Book reviews

 

We will post here reviews, notes, comments about Conifers Around the World.

 

Review by Burkhard Witt, Botanical Garden, University of Jena, Germany
This book is an absolutely „must have”, now and on, for everyone really interested in conifers. What make this publication unique, are the overwhelming illustrations – 3700 conclusive and high quality color images taken in the native habitats of the conifer species, as well as the abundance of other graphics. Each species is represented by a large photo of the habit and 3 to 5 smaller detail images of cone and foliage; also, there is an extensive bark gallery. The photos are a valuable documentation as they show conifers in their natural habitats. This information cannot be overestimated in our era of tremendous losses in natural habitats and biodiversity.
 
This work is not merely a conifer classification book, but is more than that: not only the genera and species are thoroughly described, but also the regions in which they thrive. When relevant, focus is placed on related species and regions where the species exhibits a wide scale of variation, for example in the case in various pine species in Mexico. The series of cone variability photos in their entire range are a very good idea to explain the „species amplitude” and their apparent transitions. Such examples are usually lacking in other works, but are present in this book, making a useful contribution to those who find themselves in identification problems. This book is an absolutely „must have”.
 
Burkhard Witt

 

 

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Riport on the book in the journal of the German Nursery Association (Deutsche Baumschule 12/2012)

Nadelgehölze - in zwei Bänden um den Globus.

Review by Engelbert Kötter, Walldürn

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Review by Richard J. Naskali, University of Idaho Arboretum

 

'Conifers Around the World' by Zsolt Debreczy and Istvan Racz, edited by Kathy Musial
 
Review by Richard J. Naskali, University of Idaho Arboretum 
 
This stunning new book, published by DendroPress Ltd, Budapest, Hungary in 2011, has recently become available in the U.S.A. It is a masterpiece reference for anyone interested in conifer data, distribution, geography, and references. The brilliantly printed quarto tome in two hard-bound volumes (1089 pages total) includes 3700 color photos, 1300 illustrations, 474 distribution maps, and a unique "Bark Gallery" of 646 color photos taken in the native habitat sites. 
 
The Debreczy and Rácz duo are author and accompanying photographer, respectively. This work summarizes 30 years of research and world travel. The large and clear photographs are professional quality; in addition to native site photos, there are detailed close-up pictures of pollen and seed cones, and 1200 detail drawings. The richly illustrated 86-page introduction to conifers is highly educational. Kathy Musial, Editor in Chief, is the plant data records keeper at the prestigious Huntington Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA. 
 
1Overall, the book is geographically arranged to include most of the native temperate conifers of the world. It will be a long time before this masterpiece is superseded or excelled. The ISBN for the two volume work is 978 963219-061-7-0; the cost is ca. $290.00 U.S. It has limited availability in the U.S.A. but can be ordered through Bookpeople of Moscow, ID, 521 South Main Street, Moscow, ID 83843, phone (208) 882-2669. The Bookpeople e-mail: bookpeople@Moscow.com
 
~Richard J. Naskali
 

 

 

Reviewed by Susan C. Eubank
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia, CA

 

Conifers Around the World: Conifers of the Temperate Zones and Adjacent Regions by Zsolt Debreczy, István Rácz; a much revised and extended translation by the authors of their Fenyők a Föld körül [...]; edited by Kathy Musial.
Budapest: DendroPress Ltd., 2011.
 
Reviewed by Susan C. Eubank
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia, CA
 
