Photo Guide to Trees of Southern Africa – Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Braam van Wyk‘s Photo Guide to Trees of Southern Africa (second edition, 2011) is a fantastic resource packed with concise and interesting details on trees native and invasive to Southern Africa. Over 920 color photos bring to life the roughly 300 species of trees and shrubs (of Southern Africa’s 2,100 estimated species). Few books will be as interesting or as informative to naturalists, practitioners of bushcraft, rangers, and amateur and professional botanists.
The Photo Guide has an amazing wealth of information within its 360 pages. Concise explanations are provided in brief 2-page summaries for the following topics: biomes; which trees provide edible fruit (and to which animals); which trees are used for firewood; which trees are used in woodworking; the relationship between trees and wildlife; which tree products are potentially harmful or beneficial to human health (including usages in folk medicine); as well as the architecture of trees to better understand their growth and changing shape as they mature. A glossary of terms in the back of the Photo Guide provides a clear and concise explanation of flora-related terminology as well as examples of leaf types, shapes, and the parts of both simple and compound leaves. Flower structure and parts are also included.
Most of the book is dedicated to individual species of flora, roughly one on each page, and has the scientific binomial name of the tree, the name(s) in English, and also the name in Afrikaans. More details are provided relating to all of the topics above in a concise format which explains the features and characteristics of the tree, its leaves, and any fruit, as well as similar species that might confuse identification, the habitat the tree can be found in (along with a map), and the uses for the tree and its products.
Of particular interest to everyone visiting or living in Africa is the relationship that trees have with their surroundings, especially the wildlife that may depend upon them for shelter (and thus the presence of the trees may suggest the presence of sought-after wildlife), food, and who ultimately share the same ecosystem and resources. Self-guided safari tourists may find it useful to identify key trees that popularly shelter their favorite wildlife to get the best experience from their outing.
Although comparatively few people in Africa live in traditional villages with traditional lifestyles the Photo Guide does provide some insight into which trees provide wood, bark, fruit, and other products that are used in crafts, folk medicine, or are used for livestock fodder. Many types of wood from Africa, such as teak and ebony, are used in exotic wood products used around the world. Information on tree uses may also be of interest to anti-poaching rangers and others that may need to rely on their bushcraft skills for survival. Each species denoted in the Photo Guide provides helpful icons denoting features and uses for the tree without the need to be able to read English well or read a complex description.
Tree enthusiasts and botanists will find useful the codes associated with each tree species defining the leaf types, arrangements, margins, and latex. This code can be used to aid in making a more in-depth analysis of a specimen found in the field and this reference number can also be looked up in the back of the Photo Guide to find species that are similarly categorized with the same leaf attributes.
The Photo Guide to Trees of Southern Africa is a truly indispensable reference guide to many common trees of the region and is available in both Afrikaans and English. Measuring roughly 245x170x20 mm (10×6.5×0.8 inches) this is a reasonably portable book and can be carried without difficulty in a day pack. Individuals seeking a more robust and comprehensive book should also take a look at the companion book Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa (1997) which is about 50% thicker and contains more than 1,000 tree species with much the same information, but a slightly different format and a more formal presentation. The Pocket Guide to Trees of Southern Africa is available as an e-book only and is by the same authors, however it covers only 132 species which falls significantly short compared to either of the other alternatives.