Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia — Book review

Native trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia Covering areas of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia
Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia Book Cover Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia
Leon F. Costermans
Plant identification
Reed New Holland
detailed drawings and photographs
there are two indexes, a botanical name index and a common name index


Covering areas of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia

Buy from: Booktopia | Angus and Robertson Bookworld | Dymocks Books | Book Depository

One of the best tools to identify native trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia

Hobby botanists, naturalists and scientists will find ‘Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia’ very useful. It is a great plant identification tool for native trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia. It also has a comprehensive section about south-eastern Australia’s regional ecology and geology.

The book covers 900 species of native trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia. The specific area covered in the book stretches from the Flinders and Mt. Lofty Ranges in South Australia, across Victoria and southern New South Wales, to the NSW South Coast.

This book was first published in 1981 and has had many reprints and a few revisions. The last addition was an addendum, published in 2009. This addendum includes name changes that have occurred since the last revision.

Even though the content of this book may not be fully up to date, I still find it one of the best plant identification tools to take into the field and study native trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia.

Content overview

The book has four sections.

The land and vegetation

The first two sections focus on the land and its vegetation. In the first, the author discusses the geological and evolutionary history of south-eastern Australia, and gives special reference to the soil and ecology.

The second section describes the vegetation and geological history of particular areas in more depth: the far south-east, around the Pigeon House, Mount Buffalo, the high country, ‘The Prom’, the Grampians, Wyperfeld, and the Flinders Ranges.

Identification and descriptions

The third section, the illustrated regional guide-lists, is the the most valuable part of this book. The author discusses the plants using the geological–ecological habitats where they occur. This is what makes this book so useful. When you are in the field, you can quickly decide which plant identification guide-list you should use based on the region and habitat you are in.

Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia
An illustrated plant identification guide-list in the general section

This section has eight parts. The first part discusses species that are very common over south-eastern Australia and occur in many locations. This part has its own plant identification guide-list to help the reader identify each of these common species.

After the general section of common species, the author discusses seven ecosystems in more detail. For each of these, he provides a guide-list to identify the significant species. The ecosystems discussed in detail are:

  • taller forests and moist valleys of the ranges
  • near-coastal New South Wales and East Gippsland
  • higher mountain country
  • inland slopes
  • the south-western area
  • the semi-arid inland
  • the coast.

The plant identification guide-lists have excellent drawings that illustrate each species. These drawings allow the reader to quickly compare the plant they are trying to identify with the species in the guide-list.

The fourth section of the book is closely linked to the third section. It contains the in-depth and detailed descriptions of all species listed in the eight guide-lists of the third section.

Book audience

This book is for both beginners and experienced naturalists. It gives an excellent overview of the various ecosystems in south-eastern Australia and its most important tree and shrub species.

If you want to learn about the trees and shrubs in a particular area of south-eastern Australia, this is an excellent book to start with. It will especially help you work out which characteristics are important for identification of shrubs and trees. The plant identification guide-lists will help to significantly reduce the number of potential species from which you can choose.

If you are already familiar with the process of plant identification, you will find this book invaluable. The book is certain to help you identify many of the trees and shrubs you will come across in south-eastern Australia.

Key features of the book

The key features of this book are:

  • easy to use plant identification guide-lists
  • detailed drawings
  • excellent tree and shrub descriptions
  • clear plant photographs
  • detailed plant distribution maps.

The identification guide-lists are easy to use because they have detailed drawings of defining characteristics for each plant. The drawings are easy to scan and compare, thus facilitating the identification process. Next to these drawings, the text clarifies more details about these key characteristics. Once you have identified a species, there is a cross-reference to its detailed description in the fourth section of the book.

In the fourth section of the book, each plant has a detailed description. These include a species distribution map and one or more drawings of some of the tree or shrub’s main characteristics. For most of the species, there is also an excellent colour or black and white photograph.

Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia
Species descriptions illustrated with colour photographs

The species descriptions of the trees and shrubs are grouped by genus. In addition, for the wattles and eucalypts there are separate chapters. In the Acacia chapter there is a handy key to the various species groups within the genus Acacia. The eucalypts are in groups according to the Pryor and Johnson classification. This classification groups related species together, which helps the in identification process.

One of the best features of this book is its excellent drawings. The drawings illustrate the plant identification guide-lists as well as the species descriptions. This means you do not have to flip back and forth from the guide-lists to the descriptions.

I really like to have drawings when identifying plants. Drawings are still the best way to illustrate certain characteristics. It is sad to see this skill used less and less in modern works because of the high cost, time and skills involved.

Additional features

Finally, this book has a number of other valuable features:

  • an illustrated glossary
  • a botanical name index
  • a common name index
  • an addendum with name updates.

The illustrated glossary will be quite valuable to beginners.

The indexes are an absolute ‘must’ for a book such as this and are excellent for the original text pre-2009. Unfortunately, these do not include the new addendum, which is a pity.

The addendum, which was published in 2009, provides updates to botanical names and other information. Unfortunately, the name updates are only in the addendum. There are no annotations or cross-references to the addendum from the book itself. This makes it hard to work out which plants have changed name when using the plant identification guide-lists or the species description sections.

It also means that when you look up a scientific name in the index and it is not there, you will also have to check the addendum.

Therefore, it would be immensely valuable if this book was fully updated and name changes were incorporated in the text and indexes. But this is a small criticism of an otherwise very valuable publication.


In conclusion, ‘Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia’ is an excellent book and will be an asset to any naturalist who wants to learn about the trees and shrubs of south-eastern Australia.

Related resources

Plant identification: Rainforest Climbing Plants (NSW, VIC, QLD), Rainforest Trees and Shrubs (NSW, VIC, QLD)

Animal identification: Birds of Australia app (Australia-wide)

Regional: ACT, NSW, VIC, SA

Free online: PlantNET (New South Wales Flora Online), Atlas of Living Australia (Australia-wide)


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    • Rara Avis Post authorReply

      Thanks for commenting! I will add this book to my list of books to review. If you are able to send me a copy of the book, that would be great.

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