There have been scholarly reviews of this book else-where, most notably Peter Del Tredici's review in Amoldia, July 2012 http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/2012-70-l-book-review-conifers-around-the-world.pdf, so I won't try to reproduce that scholarship in this review. Instead, I'd like to share my perspective as a librarian and book lover. In library orientations, I talk about certain books that represent a life's work. Think of Howard Scott Gentry's Agaves of Continental North America (Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1982). There are authors who write on the same subject over and over, bigger and better. Think J.D. Vertrees and the four editions or revisions of Japanese Maples. Or Michael Dirr and his works on trees and shrubs published as a textbook; several glossy, color-illustrated books; a CD; and an interactive DVD. 
Conifers Around the World is the culmination of both these approaches. To understand earth's conifer diversity, it takes lifelong dedication to the subject. Paging through the fourteen pound, two-volume set, I was flabbergasted at the dedication of everyone involved. The books are composed of full page layouts for each of the more than 500 species with descriptions, photographs, and an additional paragraph of interesting facts about the species and its environment. In addition there are sections on conifer habitats, classification, conservation, bark, etc. 
    One of my favorite pastimes is to look for information about common ornamental plants in their native habitats. I spent a lot of time in Colorado wondering about the Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila), but there was only one book in the Helen Fowler Library that had a small, grainy photograph of its native habitat. Now I don't have to wonder about it anymore or about the habitat and form of Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis). Aleppo has been in the news lately and that has fueled my curiosity about Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis) and its natural environment. My mother planted it in our front yard in Pasadena 45 years ago along with Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo subsp. mugo). I can live her daydreams as well as my own with the photographs and descriptions in this book. It is a tie between us, now that I can no longer communicate with her. I think she would have soaked in the landscapes just as I did.
    The volumes may appear daunting to the amateur, but really, anyone can dip in anywhere and come away with a sense of wonder. Sometimes it is the wonder of why we try to grow a plant in an environment so different from its natural one. There is that Mugo Pine my mother bought for the Pasadena front yard with its hot summer, Mediterranean climate at maybe 950 foot elevation. How much water did she need to give the little pine that is native to the Alps, Carpathian, and Balkan mountains at 1200-foot elevation at the lowest? From this book you understand it is a timberline tree, buffeted by high mountain alpine winds. What were we thinking when we thought it was a suitable conifer for California foundation plantings? The timberline part explains why it is multistemmed and dwarfed, making it a perfect looking foundation plant, but not sustainable. I don't think it is in front of the house anymore. All these musings are easily entertained when flipping through the book. Obsessions are indulged too, especially for me in volume 2. I can travel with the authors through the western U.S. and wonder: "What road were they on when they took that photograph?" And, yes, Half Dome in Yosemite is the perfect backdrop for the illustration of Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). I can just hand this to a customer and say, "If you like conifers,
spend a little time here." Now as a librarian, I ponder, "How is a book better than Google?" That's an easy answer in this case, but not obvious to those craning their necks to look at their smart phone or transfixed by a screen, unable to get up from the computer to go to a library. It's all about the detailed thought process and the years of effort to create something scholarly, comprehensive and thought-provoking: developing the idea, deciding on the scope, gathering information, editing (by both scientists and copyeditors), designing. Every stage included a group of experts who were continually vetting the information. "Do we have the best photograph of Ponderosa Pine?" "How does the Baja California population of the rare Cuyamaca Cypress relate to those in the San Diego area?" This may seem absurd to point out, but that's where we currently stand in the information world. I can imagine (sort of) a future for this information as a website with links to all the parts of the book, habitat, range maps, bark photographs, and the main entry page, but that wouldn't bring me all the joy I had browsing page by page and reciting facts to my volunteers as we were working on our used book sale. It's also hard for me to imagine that a website would make my heart sing the way these books did. The package is available from DendroPress http://www.dendropress.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=7 and was €186 joyfully spent.
 
Susan C. Eubank
 
 

 

Book review by Roy Lancaster in the December 2012 issue of The Garden (Royal Horticultural Society)

 

Originally published in The Garden, Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, November 2012. www.rhs.org.uk

Every so often there comes into your life a reference work of such monumental scope and execution that you are initially rendered speechless. This is such a work.

 In essence, the two large volumes of this work are a celebration of conifers native to the world's temperate zones and adjacent regions. The greater part of the text gives descriptive accounts of families, genera, species, subspecies and varieties of conifers.
 They are arranged in alphabetical order within geographical regions, beginning in the first volume with Europe and adjacent regions (including North Africa and southwest Asia), followed by continental Asia and Hainan, ending with Japan and adjacent islands.
 The second volume covers North America, divided into west and east; Mexico and Central America; the West Indies and Bermuda; Chile and Argentina; Australia and Tasmania; and finally New Zealand. 
 Each major regional account is preceded by a wide-ranging introduction covering such essentials as climate zones, vegetation zones, human history and geohistory plus detailed ecological accounts. There are checklists of species and distribution maps for each and every one. The 130-page two-part prologue in Volume 1 offers an instructive and enjoyable introduction to the section on conifer families and genera. Descriptions of their morphology is supported by exquisite line drawings of features such as shoots, leaves and cones.
 Now to the most obvious attraction: the colour photographs, 3,700 of them, which lift this account from the impressive to the awesome. They occur on almost every page, a dazzling array of the highest quality. Each species account, one per page, is accompanied by a large photograph of the subject in its native habitat plus separate smaller photographs of cone and foliage details. Elsewhere there are photographs of conifer habitats including examples of Abies fabri and Tsuga chinensis on one of China's most famous mountains, Emei Shan in Sichuan.
 In addition there are whole plates devoted to cones in all their variety, and others of bark which, together with the landscapes pictured, should convince even the most conifer-shy that something special and beautiful has been missing from their lives.
 
