"Scottish Plant Lore: An Illustrated Flora" by Gregory J. Kenicer is a simply magnificent book. Many books, however good or enjoyable, are ephemeral. You read them and then put them aside, often to be forgotten. But a much smaller number of books are so beautiful, or so interesting, or so useful as a reference that you know immediately you will be returning to them time and again. "Scottish Plant Lore" is one of those all-too-rare books that qualify on all three counts.
Everything about this book exudes quality. The care taken with the layout, the ease of use, even factors like the thickness of the paper and of the hardback binding. They say you should never judge a book by its cover. In this case you can. The contents are well organised and the text well written and nicely presented. But what really brings this book to life is the huge wealth it offers of spellbindingly beautiful botanical illustrations, many at full page size or larger. What is particularly good is that these mix contemporary illustrations by many different artists with older and historical works.
In his introduction, the author describes the book as "a modern counterpart to the herbals of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the botanical books of the Victorian era, in that each plate is accompanied by a description of the plant's uses and associated folklore. Historical manuscripts such as these provide abundant evidence for a rich tradition of plant uses and plant-related folklore in Scotland... This is supplemented by information gleaned from Scotland's rich oral history and deduced from the range of artefacts gathered across the country."
The plants described and illustrated between the covers are divided by habitat, from seashores via wetlands, grasslands and woodlands to moorlands and mountains: with a concluding section covering plants that thrive in the disturbance created by human development.
I started by turning eagerly to the entry on gorse, to see if I could resolve something that has been puzzling me for years: why there are two very different kinds of gorse on view across Scotland. I was disappointed to read that although there are other species of gorse, only one is likely to be encountered here. Then, on a more general browse, I stumbled across the full page entry with facing illustration for broom: and realised that the "two very different kinds of gorse" I've always been aware of in Scotland are no such thing. This really is a superb book that can be highly recommended for anyone who cares about the natural world or about Scotland.