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Weed anatomy in the spotlight

WeedAnatomy-CoverWeed Anatomy. Hansjoerg Kraehmer and Peter Baur. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

As an old-fashioned botanist who loves few things more than investigating plant structure-and-function (or just plant structure!) I’ve been trying to get hold of a review copy of Kraehmer and Baur’s Weed Anatomy for months. When I eventually managed to secure one I was not disappointed for this mighty tome can best be described as a labour of love.

Although the subject matter of Weed Anatomy is the anatomy (the internal structure – e.g. cells and tissues) of weeds, it does include a goodly proportion of images documenting aspects of their morphology (the outward appearance and form) as well. For the book’s purposes, weeds are defined as unwanted plants with the “ability to survive in an environment managed by humans” (p. 3). Weed Anatomy accomplishes this self-imposed task admirably within 496 (+ vi) pages, which are divided into 9 sections containing 55 chapters, a Reference List (approx. 10 2-columned pages, including websites), and 14.25 pages of 2-columned Index.

Notwithstanding the book’s subject matter, the general plant anatomy information included in Sections I – VII (chapters 1 – 52) is not necessarily just the anatomy of weeds (because there are no typical structures or features within a plant that make it a weed – p. 3). But, and by way of giving you even more images of the book’s subject matter, those structural features are illustrated largely using the weed species that are elsewhere monographed in Weed Anatomy. However, it is noticeable that there are many images from plants such as Equisetum (e.g. pp. 54, 88, 108…) and Pteridium (e.g. p. 90, 91, 95…). This seems a little out of place since the authors state that only ‘higher plants’ are included in Weed Anatomy (p. 4), which to me means gymno- and angiosperms not fern-allies or ferns. But as a major weed in my own garden one can certainly excuse them inclusion of Equisetum (even if it isn’t ‘monographed’…)! More understandably, chapters 1 – 52 are almost exclusively of non-woody plant features (because the most frequent weed species are either annuals, biennials or non-woody perennials – p. 4). Which is fine, woody plant anatomy is covered in other plant biology texts – e.g. Evert & Eichhorn (2013) – if one wants a broader appreciation of plant anatomy. There’s certainly enough structural botany in those nearly 220 pages to give anyone an excellent grounding in anatomy of the primary plant body. And the artwork is not restricted just to sections (almost exclusively  transverse/cross-sections…), Wood Anatomy also includes SEM images (although in traditional greyscale, not the glorious, eye-catching colour rendering that adorns the book’s front cover!), and a couple of macerates for good measure.

Valuable as the material in those front sections (in both senses of the word!) is, the main focus of Weed Anatomy is on the 56 taxa in the book’s 32 Monographs (which constitute chapter 54). Each monograph provides a summary of the included species’ weed status, a whole plant picture of the offending botanic and short – but abundantly illustrated! – descriptions of stem, root and leaf. Whilst I had reservations that the weeds selected would represent a European or north American bias (because I recognised many of the plants’ names!), that fear was soon dispelled as I read the geographical accounts. Accordingly, we have such weeds as Alopecurus japonica (north Asia), Ambrosia artemisifolia (USA and eastern Europe), Bidens pilosa (Brazilian soya problem), Conyza bonariensis (Latin America), Lolium rigidum (Australia), Paspalum dilatatum (Indian rice fields), Setaria viridis (Canada, Europe, Asia…), and Sorghum halepense (sub-tropical weed…). So, a pretty cosmopolitan selection! If you are an educator looking for alternatives to the traditional plants for anatomical studies, the heavily-illustrated accounts give plenty of ideas. Billed as a First Edition, one hopes that subsequent editions of Weed Anatomy will be forthcoming and extend the range of species included. In that way a fantastic plant anatomy resource will surely be built up. One suggestion for the Second Edition is Striga species.

