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Ferns of Southern Africa – a Book Review

Ferns of Southern Africa – A Comprehensive Guide, is a newly published book I was invited to review. With some trepidation I started to read the 776 page guide even though I removed every single fern from my garden just a year ago. I wondered whether the book could convince to try ferns again – after all, I’ve heard ferns thrive in shade and I’m always looking for good shade plants …

Ferns of Southern Africa starts off with a foreword that hooked me – Did you know that there are over 300 species of ferns that are native to southern Africa? I had no idea. Considering that half of the subcontinent is semidesert or desert this is a really high number as I’ve always though of ferns as requiring shade and thriving in forest type areas. Turns out that there are quite a number of local species that have evolved to tolerate extreme drought and heat, as well as full sunlight and bush fires. And did you know that ferns were flourishing about two hundred million years before flowering plants made their first appearance? The introductory chapter will introduce you to these and many other interesting facts about ferns you probably knew nothing about if you are not a fern fanatic.

Ferns of Southern Africa features a full double-page spread per species with multiple photographs including close-ups (the photography is superb), informative line drawings where necessary and very detailed and comprehensive descriptions. Other features of the book include tables that highlight differences between similar-looking fern species, distribution maps and identification keys to families, genera and species.

It’s a beautiful book, no doubt about that. If you are seriously interested in ferns then this book is an essential for your library. I haven’t seen another book quite like it in our local bookstores, so consider adding it to your collection if you are a “Fern-atic”. But its not a quick, Saturday afternoon read – It is a beautiful guide and reference book I am proud to own, and I’m sure I will page through and refer to it often in the years to come.

[one_half]A favourite reading spotA favourite reading spot[/one_half]

[one_half_last]A beautiful bookA beautiful book[/one_half_last]

[one_half]Its about plants! My favourite book type!Its about plants! My favourite book type![/one_half]

[one_half_last]Well written, beautifully illustratedWell written, beautifully illustrated[/one_half_last]

Has this book convinced me to dash off to the nursery to buy a bunch of ferns to plant in my garden? I’d have to say no, but … I am considering a few carefully selected and purposely placed ferns. And I will be using this book to research exactly which type to plant and where.

From the publisher – Random House Struik:

This comprehensive, colourful and lavish guide to the ferns of southern Africa (covering South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia) throws new light on a category of plants that’s little-described or featured. Its careful and accessible design enables quick, sure identification of all 321 ferns known to occur in the region. In compiling this unique and beautiful volume, the authors travelled extensively, even finding several new species of ferns along the way. They are all treated in this guide – some described here for the first time. Ferns of Southern Africa will become the standard reference book on local ferns, and will be a treasured resource for many years to come.

About the Authors

Neil Crouch is an ethnobotanist with SANBI. He recently co-authored Guide to Succulents of Southern Africa.
Ronell Klopper is curator of the fern collection at the National Herbarium, SANBI.
John Burrows is a nature conservationist. He authored Ferns and Fern Allies of South and South-central Africa.
Sandra Burrows is an acclaimed botanical illustrator and natural history author who has collaborated on several works, including Southern African Ferns and Fern Allies.

Where to purchase the book:

Ferns of Southern Africa – a Comprehensive Guide is available at:

Christine's garden Gardening

My “back garden” make-over

I’ve been going through hundreds of old photographs to find before pics to show you of how the back area of my garden looked when we first bought this house. It really was not attractive – it was already overgrown and was dominated by ivy, ferns and the trees! The only thing I regret is that the “gardener” I got to mow the lawn and “tidy up” the garden destroyed a huge, beautiful lavender bush we had in the back garden. Everything else was … well IVY and the delicious monster which Kathryn decided to keep in the garden. I’m still not mad about it, I may remove it one day, but for now I defer to her better judgement.

After our magical day spent in Philadelphia yesterday with the kids and their families, I spent the best part of today working on this part of the garden – As I mentioned to you, I have a bit of an “ant problem” back there and aphids are attacking the Camellias, so armed with my organic pest repellent I’ve been spraying and then weeding, removing dead leaves, learning to prune … lots of work!

Here is a current comparison in photographs. The way it looked before Kathryn worked her magic and a photo I took today.


Before – July 2010

Back Garden July 2010[/one_half]


6 Months later – January 2011

Back Garden January 2011[/one_half_last]

I do still hate seeing the house next door but the rate at which the trees are growing (especially the Viburnum that was planted), I’m confident that within a year I should have my privacy back. Not that they can see over their wall into my garden, but I just don’t like looking at neighbour houses from my garden.

I uploaded a set of photos of the “progress” the plants have made to in case you are interested in seeing how its progressed. There is one that I took just after the new plants and lawn were planted, then one in October, one in December and then two photos I took today. Here is the link: My Back Garden progress in photos. I’ll add more to the set as time goes by.

That’s all for today!