Nature Book Review #5: A Cactus Odyssey

January 6, 2009

Fifth in an occasional series of natural history book reviews.  I choose special favorites that I own and use regularly, but they might not be readily available in your local bookstore or library.  Books reviewed here can be purchased through Amazon.com by following the links from my Southern Arizona Desert Botany homepage.

A Cactus Odyssey:  Journeys in the Wilds of Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina.  By James D. Mauseth, Roberto Kiesling, and Carlos Ostolaza.  2002, Timber Press, 306 pages, hardbound.

A Cactus Odyssey

A Cactus Odyssey

For people who are still contemplating several weeks or months of cold, wet weather, this book is a cheerful winter reading selection.  It’s an informal, non-technical, and entertaining natural history travelogue written by three botanists who journeyed throughout South America to study cacti.  Most of the cacti and other plants in this region are poorly known, and some have been so little studied that they do not even have well-established scientific names.  This book is packed with beautiful photos of spectacular and often bizarre cacti, and is full of interesting scientific tidbits and thought-provoking speculations that will inspire any naturalist.  The authors present fascinating details about the flowers and growth habit of many species, and explore questions of habitat, distribution, and evolution.  They do not just present disconnected facts, but communicate their curiosity and deep respect for their chosen field of study and for the land through which they travel.  If you are already a cactus expert, this account will renew your appreciation for one of the most distinctive families of New World plants.  If you aren’t botanically inclined and your interest in nature is more general, this book will awaken your sense of wonder at the diversity and tenacity of life.

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