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Flora of Cardiganshire by Arthur O. Chater, with contributions from D. E. Allen, C. D. Preston and P. A. Smith . Aberystwyth : Cambrian Printers , 2010 . ix + 930 pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-9565750-0-5 . £40.00 .

As a student in Aberystwyth in the late 1970s, I invested what seemed like a huge amount of money (£10 – and more than I could really afford at the time) on a second-hand copy of Salter's The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Cardiganshire (1935). That small book, which I still have, runs to some 182 pages, and Salter wrote in the preface that ‘Cardiganshire has had but little attention bestowed upon it by botanists’ and that ‘the present work makes no pretence to be a Flora of the county’. The arrival in 2010 of Chater's new book has certainly changed that situation!

Cardiganshire is not a large county, but, despite this, many fine botanical localities fall within its boundaries, representing a wide range of habitats from shingle and sand beaches (many places), sand dunes and dune slacks and saltmarshes (e.g. Ynyslas), raised bogs (Borth and Tregaron Bogs), through various lowland habitat types to the uplands of the eastern parts of the county (but with little area above 600m elevation). As a result, the county boasts a rich and varied flora and merits visits at different times of the year in order to appreciate the full extent of its botanical interest.

Living in the Aberystwyth area for more than six years, Salter, in combination with more modern books covering the UK flora, served me well – but what a difference Chater would have made. The difference between the two volumes is stark and immediately obvious, not just in terms of size and weight – Salter's species entries read like telegrams, conveying the essential information but no more, whereas Chater's often resemble essays describing old friends.

Lathraea clandestina (the naturalized purple toothwort) is one of the many fascinating species (e.g. Fay, 2010) listed in the new book that were not included by Salter. I remember puzzling over that exotic looking plant when I found it growing under trees in the woods on Penglais Hill in the early spring. I failed to find anything that fitted it in Salter and had to resort to Clapham, Tutin & Warburg (1952), where it merited a relatively brief entry (p. 914) stating that it was naturalized in a few localities in England [sic], and there it was, before my eyes, in Wales! It does appear in Chater's book – and now even has a Welsh name (deintlys porffor) – with the sole locality being the one that I remember finding more than 30 years ago.

The volume starts with a long, highly informative and profusely illustrated introductory section (approaching 200 pages), covering aspects of botanical history, conservation, geology, climate, habitats, suggested botanical tours, phytogeographical and ecological relationships, extinct, declining and increasing species, etc. Many photographs illustrate the range of topography and habitats to be found in the county, and it is a pleasure to see so many friends and colleagues appearing in these, in addition to some of my favourite places.

The species accounts largely follow the order of Stace (2010), although some taxa are included here that do not appear in Stace's work (e.g. Drimys winteri). Distribution maps accompany most of the species entries. A feature of this flora is that it gives special emphasis to infraspecific taxa and full accounts of Rubus, Hieracium and Taraxacum. The account of Rubus runs to some 25 pages, and even then the author had to take a pragmatic approach and writes, ‘A reasonable proportion of the plants met throughout the county cannot be matched with any named species, and most of these appear to be local forms with too small a distribution to merit the generally accepted requirements for formal description and the privilege of a scientific name’. Other groups in the flora, notably Dactylorhiza, also require a pragmatic approach: the dune slack populations of D. incarnata at Ynyslas have confused many a botanist, and Chater states that ‘it is the sites of these mixed populations … that need conserving’, a statement very much in line with the move towards process-based rather than taxon-based conservation plans currently being discussed for complicated groups such as Dactylorhiza, Euphrasia, Sorbus etc.

This is a truly monumental addition to the county floras of Britain. It is unlikely to be taken into the field (apart from by the strongest among us – it weighs slightly more than 3.7 kg!) – rather, it is a book to be savoured and used in preparation for and after field visits.

Llyfr penigamp – llongyfarchiadau!

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. REFERENCES
  • Clapham AR, Tutin TG, Warburg EF. 1952, reprinted 1957. Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fay M.F. 2010. 663. Lathraea clandestina. Curtis's Botanical Magazine 26: 389397.
  • Salter JH. 1935. The flowering plants and ferns of Cardiganshire. Cardiff: University Press Board.
  • Stace CA. 2010. New flora of the British Isles, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.