Flowering of a classification infrastructure

Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. Authors Walter S. Judd, Christopher S. Campbell, Elizabeth A. Kellogg, Peter F. Stevens and Michael J. Donoghue. Edition Third. Publisher Sinauer Associates. Pages 620. Price £63.99. ISBN 9780878934072.

May 22, 2008

This is a lively, colourful, absorbing, authoritative book on plant systematics. I can hear the mutterings now: "Plant systematics ... lively, colourful, absorbing? I thought plant systematics was all about musty old dried plant parts mounted on ageing, yellowing herbarium sheets, labelled in spidery writing and pored over endlessly by tweed-wearing men and women smelling of mothballs."

It used to be, but about 30 years ago two things happened in plant systematics. First, in an attempt to improve classificatory systems, taxonomists embraced the chemical characteristics of plants ("chemotaxonomy"). Second, they began to use more objective forms of analysis, including numerical methods of classification ("numerical taxonomy") and, somewhat later, the production of evolutionary trees through cladistics.

These changes revolutionised the subject. Thus the advances in molecular sciences of the past 20 years have changed many of our views on species and higher group relationships and the application of (particularly) cladistics has allowed seemingly complex relationships to be simplified in diagrammatic form. By incorporating these advances and more, Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach provides the most up-to-date, authoritative work on the market.

Introductory sections take the reader through the methods, principles and history of plant systematics. There is a comprehensive account of structural and biochemical characters of plants and a very up-to-date account of molecular systematics. These introductory chapters conclude with one on the evolution of plant diversity.

The bulk of the book is made up of the systematic and detailed examination of all the "green" plant vascular groups following the most recent classificatory system. This is a tour de force. Keys, notes on the distribution and ecology of the groups, economic plants of note, stunning colour plates, elegant and detailed line drawings of whole plants and "bits" of plants all jostle for space.

I particularly liked the "discussion" sections, where an evolutionary and taxonomic review of each group, using the most up-to-date information, is presented. It is strange finding traditional things such as floral diagrams (a shorthand means of summarising floral structure) and line drawings adjacent to modern cladograms - a testament to how far plant systematics has come in recent years.

A comprehensive reference section, notes on specimen preparation and identification, a glossary and a taxonomic index with more than 5,000 entries and a subject index complete the book. A CD that accompanies the book holds more than 3,100 high-quality images of plants. This is a wonderful book, although I fear it is aimed at a diminishing market.

Who is it for? Students on any course of plant systematics.

Presentation - Stunning.

Any extras? A CD of plant images.

Would you recommend it? Definitely.

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