Sunday, September 17, 2006

The New Cactus Lexicon: A Review

The New Cactus LexiconThe New Cactus Lexicon
David Hunt, Nigel Taylor, Graham Charles
dh books, 2006
ISBN 0 9538134 4 4

After a lengthy gestation period, the New Cactus Lexicon was published this summer. For ease of handling it’s divided into two volumes – the text volume is a concise alphabetical catalogue of cactus genera, species and subspecies accepted or proposed in the current standard literature on cacti, while the atlas volume contains more than 2500 illustrations covering nearly all of the species and subspecies recognized in the text, sometimes with two or more images.

Atlas volume
With its 526 pages of illustrations this volume is a stunning visual masterpiece, and the most comprehensive pictorial record of cacti ever published (the slightly blurred quality of the examples is entirely due to my reproduction).

Illustrations of Lophophora speciesThe aim of the atlas volume is to illustrate all of the recognized species, with an emphasis on using photographs of plants in habitat at a specified locality or in cultivation from a known source, whenever possible.

The entries in the atlas are not grouped alphabetically but rather ‘like with like’, making it easier for the user to compare related species or identify unnamed plants.

Text volume
The text volume comprises 373 pages and is a no-frills dictionary of the currently recognized genera, species and subspecies of cacti. It does not include any chapters of general information about the family, its history, morphology, ethnobotany, cultivation and so on – so don’t expect an encyclopedic work like Anderson’s The Cactus Family or Benson’s Cacti of the United States and Canada.

David Hunt is a known lumper and some of the main genera changes (Parodia now includes the former Notocactus, Echinopsis including Lobivia and Trichocereus etc.) have already been the cause of much debate (maybe that’s the reason for Hunt quoting Bill Bryson for having said “Taxonomy is sometimes described as a science and sometimes as an art, but really it’s a battleground” ;-).

Illustrations of Acharagma speciesStill, there has been room for some splitting , e.g. the division of Opuntia has added 12 genera, Lophophora fricii is now recognized as a valid species, Acharagma is not submerged in Escobaria, etc.

Whether you agree with Hunt’s classification or not, the New Cactus Lexicon is an excellent reference and certainly will become the reference book for years to come. As already mentioned the atlas volume is in a league of its own with excellent illustrations of the majority of the recognized cacti species and subspecies.

You can find more information on the New Cactus Lexicon in this post.

The book can be acquired directly from dh books or from specialized bookstores like Rainbow Gardens Bookshop or Keith’s Plant Books.

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