A field guide to the flora of South Georgia

by Deirdre Galbraith

book cover showing snow and mountains in south georgiaThis book is yet another wonderful addition to the WILDguides family. Few people, let alone botanists, are lucky enough to visit South Georgia - one of the UK's overseas territories - in the South Atlantic, but those that do will find a wintry landscape home to only 24 native plants.

Squeezed into the 72 pages are maps and background to the island and fragile habitats alongside some beautiful landscape photography of the remote outpost. Possessing so few natives means the author, Deirdre Galbraith, has been able to provide detailed field guides to all, as well as discussing in some depth the 70 or so introduced species.

The most common plant on the island is tussock grass, Parodiochloa flabellata, which Captain Cook described in the first reference to the vegetation of the island: "Not a tree nor shrub was to be seen, no not even big enough to make a toothpick. Our botanists found here only three plants, the one is a coarse strong-bladed grass which grows in tufts, Wild Burnett, and a plant like moss which grows on the rocks... The land or rocks bordering on the Sea coast, was not covered with snow like the inland parts, but all the vegetation we could see on the clear places was the grass mentioned above."

The botanical guide is framed superbly by the inclusion of the history of plant exploration of the island. From the first landing on Possession Bay by Captain Cook in 1775, where his naturalists made the first observations and collections, to the 2008/9 expedition by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - surveying introduced flora as part of the South Atlantic Invasive Species Project - South Georgia has a rich story to tell.

The end result is a perfect introduction to the flora of a little known island, which will be of interest to those already in the know, and an encouragement for others to find out more.

A perfect accompaniment to this title would be A visitor's guide to South Georgia also available from WILDguides with a second edition due out in Spring 2011.

A field guide to the flora of South Georgia is available from WILDguides and NHBS