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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #209

A Handbook of the World's Conifers by Aljos Farjon, 2010

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2014-01-01

[A Handbook of the World's Conifers] cover

A Handbook of the World's Conifers, by Aljos Farjon, was published in 2010 and is described by the author as "not a monograph purely for taxonomists. Its content aims at a much wider audience." This is accomplished in part by discussing the ecology, conservation, and uses of all species along with the etymology of the botanical name and vernacular names in local languages. Calling this a handbook diminishes its stature; this is a set of two hefty volumes with entries more typical of an encyclopaedia.

It includes all tropical species (about 200, which accounts for nearly one-third of all known conifers in the world) and an emphasis on description including--despite the author's stated intentions--extensive taxonomic notes. The images and illustrations that are included are of good quality, but are comparatively few and collected on photo pages separated from the related text.

The introduction to "Handbook" is relatively brief, but that's because Farjon regards his 2008 publication, "A Natural History of Conifers," as the real introduction. This is a book to be read cover-to-cover, and is a selection of essays on subjects "sometimes communicated at the coffee table in the staff room of your institute, but that would not have been allowed through by the editor of a scientific journal." This suggests light reading, and the author does show a flair for storytelling, but he also chooses pretty meaty subjects. If you are confused by cladistics, phylogenetic relationships, and other concepts of modern taxonomy and systematics, these terms are explained in language that a lay reader can--with a bit of work--understand.

Excerpted from the Winter 2014 Arboretum Bulletin.

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