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