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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 6, 2005

2 books on Hawai'i plants make welcome additions

"A Guide to Hawai'i's Coastal Plants" by Michael Walther; Mutual Publishing, paperback, $11.95

"Hawai'i's Native Plants" by Bruce A. Bohm; Mutual Publishing, hardcover, $22.95

By Jan Tenbruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

Plant lovers are faced with a shelf full of Hawai'i plant identification books when they visit libraries and bookstores, and two new publications — Michael Walther's "A Guide to Hawai'i's Coastal Plants" and Bruce Bohm's "Hawai'i's Native Plants" — are fine additions to the shelf.

Walther, a photographer and naturalist, has done something simple but remarkable. He includes both a wider angle and a close-up full-color photo, so you can see what the plant looks like when you approach it from a distance, and then can compare its finer features.

His descriptions are brief, telling roughly what they look like, where you'll find them, how they are or were used, and a few other tidbits.

At the back of the book, Walther has selected a botanically rich coastal region on each of the five largest Hawaiian islands, and has created a list of what you'll find there.

They include Polihale on Kaua'i, Ka'ena Point on O'ahu, Mo'omomi on Moloka'i, La Perouse-Kanaio on Maui and Kaloko-Honokohau on Hawai'i.

For more detailed information on individual plants you can look elsewhere, but for preliminary identification and interesting details, this will be a valuable addition to a plant-lover or beachcomber's backpack.

Botanist Bohm's book is one place for more detail. His photography is excellent and his text is rich with fact and somewhat scientific in tone, yet not impenetrable for the amateur. On some plant subjects, he adds extensive detail, background, context and informed conjecture.

There are a couple of lapses. Hawaiian names of plants sometimes are found in headings, sometimes in the text but not the headings, sometimes not at all. Bohm neglects the Hawaiian names of the native hydrangea—kanawao or pu'ahanui.

Yet in this case, he does readers the favor of including photos of both the native and the common forms, for comparison.

Bohm has done extensive work in the Hawaiian Islands, and his volume, with its extensive descriptions and thorough reviews of challenges facing Hawaiian plants, is a nice piece of work. It will be a warming read on a soggy Hawaiian winter day.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.