Conifers are known to everyone as a conspicuous kind of evergreen trees or shrubs that feature prominently in gardens and parks as well as in many managed forests in the cool to cold temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Numerous books have been written about them and continue to appear, mostly with a bias towards these uses in Europe and North America.
This new handbook of the conifers is departing from this traditional approach in that it includes all the world's 615 species of conifers, of which some 200 occur in the tropics. It gives as much information about these and the Southern Hemisphere conifers as about the better known species, drawing on research into the taxonomy, biology, ecology, distribution and uses by the author over nearly 30 years. The result is a truly encyclopedic work, a true handbook of all the world's conifers, richly illustrated by the author with his line drawings and photographs taken from the natural habitats of the species.
This is, quite simply, a superb work: the culmination of the author's lifetime spent studying conifers. It is beautifully and comprehensively illustrated, exceptionally thorough, entirely up to date and wholly authoritative. There is no previous treatment of all the conifers which is remotely comparable. Anyone who has - or has simply admired - Farjon's book on the genus Pinus, his work on Mexican pines, his illustrations of the Pinaceae or most recently his monograph of the Cupressaceae, will want this too. The various editions of Dallimore & Jackson, and of Krussman's guide to cultivated broadleafed conifers, are useful as far as they go, but are tremendously biased towards the cultivated trees of arboretums and plantations in northern Europe and North America. For those trees they are thorough & helpful, but they are tools for gardeners rather than monographs for botanists and dendrologists. John Silba's 1986 guide - 'census of the Coniferae' - while treating all the tropical conifers neglected by the others, is much more concise and therefore of necessity a much more superficial work. Eckenwalder's recent offering via Timber Press is comprehensive but largely fails to incorporate the scientific advances and increased understanding of the last twenty-five years. This, by contrast, passes every test one might set it with flying colours. The introductory matter sets the conifers in a clear scientific context. The classification reflects a modern cladistic philosophy, coupled with a pragmatic understanding of the limits of that approach in a group where most of the diversity that has ever existed is long extinct. The descriptions of each family, genus and species are thorough, precise, careful and extremely consistent. The species delimitation is perhaps a little on the conservative side, but carefully justified and argued in every case where it might be controversial. The big tropical & southern hemisphere families - Podocarpaceae, Cupressaceae, Araucariaceae - are covered as thoroughly as the data permit and far more thoroughly than in any other general treatment. We have no modern monograph of the Araucariaceae or Podocarpaceae as a whole, nor even of many of the major genera, and Farjon's book therefore plugs huge gaps in the basic reference literature. The layout is neat and clear. What is perhaps most impressive is the intellectual coherence of the book. Farjon's whole life has been devoted to the study of conifers and he has published in-depth studies of the taxonomy, ontogeny and ecology of conifers across several families. He brings to this book an unrivalled depth and breadth of knowledge, and unlike some books written after a lifetime studying a subject, it nonetheless remains thoroughly current. <...>[I]t is a reference book on conifers! However, if you are a forester, botanist or a gardener, enjoy trees in parks or forests, want to know more about the trees that form the great conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest or which hang on in the forested islands of the western Pacific, or if you simply love plants, love books, or love conifers, this is very much a book for you. It should certainly be on the shelves of every university and college library where botany or forestry is taught. Given the size of the pages, the high quality binding (of over a thousand pages), the immaculately reproduced line drawings, and the colour photographs, the price is excellent value. I cannot recommend it enough.'Timothy Waters (London, UK) on Amazon.com, June 2010
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