Britain's Ferns: A field guide to the clubmosses, quillworts, horsetails and ferns of Great Britain and Ireland
Princeton University Press WILDGuides | 2020
280 pp. | 15 x 21 cm
Paperback | £20 / $ 23.95 | ISBN: 9780691180397
Ferns are – at least to this novice – a rather daunting identification prospect, notwithstanding the manageably low diversity compared with more popular taxonomic groups. My first attempt to get to grips with ferns was in the early 1980s, enthused by the newly published Grasses, ferns, mosses and lichens of Great Britain and Ireland, one of several ground-breaking Roger Phillips guides published by Pan (of which his Mushrooms has best stood the test of time). This was quickly supplemented by the Collins guide to the grasses, sedges, rushes and ferns of Britain and Northern Europe, from another proven field guide pedigree. As I take them off the shelf now, these pioneering aids look decidedly dated, and perhaps I can be pardoned for blaming my lack of expertise to some extent on deficiencies in the literature. In the intervening period (while I lived outside the UK), Page’s excellent The ferns of Britain and Ireland, has become the standard work, although since it is seemingly never to be found second hand for less than £60 I am not in a position to have acquired it. So I lay out my cards as an interested – and probably not very persevering – novice, and my assessment of the current guide should be taken as such.
But there’s no excuse for not tackling this group now. James Merryweather’s new field guide should put British fern identification within the reach of the most botanically (and economically) challenged. It is small, portable, clear and up-to-date. All 60 native ferns, 6 clubmosses, 3 quillworts and 9 horsetails are treated in this new photographic guide, in a format that will be very familiar to aficionados of the growing WILDGuides series.
Like most WILDGuides books, the aim is not merely teach the user the characters of each species, but primarily to inculcate an identification process that can be applied to any specimen encountered. As with companion guides, the introductory sections – a full 97 pages – comprise identification procedures, extremely detailed keys, and a guide to families. Those allergic to keys should not be put off, since this highly visual resource bears little resemblance to the dry dichotomous texts of yore. Here text, photographs, diagrams and clever design are married to produce a tool that the least technically proficient will be able to use. So the recommended way to use the guide is to work through the keys to find a suggested identification, which then directs the user to a full species description.
The species descriptions each cover a double-page spread, with most of the text, a map and a full-plant photograph appearing on the left, complemented by large photographs of fronds, sporangia and further detail on the right. These are very straightforward to peruse. Additional tables are provided to aid critical identification of the tricky British male-ferns. The closing pages are largely devoted to guidance as to when and where to encounter ferns and to further resources for study and recording. The skill of designer Rob Still is everywhere apparent, making the material supremely accessible.
Fitter, A., Fitter, R. & Farrer, A. (1984) Collins guide to the grasses, sedges, rushes and ferns of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins, London.
Merryweather, J. (2007) The fern guide. 3rd edition. Field Studies Council, Shrewsbury.
Page, C.N. (1997) The ferns of Britain and Ireland. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press.
Phillips, R. (1980) Grasses, ferns, mosses and lichens of Great Britain and Ireland. Pan, London.
Phillips, R. (1981) Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe. Pan, London.
Rose, F. (1989) Colour identification guide to the grasses, sedges, rushes and ferns of the British Isles and north-western Europe. Viking, London.