The authors spent more than 2,000 days in the field over a period of 16 years pursuing conifers in their natural habitats. When I first met them many years ago and learned of their ambitious plan to produce this account I could not believe that I should ever live to see it happen. With its publication, originally in their native Hungarian tongue, their dream has been realised and my doubts blown away. I am in awe of their talent, their belief and their tenacity and congratulate their many supporters, colleagues and friends who together made this possible.
 
Roy Lancaster VHM, broadcaster and member of the RHS Woody Plants Committee
 
 

 

The book review by Mr. Tom Cox recently published in Conifer Quarterly, Vol. 29.

 

Likely no book in recent history written specifically about conifers has been more eagerly awaited than Conifers Around the World. A number of books have recently been published on this subject, but most are either about selected cultivated varieties (cultivars), conifers in the landscape or a taxonomic monograph at the species level. This is not written to diminish the contributions of those publications, but rather to highlight the uniqueness of this work. As part of a larger effort to document all of the temperate trees of the world, this two volume set is devoted specifically to conifers. In doing so, the authors have traversed the globe to document and photograph conifers in their natural habitats. It is faic to say that most all known species of temperate conifers are represented, each in rich color along with easy to follow taxonomic descriptions. Comprising two weighty volumes, this 1,089 page masterpiece contains 474 range maps, nearly 1,300 illustrations and more than 3,700 color photographs. No other publication of this magnitude comes close to these numbers. What makes this possible is the extensive fieldwork where the authors observed, photographed and carefully documented species in an in situ environment. Given the time and expense required to do this, most authors rely heavily on herbarium samples. 
Superbly edited by Kathy Musial, Curator of Living Collections at the prestigious Huntington Botanical Gardens, this work is much more than a photographic atlas. In these two volumes the authors cover interesting topics such as conifer identification, conservation, morphology, distribution and climate. Each section contains numerous interesting facts about conifers and related geography that are not discussed in similar publications, and the best part is that the writing is not so technical as to be above the comprehension level of the average reader. Another attribute of this work is its mention of similar species and how to differentiate between them. This is one of the most frequently asked questions by our members. If only more authors would take the time to do this. 
    As a conifer reference, the volumes receive high marks. A unique feature is that they are arranged geographically, focusing on 11 regions. Within these regions, the taxa are arranged alphabetically. While this is a bit clumsy, if one is trying quickly to find a specific species, it is offset by the ability to open the book to a region and know what taxa are growing there. This easily becomes a source of fascination as we are shown where conifers we cultivate naturally occur. The authors' coverage of the diversity of conifers in Mexico and Central America is eye-opening. For some unknown reason, this is a region which is underemphasized in other conifer books. This is unfortunate since there is a treasure-trove of beautiful conifers which are only found there - in fact, Mexico contains the highest numbers of pine species in the world. 
    The pictures are all of high quality on heavy paper so as to appear accurate. While interesting, for the most part the photographs are not what one would typically consider beautiful from a landscape view. They are intended to show how the species appears in the wild. It is interesting to note the difference in form when grown in the wild versus in cultivation. Each species is  accompanied by multiple photographs which capture foliage detail, cone morphology and a full shot of the subject specimen. 
    The one area of confusion is the number of species, subspecies and varieties which the authors list. In this work the authors list 541 taxa. This number includes species, subspecies, and varieties. Given their work only addresses temperate flora, this is a high number. For those who follow horticulture, it is widely known that botanists widely disagree on what constitutes an accepted species or variety. As an example, in Conifers Of The World, Canadian botanist James Eckenwalder recognizes 546 species. In A Handbook Of The World's Conifers, Aljos Farjon recognizes 615 species. Both of these authors cover all conifers to include those from tropical regions. Some species covered in this book such as Juniperus morrisonicola and Abies flinckii are not recognized by either Farjon or Eckenwalder. In addition, new species have been added such as Abies zapotekensis, A. neodurangensis and Pinus yecorensis (all found in Mexico). While it appears that Debreczy and Racz are far less inclined to synonymize taxa, they do reduce a number of commonly recognized species to varietal or subspecies status. Here, as in other works, we are left to pick and choose which names we go with. 
    In summary, this is a worthy book for those seeking a better understanding of the world's conifers. There is much to leam from these two volumes. While the cost of $250 ($212.50 for ACS members) is not cheap, a project of this scope is rare and the price is more than justified. I highly recommend this book.
 
