Books for Nature Lovers
The Colour Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs
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Review By: BOOKS

This is truly an encyclopedia, with 1 183 species of true bulbs and their allies from the Cape Region described over 486 pages, and illustrated by 611 magnificent colour photographs. The wonderful light on the flowers in so many of the photographs has not been lost in the printing process and the colours are true. Many of the species in the photographs have not been illustrated previously and all the photographs, largely by John Manning and Peter Goldblatt with a fair number by Colin Paterson-Jones, were taken in the wild.

The Cape Region is home to the richest concentration of bulbous plants (rhizomes, corms, tubers - traditionally regarded as bulbs) anywhere in the world. Almost three-quarters of the bulbous plants described in the encyclopedia are endemic to the region - in other words occur nowhere else in the world. The level of endemism in the region generally is unique for a continental flora.

The occurrence of the plant is divided into seven phytogeographic centres, because of local climatic, geological and topographic differences, and the so called Norhtwest area is the richest and most diverse in bulbs with 654 know species, while the Southwest, including the Cape Peninsula, is the second richest manifesting 60 different Gladiolus species. The triangle formed by the towns of Niewoudtville, Cape Town and Bredasdorp is home to almost 800 species of bulbs. 
The Northwest includes the shales and doleritic soils of the Bokkeveld, near the renowned 'bulb capital of the world', Niewoudtville, which are especially rich in endemic bulbs. Renosterveld is fast disappearing under the plough and many bulbs have become rare and threatened, with several species of peacock moreas (Iris family), with their extraordinary irisdecent markings, facing extinction. The iris family contributes to more than half the species in the region.

In the Agulhas Plain centre, bulbs are restricted to limestone substrates in the wild but they grow well in cultivation. The Southeast centre has made one of the most worthy contributions to horticulture in the form of Agapanthus praecox which is cultivated all over the world.

Numbers of the plants in the book are already in cultivation but many more are potentially good horticultural subjects. One of the aims of the book is to expose this wonderful variety to the horticultural world and to provide accurate identification of all Cape bulb species, for conservationists, ecologists, botanists, amateur naturalists, hikers, growers and landscapers. The authors express their hope that the book will stimulate more field exploration and research and lead to a better understanding of these fabulous flowering species. With a better appreciation of the unique flora of the Cape will come better conservation.

The information on cultivation is derived from extensive experience both in the Cape and abroad and the book introduces new developments in dormancy breaking and the stimulation of flowering. It includes information on storage of seeds and roots, germination and smoke treatment, potting and soil media, watering and fertilizing.

John Manning is a research scientist at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, having studied the anatomy, embryology and seed development of diverse plants, while Peter Goldbatt is curator of African botany at the Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, and is an expert on the iris family. The two have co-authored several books in the past. Dee Snijman is also a research scientist at Kirstenbosch, specializing in the Amarylli-daceae. Advice by Graham Duncan, also of Kirstenbosch, has been added on the cultivation of bulbs.

The book includes a complete listing of all the species with descriptions of the individual species along with genera and families. It provides information of habitat, ecology, geographic distribution and flowering time. The section on the exploration and discovery of the plants and their adoption into the horticulture of Europe since the 1600s is an interesting addition.

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