and the flora of the British Isles. London: Academic Press.
  • Stace CA. 1991. New flora of the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stace CA. 1997. New flora of the British Isles, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stace CA. 1999. Field flora of the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stace CA. 2010. Classification by molecules: whats in it for field botanists? Watsonia 28: 103122.
  • Thorne R. 2010. Armen Leonovich Takhtajan (1910–2009). Taxon 59: 317.