My main interest in Weed Anatomy is from the teaching angle. And I’m particular pleased to note that most – all, according to p. 236 – of the sections illustrated have been prepared using hand-sectioning techniques. Not only does this avoid the lengthy fixing, embedding, and microtoming procedures (which can also be potentially quite damaging to the material), the technique  lends itself readily to practical exercises for students. Weed Anatomy is therefore a great instructional resource (as well as a reference collection). One trusts – and hopes – that the graphic – and multi-colour – evidence of what these techniques can produce might inspire a new generation of students to try them (and tutors to experiment with them in class…). The thrill of taking a plant and obtaining photograph-worthy sections in just a few minutes is one of life’s great pleasures. And with so many plant species out there, and so few having been studied in any anatomical detail, the chances of making new – and maybe important – discoveries is reasonably high. So take up those plant parts and get slicing (just be very careful of the double-edged razor blades that the authors favour)!


Weed Anatomy adds a much-needed anatomical dimension to my copy of Williams and Morrison (2003), which provides only morphological information about weed seedlings. I’m not aware of any competing tomes, although the authors do note that during their preparation of Wood Anatomy they became aware of Korsmo (1954), which contains anatomical information of several weeds. Although Kraehmer and Baur suggest that Korsmo’s tome is a valuable complement to their book, I suspect that text does not include photomicrographs of hand-sections, which is such a unique feature of Weed Anatomy!


Are few: But! a plea, please can we have scale bars for the micrographs (and the macrographs)? The nearest one gets to an indication of scale is a coin shown in e.g. Figs 54.119 and 54.122 – but I don’t know what the coin is so its magnificatory value is limited. Full scientific names would also help ensure reader’s comprehension – e.g. p. 230 we have images of C. draba and C. intybus. What does the C. stand for? For one it is – presumably – Cardaria, for the other it is probably Cichorium – but you’d need to do a little digging around on other pages to get that information. Make it easier for the readers – leave them not in doubt. Whilst there is carefully provided detail – with helpful step-by-step illustrations – re sectioning, section handling and staining in chap. 55, there are no references to the staining combinations used. Although the authors describe the coloured structures that result, it would be valuable to have acknowledgment of the originators of the staining procedures. Certainly, there are no citations of such standard plant microtechnique texts as O’Brien and McCully (1981), Ruzin (1999) or Peterson et al. (2008). And one should mention a couple of ‘typos’; e.g. Amarantus on p. 248 (which should be Amaranthus), and Brachiaria extensa (on p. 430) which should be italicised.

Overall view

Weed Anatomy is sumptuously illustrated throughout with hundreds of photomicrographs – almost all in colour, which means it is as much a ‘coffee-table’ book as an instructional tome (no mean achievement!). One of the delights of reviewing Weed Anatomy was just flicking through the pages and wallowing in the visual feast of anatomical details within. And in so doing I was reminded of that famous quote attributed to Howard Carter when asked what he could see within King Tutankhamun’s tomb – ”wonderful things” was his reply. And wonderful things is what you will find in Weed Anatomy, which dramatically emphasises the dual art-science nature of the study of plant structure. True, some of the images don’t have the crispness one should expect with thin sections of embedded material, but that makes them all the more attainable – they show the great detail that can be achieved with hand-sectioning, and which is well within the grasp of novice students undertaking plant anatomical investigations for the first time. Wood Anatomy is therefore truly an inspirational book. Kraehmer and Baur have given us a rich encyclopaedia of structural detail and insight into a range of weedy species which should make this compilation invaluable to all who have an interest in plant anatomy. The authors are to be complimented on a most worthy endeavour and an assuredly worthwhile enterprise (allaying the authors’ concerns on p. 4…): Thank you!



Evert RF and Eichhorn SE (2012) Raven Biology of Plants, 8th Ed. WH Freeman.

Korsmo E (1954) Anatomy of Weeds: Anatomical Description of 95 Weed Species With 2050 Original Drawings. Grondahl & Sons Forlag.

O’Brien TP and McCully ME (1981) The study of plant structure: Principles and selected methods. Termarcarphi Pty. Ltd.

Peterson RL, Peterson CA, Melville LH (2008) Teaching Plant Anatomy Through Creative Laboratory Exercises. NRC Research Press.

Ruzin SE (1999) Plant Microtechnique and Microscopy. Oxford University Press.

Williams JB and Morrison JR (2003) A colour atlas of weed seedlings. Manson Publishing Ltd.

Nigel Chaffey

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international phytological organ for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I also continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Botany One. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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