Authors: Peter Sell and Gina Murrell
Illustrators: Sarah Holme, Alan Leslie, and Gina Murrell
Publisher: Cambridge University Press – 787 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

Books on flora entail a lot of research and cross-checking of updated facts and names to make them accurate and reliable. They also require a lot of prior knowledge of the subject which sometimes comes not from research but from experience and insight. The two editors of this book certainly had many decades of experience working in the herbarium of the plant sciences department of Cambridge University.

The two coauthors of this excellent, well researched, and carefully laid out and meticulously well-written book spent a combined time of over a century (115 years) in the herbarium of the plant sciences department of Cambridge University. Peter Sell dedicated 70 years of his life there and Gina Murrell spent 45 years in that institution.

I am not one who has special knowledge about flora, so I quote, as I do sometimes in some book reviews, the overall general description of this book as provided at its outset:

“This definitive flora provides detailed accounts of the native species, naturalized species, frequent garden escapes and casuals found in the British Isles, including some newly described ones. Full keys and descriptions enable the user to name all plants occurring in the wild and some ornamental trees and shrubs.”

“For the first time, accounts of all the large apomictic genera are included. Each species entry begins with the accepted Latin name, synonyms and English name. A detailed description follows, with the flowering period and chromosome number. Separate descriptions are provided for infra-specific taxa and many hybrids.”

“The status, ecology and distribution (including worldwide distribution) of the taxa are also given. Black and white line drawings illustrate and extensive glossary and illuminate the diagnostic features of the several genera. This final volume of five includes historical and taxonomic introductions to the whole project and covers the pteridophytes, gymnosperms and 44 families of angiosperms.

I provide you below an overview of what you will find in this extensive book published in 2018, with nearly 800 pages of intensive, detailed information:

  • Foreword
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Gina’s Piece
  • The Cambridge School of Plant Taxonomy
  • Bibliographies and Obituaries
  • Introduction
  • Historical Background of our Flora
  • The Contents of the Flora
  • Geographical Area
  • Classification and Nomenclature
  • Collecting Plant Specimens
  • Origin of the British and Irish Flora
  • Variation
  • DNA
  • Examples and Variation
  • Self Pollination
  • Trees and Shrubs
  • Apomicts and Vegetation Growth
  • Literature and Herbaria Consulted
  • Conspectus of Families
  • Kingdom I – Plantae 1
  • Listing of 67 species in this volume of the Flora of Great Britain and Ireland
  • New Taxa and Combinations
  • Abbreviations
  • Glossary
  • Index to Volume I
  • Combined Index: Accepted Names & Selected Synonyms of Families & Genera of Volumes 1-5

Peter Sell writes that he collected over 50,000 specimens of flora from all over Great Britain (England, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales) and the British Isles and parts of Europe during the seven decades, from 1944 to 2013, that he spent at the herbarium of Cambridge University’s plant sciences department. Many of these specimens were collected working together coauthor Gina Murrell

Among the notable features of this book that makes for a great research resource are:

  • A personal view of the Cambridge school of plant taxonomy, by Peter Sell
  • Detailed descriptions of flora and plants including their historical backgrounds
  • Descriptions of the geographical sources and origins of the flora and plants
  • Classification and nomenclature of each of the entries, and their bases
  • DNAs and variations, with examples of variation (e.g. coastal and inland variants)
  • Literature and herbaria consulted
  • Fine line drawings of various specimens

In sum, this is a great book (perhaps the best available out there) on the subject of British flora. Peter Sell and Gina Murell have done an outstanding job, and we should all be highly grateful for their scholarly contributions, particularly this book.



Peter Sell (1929-2013) joined the Herbarium in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences in 1944, holding the post of Curator from 1972 until his retirement in 1997. From 1997 to 2013 his work there on this flora continued unabated, together with frequent visits to the Botanic Garden throughout the flowering and fruiting seasons.

He was coauthor of A Flora of Cambridgeshire (1964) and A Flora of the Maltese Islands (1977) and was involved in the whole Flora of Europaea project, also published in five volumes (1964-80) by Cambridge University Press.

Gina Murrell joined the Herbarium in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences in 1966 where she held the post of Assistant Curator from 2002 until her retirement in 2011. She worked with Peter Sell over a period of 45 years, and together they collected a quarter of the British Herbarium’s 200,000 specimens.