Martin on Cnicht

Martin on Cnicht

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Alpine Flowers – A Cicerone Guide by Gillian Price

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This pocket guide was published by Cicerone earlier this year.

It is very much a ‘pocket’ guide, measuring 16 cm by 10 cm and weighing just 127 grammes, ie smaller and lighter than most Cicerone guides, and certainly much lighter than the 400+ gramme definitive guide to Alpine Flowers by Christopher Grey-Wilson and Marjorie Blamey, sadly out of print but occasionally available through ebay. ‘Pocket’ does come at a cost – the latter book covers over 1500 species, whereas Gillian's covers just 230 species.

However, only a few of us (I am one) have chosen to lug the definitive guide on backpacking trips around Europe, preferring to ‘Look that up when I get back’. The idea of Gillian’s guide is to act as a lightweight companion in the field, with colour-coded pages to make it easy to consult. The guide focuses on the main flowers likely to be encountered, and it gives readers helpful pointers for distinguishing flowers that might appear the same at first glance.

12 pages of introduction and glossary set the scene for 115 pages of descriptions of the 230 species covered, each supported by a colour photograph. Gillian doesn’t go into complex technical descriptions, but she does add points of interest not covered in the more technical guidebooks, such as the origins of names, toxic or healing qualities, and a variety of other identification points and distinguishing features.

For many people this book will be quite sufficient for all their purposes. Those like me who may wish to identify sub-species etc will also benefit from the lightweight nature of this field guide. It’ll enable us to basically identify most plants, whilst any uncertainties can be photographed digitally and checked in one of the more definitive guides when we get home.

Consequently, whilst the Grey-Wilson/Blamey volume will still accompany me on hutting trips, I’ll be replacing that with this excellent offering from Gillian for backpacking trips.

I commend the book to all those visiting the Alps and Pyrenees who have any interest in the flowers of the region. But as Reginald Farrer so eloquently states in his seminal volume ‘The Dolomites’ (1913) [a ‘must read’ for those with any interest in Alpine flowers] “Those who dislike mountains and are bored with plants need have no dealings with this volume.”

Highly recommended, and available from Cicerone here.

Well done, Gillian.

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