Conifers are the most diverse, interesting, beautiful trees in the world, so why is it that our gardens are home to so few species? Part of the reason lies in their economic importance which, by focusing attention on relatively few species, has limited our understanding of one of the most remarkable plant groups on earth.
Leading expert Aljos Farjon provides a broader perspective with this compelling narrative that observes conifers from the standpoint of the curious naturalist. It starts with the basic question of what conifers are and continues to explore their evolution, taxonomy, ecology, distribution, human uses, and issues of conservation. As the story unfolds many popular misconceptions are dispelled, such as the notion that all conifers have cones (untrue), and the extraordinary diversity of conifers begins to dawn as Farjon describes the diminutive creeping shrub Microcachrys tetragona, whose strange seed cones resemble raspberries, and the prehistoric-looking Araucaria meulleri.
The taxonomic diversity of conifers is huge and Farjon goes on to relate how, over the course of three 300 million years, these trees and shrubs have adapted to survive geological upheavals, climatic extremes, and formidable competition from flowering plants. Scarcely less remarkable is his explanation of how conifers, with only 627 species, grew to occupy every continent on earth ranging from the high latitudes to the tropics.
Aljos Farjon worked as a senior scientific officer for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he headed the temperate section of its herbarium from 1996 until his retirement at 60 in 2006. He is now an honorary research associate with Kew. A regular contributor to botanical scientific journals, Aljos has published ten books and more than 120 papers mainly but not exclusively on conifers. He is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and has served on its council, in addition to holding longtime membership in the International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT) and being a member of both the Royal Horticultural Society's Conifer Registration Advisory Committee and the International Dendrology Society. Since 1995, Aljos has chaired the conifer specialist group of the World Conservation Union. In 1997, he received the prestigious Engler Medal in silver from IAPT and in 2006 he was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society. In addition to his interest in conifers, Aljos is also interested in evolution, taxonomy, and the ecology of gymnosperms. In his free time, Aljos enjoys nature travel, photography, European history, and reading non-fiction. He currently resides in Middlesex, England.
Not since Rachel Carson has the public been graced with a scientist that writes with the interest of a novelist. Anyone with a curiosity about the early history of plant life on our planet will relish this book. -- John Bagnasco Garden Compass 20081001 Organized in topically centered, lively chapters that include a discussion of conifer ecology and conservation. It is well illustrated with color photographs and line drawings of the trees, their structures, and the landscapes they dominate. Not exactly an encyclopedia but rather a sourcebook, this is the place to go for information about conifers. Highly recommended. -- D.H. Pfister Choice 20081101 If you want to find out more about conifers, then [this book] by the naturally acclaimed expert, Aljos Farjon, will sate your curiosity, your thirst for knowledge and your enthusiasm for those exciting plants that make up this group. -- George Graine Virginia Master Gardeners Association Report 20081101