Some Mistletoes and Other Semiparasitic Shrubs
Author: M. Grace Lithgow
Published by Chinchilla Field Naturalists Club Inc.
80 pages. Paperback.
Reviewed by John T. Moss
It’s not often that a landmark publication on an aspect of natural history appears where the author has the dual talents of descriptor and illustrator, as well as being a pioneer in their field of interest. About 10 years ago just such a book appeared and we were treated to the extraordinarily detailed drawings and descriptions of “Sixty Wattles of the Chinchilla and Murilla Shires”.
Well, it has happened again, and once more Grace has excelled in sharing with us her love of the variety and form of mistletoes of that part of the Darling Downs which includes the Brigalow Belt, an area rich in both aerial and root semi-parasites. Grace has studied in detail the biology of these fascinating plants and transformed this knowledge by pen and pencil in a unique way that I find difficult to verbalise. Suffice it to say that her superb drawings are scientifically accurate in every detail and, of course, show features that colour photographs would not bring out.
Mistletoes have often been overlooked in works on native plants and, unless in fruit or flower, generally go unnoticed by wanderers in the bush. However, recently there have been a small number of books published (or about to be so), which have included chapters or sections on these neglected plants. Mangroves to Mountains Revised Edition with Glenn Leiper’s wonderful colour photos and the “Red Book”, with Gwen Harden’s superb line drawings, are two that come to mind. However, where these cover mistletoe etc. species of the east coast and sub-coastal regions, Grace’s book includes species that extend further inland, even to the semi-arid areas.
Initially Grace gives a short bibliography and then provides information on the derivation of generic names. This is followed by a page on semi-parasitic shrubs in general, including their biogeography. She then goes on to a description of germination and the formation of the haustorium or attachment structure, with wonderful, clear sequential drawings of the processes..
What follows then is a description of each of twenty-three mistletoe species in the two families Loranthaceae and Viscaceae on double (facing) pages with illustration opposite the text. Most of these drawings show all the details of branchlet, leaves, flowers (bud and open) and fruit. The text gives both botanical name (and author) and a descriptive common name (some of recent coinage by consensus of current workers). Recent former botanical names are included to elucidate identity of species when cross-referencing with earlier publications.
Following this is a list of local shrubs and trees that play host to the mistletoe and finally a list of the butterfly species that the mistletoe itself hosts as their larval food plant. Also provided in an appendix is a full list of the butterflies with cross-referencing to their local mistletoe hosts. Those with an interest in the fascinating insects that utilise our native mistletoes will find this information useful.
The final section encompasses the root parasites of the family Santalaceae, which includes the well-known sandalwood trees. There is a description of six species in the same format as their mistletoe relatives.
In both sections the author also lists those mistletoes and root parasites (mainly Loranthaceae and Santalaceae) that play host to other mistletoes (mainly in the Viscaceae) a situation known as hyperparasitism, which I find fascinating, but which for whatever reason was not elucidated.
Possibly for reasons of space, another fascinating aspect of mistletoe biology, that of mimicry (resemblance of mistletoe leaves to that of their hosts), was not mentioned, and yet at least two of the Amyema species included are classic proponents of it. Otherwise, I can find very little to criticise in this publication.
Another useful feature is an appendix listing of mistletoe host plant species, cross-referenced back to the pages where their mistletoe descriptions are arranged. Following this, there are two indexes for botanical and common names, giving as well as the page numbers, the mistletoe/root parasite order number, and an indicator if a colour photo is included.
Both front and back covers are adorned with a striking, full colour photo of the spectacular Bulloak mistletoe, Amyema linophylla subspecies orientalis. Another nineteen colour photos, filling the centre pages, give a representative picture of the form and colour of about half of the species covered in the text.
Scientific illustration is an art, and a combination of artistic talent and scientific aptitude are rare. Grace Lithgow’s considerable talents are reflected in this publication. Consequently, I would recommend it to all those who have a general appreciation of nature, science and art, as well as those, like myself, who have a special interest in these neglected gems of the plant world.
For information on price and availability contact:
Chinchilla Field Naturalists Club Inc.
PO Box 368, Chinchilla QLD 4413