Book review: Naming Australia’s Trees

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Words: Linda Nathan, Editor

This is a book which should be on the shelf of every woodworker and wood lover in Australia. In fact to take it a step further, it should be in every Australian household.

Australian Trees and Shrubs – common and scientific names and toxic properties is a book that lists 5,700 common names used to identify over 4,450 Australian species, subspecies and varieties of woody plants, in other words trees. Authored by Morris Lake, this is the third edition, following earlier editions in 2003 and 2006. It is dedicated to Colin Ward who assisted with the first edition. This latest edition was updated with assistance of members of the International Wood Collectors Society (IWCS) and sees updates that include around 1400 name changes.

The IWCS is a worldwide not-for-profit group devoted to distributing information on collecting wood and correctly identifying and naming wood specimens. Morris Lake is former Australasian Regional Trustee for the IWCS whose most recent publications include Australian Rainforest Woods (2015) and Australian Forest Woods (2019), both published by CSIRO.

Introductory pages to the listings include steps to identifying wood (when you only know the common name), as well as basic information about plants and naming systems. An eight page listing of toxic Australian and imported timbers along with their effects follows the main listings.

Common names are a continuing source of confusion in Australia (and elsewhere). For example, there are many varieties of ‘oak’, ‘ash’ and ‘pine’ that have no actual botanic connection. When Europeans came to Australia they named species for perceived likenesses to those they knew in other countries. On top of that, today we are likely to encounter commercial names such as ‘wormy chestnut’ which have been created purely for marketing purposes. We accept widely used commercial names such as Tasmanian oak and Victorian ash which describe a group of eucalypt species that share features that are deemed to be similar.

For furniture makers, carpenters and others who use wood, knowing species names can be the start of understanding their working properties and, importantly, knowing their provenance and the sustainability of their supply. On a deeper level, to name something is to acknowledge its existence by differentiating it from others.

If we care about preserving our environment and its diversity, this is a highly recommended reference book that can be a basic step towards that. This book is unique and invaluable in terms of the reference it provides.

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Learn more about the International Wood Collectors Society at

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