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.
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