For availability in the U.S., see
http://www.interdendro.org/ .
Tom Cox

 

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Derek Spicer

President, British Conifer Society
(received April 19, 2012; the full article will be published in the upcoming issue 
of the British Conifer Society Journal)

What a wonderful surprise this long awaited book was, conifer enthusiasts will be absolutely enthralled. The original concept of photographing all of the Worlds' hardy conifers, which was first conceived many years ago was exciting enough, but these volumes have so much more to offer. Although the photographs are the main focus, there is a massive amount of other information relevant to conifers. The authors do not waste space with detailed botanical descriptions that are available elsewhere but have filled many pages with fascinating facts about the influences of geology, geography, climate and botanical history, thoroughly embracing the natural history of conifers in a way, that as far as I know, has never been published before. The authors obviously write with the authority gleaned from many years experience of seeing conifers in the wild, and have intelligently drawn on information from experts in other fields...

...The illustrations alone more than justify the purchase of the book. Where else can you see photographs, taken in the wild, of these three relatively recently discovered Abies species from southern China: A. beshanzuensis (1975), A. yuanbaoshanensis (1980) and A. ziyuanensis (1980) or the Mexican A. hidalgensis (1995), A. neodurangensis (1994) and A. zapotekensis (1994) as well as Calocedrus rupestris (2004), from Vietnam...

…At first sight this book is all about the photographs but it soon becomes apparent that the authors have also produced a work with a lot of detailed information that is not available elsewhere and is complementary to the two recent, more scientific, publications on conifer species. It consists of two heavy volumes with 1090 pages, 3700 photographs and 1300 illustrations and although appearing expensive is great value for money. Experts, amateurs, the less knowledgeable and all those interested in hardy plants, not just conifers, will find something of value and much that is new and never before presented in one book.

Derek Spicer

 

Foreword by

Martin Gardner
International Conifer Conservation Programme
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

These two long-awaited volumes on the conifers excel all previous publications of their kind due in part to their sheer content of high quality illustrations. This work is the result of extraordinary determination by the authors who have traveled the temperate world in a quest to collate first-hand information on conifers in their native habitats and in cultivation. Some of their fieldwork, to study conifers in their natural habitats, has been accompanied by young dendrologists who have had the opportunity to share the authors' vast knowledge and witness their infectious enthusiasm.

   This journey of exploration and research, which started almost 30 years ago, has amassed large amounts of documented materials in the form of thousands of photographs and herbarium specimens. This important permanent record has added considerably to our knowledge of the conifers in relation to their taxonomy, ecology, conservation, and cultivation.

   These volumes, which are testament to this hard work by the authors and their many loyal followers, emphasizes the overwhelming diversity to be found in the conifers and brings to life the enormous beauty of these majestic trees. It is perhaps the conifers that have been and hopefully will continue to be in the future one of the most important useful groups of plants for mankind; nearly everywhere we turn a product that derives from a conifer can be seen. They have served man so admirably and yet like so much of biodiversity on the planet today, they have become overexploited and hence today 34% of the world's conifer species are threatened with extinction in the wild if current trends continue. It is highly likely that this figure will increase over the next few decades for there is little evidence that our ability to conserve biodiversity effectively in order to abate external detrimental pressures is succeeding. 
 
   The sad fact is that many of the habitats visited by the authors in order to gather data for this book will be fundamentally different if revisited today. Over the last 30 years the loss of conifer habitats has continued at a pace, so much so, that even relatively abundant species are now becoming a cause for concern. Returning to some of their conifer locations in North America, the authors will be saddened to see how introduced pathogens are decimating populations of Picea rubens and Tsuga caroliniana in the Appalachian Mountains. On the west coast of the United States the widely cultivated Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is also suffering a similar fate due to the fungal pathogen Phytophthora. A visitor to Chile would also discover that in the last decade thousands of hectares of Araucaria araucana forest have been destroyed by fire; all these areas are protected in national parks, with Reserva Nacional Malleco losing 71% of the forest that was destroyed.

