One of the great debates that often rages amongst succulent plant collectors is - how do we define a succulent? The problem is that no concise definition really exists; there are many physiological and morphological adaptations that, when considered in isolation or in various combinations, add up to the plant being labeled a succulent, e.g. water storing tissues in stems and leaves, CAM and the ability to withstand extended droughts. But, as most plants do contain water storing tissues and are able to withstand dry conditions to a greater or lesser degree, it is often just a matter of opinion. At present some 10,000 species of plants from diverse habitats are considered to be 'succulent', but only a small proportion of these are commonly represented in botanical collections or the average suburban garden. It is also interesting to note that several new species of plants widely considered to be succulents are being introduced into cultivation from various parts of the world. This book is a valiant attempt by the authors to reduce this number to manageable proportions and to present the information in an engaging style accompanied by many excellent colour photographs.
This book is divided into several useful sections, e.g. Uses of Succulents, Conservation, Propagation and Gardening with Succulents. The main section of the book is an extensive Guide to the main succulent plant groups (families), and as the heading states, is divided up into eight groups according to the plant families that harbor the most species that can be considered as succulents. The last two are artificial groups designed to include noteworthy plants that display unusual modifications to stems and leaves that are not accommodated in the larger plant families - some of these plants are not often considered to be true succulents, e.g. Adansonia, Lachenalia and Welwitschia, but are nevertheless included for interest. This section is well illustrated with detailed colour photography highlighting the special characteristics that define each group of plants thus aiding in the identification of plants in habitat and in cultivation.
This is followed by a very useful reference section for Further reading which is also organized according to the groups of plants discussed in the man section of the book.
Seventy six pages of this book are utilized as a Quck guide to garden succulents of the world where more than 3000 species are tabled with their common names (where appropriate) and origins. In this reviewer's opinion this is a terrible waste of space as the amount of information contained in this section is limited and of little appeal to the person who would get the most use out of a book of this nature - it is clearly not a book designed for serious academic pursuits, and this space could have been used more productively to extend the rather abbreviated sections on cultivation, propagation, gardening and landscaping.
This book is clearly aimed at the enthusiastic gardener or landscape artist who may wish to include more common succulents in the garden plan. It is well-produced, accurate and attractive publication available at a very affordable price.