PACSOA - Field Guide To The Palms Of The Americas
Book Reviews
Field Guide To The Palms Of The Americas

Authors: Andrew Henderson, Gloria Galeano &
Rodrigo Bernal

1995; 1st Edition
Hard cover; 240mm x 160mm;
500pp; 75pp maps: 64pp colour

ISBN: 0-691-08537-4

Anyone likely to have a need to identify palms in the field when in any part of the Americas will without a shadow of a doubt find this book indispensable. As the title indicates this book is a field guide and as such has practically nothing to say regarding the cultivation of palms. Even so for those whose chief interest lies in the growing of palms it is great to have in one volume a guide to all the palms of the Americas. Many people are likely to get a shock when first reading this book when they discover that quite a few familiar names have disappeared. The authors have of necessity had to rationalise the great profusion of species names invented by those botanists who spent most of their time in herbariums rather than in the field. As a result the number of species in many genera has been drastically cut, e.g. Coccothrinax has gone from 49 species to 14 and even in Chamaedorea where Hodel in his recent excellent work recognised about 100 species this book accepts only 77. In a few cases genera have been combined where it was felt the distinction was not justified. The introduction has a few pages devoted to an interesting and enlightening discussion of the authors' concept of species and the general reasons for the reduction in the number of species.

Also in the introduction is a very good discussion of the climatic and geographical regions in which the palms are found thus giving an insight into the habitats of the different regions. Also included are sections on classification, morphology and a key to the genera illustrated with line drawings of morphological characteristics.

The main section of the book (about 200 pages) is devoted to a discussion of the 550 species recognised by the authors. For each genus a brief description is given outlining the general morphology of the genus as seen in the field. Where necessary a key to the genus is given. The species follow in alphabetical order. For each of these there follows the field characters (stems, leaves, inflorescences) with the most significant diagnostic characteristics in italics. Then is given the range (country, state or department, and elevation) and habitat, followed by uses and notes when further information (pollinators, variants and other useful facts) is available.

The next 70 pages are not numbered and contain maps showing distribution of each species (8 per page). The page numbers resume for the appendices the first of which gives a checklist of species by country (very handy when touring) and the second has the following:- List of accepted names, synonyms, hybrids, and uncertain names (40 pages giving the name of each recognised genus followed by synonyms of the genus then the species in that genus and their synonyms etc.); Index of common names; and Index of scientific names (30 pages giving all names valid or not but only if mentioned in the text of the book). The List of accepted names and Index of scientific names together are very useful (in fact indispensable) in finding those species and genera that are not recognised by the authors but are names with which you may have long been familiar.

At the end of the volume are 64 unnumbered pages of colour pictures each page containing four numbered plates. These numbers have been referred to in the notes on each species. The plates illustrate many but not all of the species and in some cases show just fruits, flowers, or leaves. While the book appears to contain 352 numbered pages, there are in fact another 134 pages making nearly 500 in all.

For those interested in palms who intend to travel to any part of America this book would be invaluable, but any palm enthusiast will want to have this book because it is a great source of accurate inforrnation on the palms of this part of the world. Since this is a field guide the description of each species is of necessity brief and does to some extent rely on the geographical location so that it may not always be possible to identify a plant in cultivation by the use of this book. Nevertheless those whose chief interest lies in growing palms will still find this book very useful to provide such information as size, growth habit, climate, habitat, etc. and to know that when this book is consulted you will get information based on first-hand observation and that a complete selection is available. This book is not necessarily the last word on the taxonomy of American palms but provides as it were a fresh beginning and brings together in one volume lots of material never before accessible in this way.

The authors are to be congratulated on their efforts which have resulted in a very readable and informative book, which no doubt fills a long felt need.

Reviewed by: Will Kraa (from Palms & Cycads Jan - Mar 1996).

Home Palms Cycads Places BookShop Up