   As we continue to monitor conifers, this sort of loss can be found in most conifer-rich areas of the world. But we cannot give up trying to conserve areas of biodiversity and it is books such as this one that will help in their own small but important way to bring to the attention of the readership just how precious and vulnerable a resource the conifers around the world are.

 

Foreword by

James E. Eckenwalder
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Toronto

If you have ever longed to venture to remote corners of the world and wander inside their forests of exotic conifers, this book by Zsolt Debreczy and István Rácz will show you what you can look forward to. Depending on your mood and personality, it might further spur you to fulfill your longing or it might let you relax, knowing that traveling these pages is akin to being there. This work is part of the authors' dream of documenting all of the temperate trees in the world, not only the conifers, in a grand Dendrological Atlas that is gradually nearing completion.

   The two volumes you hold in your hands are not just a way station along the road to that overarching vision, however, but constitute a separate work in their own right, one that expands the climatic range of the Atlas to include conifers of subtropical (and some tropical) realms as well as the boreal and temperate species originally included in their mandate. This expansion was already manifest in their single volume Fenyők a Föld körül, the immediate predecessor to this work published in the millennial year 2000 in Magyar and thus not readily accessible to a worldwide audience.

   Now that audience is reached in this new English language version that is much more than just a translation of their earlier effort but a great expansion of it as well, in terms of format, species and subspecies covered, the addition of range maps for all included taxa, discussion of taxonomy, geography, and ecology, and pictures, pictures, pictures, more than twice as many as in Fenyők, with multiple images in glorious color on virtually every page. The authors have scoured the globe to take these pictures and make their personal observations in the field of all the included species, and we are all richer for their efforts, for, in these two volumes, they have brought together all their decades of accumulated experience with conifers in their natural habitats. Since these habitats are shrinking by the day, through direct exploitation and land conversion, further threatening many rare species in their natural environments, it is particularly timely to have before us so many ecological observations.

   Even though almost all of these conifers are in cultivation somewhere and each is represented by dried specimens in the world's herbarium collections so that we can always obtain basic taxonomic and morphological facts about them, these circumstances cannot tell us about how they live in nature, the very information that is vanishing in a constantly developing world but that is presented here in a concise distillation of all the experience garnered during so many arduous, but obviously rewarding, expeditions.

 

A note from
Peter Arthur
Touchwood Books
New Zealand

Magnificent New Conifer Book...

A 30 year study of more than 500 conifer species to be found in the temperate regions of the world is now complete and the result is ‘CONIFERSAROUND THE WORLD’ a huge 6.4-kilo 2-volume hardback book of 1089 pages with about 3700 colour photos...

...This ambitious project began in 1975 when two Hungarians, Zsolt Debreczy, and Istvan Racz started travelling the temperate regions of the world studying and photographing conifers in the wild. Since then they spent 2000 days (five years) in the field, or should I say forest. They compiled a collection of 340,000 photos representing thousands of taxa
plus precise documentation. They also collected half a million plant samples...

...For each tree there is a large photo of a mature specimen taken in its natural habitat (often very dramatic), and three to five close ups of needles, cones or seed. A brief text accompanies each plate providing essential descriptive and historical information. There are more than 1200 detailed line drawings including a 6 pages of botanical drawings of the
pollen cones for each genus...

...This book is an absolutely ‘must have’ for the conifer enthusiast and will appeal to a wide variety of readers, from scholars to armchair travelers who wish to see conifers        in the wild...

Peter Arthur

 

A message by Professor Emeritus Peter A. Schmidt
President, German Dendrological Society
Dresden/Tharandt

“My congratulation for this marvellous book. It is not only a splendid book from the
point of view of contents, but also of magnificent design and layout! I will make
extensive use of it… I could inform the members about your monograph even earlier
than the [German Dendrological Society] yearbook will be edited…Once more my
congratulation, great respect and many thanks!”

(P. A. Schmidt)

 

Vanja Stamenkovic Ph.D.
Botanical Garden of the Faculty of Sciences,
Zagreb University, Croatia

"I have to say, without exaggeration, that this is one of the best dendrology books
I have ever seen! Of course, to actually see and photograph all these trees in their
natural habitats and present them as they really should be is unique and fantastic,
but the precise and detailed introduction is of great value as well... I will certainly
recommend this book to my colleges in the Faculty of Sciences, and in the Faculty of
Forestry."

(V. Stamenkovic)

 

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