Cacti have a very special fascination all their own. Like the brilliantly colored hummingbirds, the Cactaceae are creatures of the New World. Miniature spiny dwarf cacti less than an inch in diameter are hidden in the arid regions of North and South America; the majestic columns of the giant saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, dominate the deserts of Arizona. Yet all these cacti, given time, offer the surprising paradox of brilliant flowers, their delicacy a striking contrast to the strong spines that keep the viewer at a respectful distance.
More than likely, cacti were among the gifts that Christopher Columbus presented on his return from the New World to Isabella, queen of Castile. The first reports of cultivation of cacti in Europe date back to about 1570. Somewhat later, a single plant of Ariocarpus kotschoubey-anus, named after Otto von Kotzebue (1787— 1846), the explorer, was sold immediately after its discovery to a nursery in Paris for a price many times exceeding the value of the plant's weight in gold. And the fascination continues— cactus and succulent societies exist around the world.
However, there are more surprising facts about cacti. The last monumental, professional monograph of the cactus family was published by Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose in 1919-1923. Only now, at the beginning of the new millennium, an up-to-date, comprehensive survey is presented here. This is a book that includes almost all aspects of the natural history of cacti, their uses from fishhooks to narcotics, their cultivation, and descriptions of virtually all the nearly two thousand species.
I remember exactly the summer day in 1973, in a remote part of Ecuador, when I met Dr. Edward F. Anderson. As a young post-doctoral student, I was impressed by Ted's vast knowledge of plants. His scientific interests have focused on ethnobotany, and cacti. Since before the publication of his book on peyote, Lophophora wil-liamsii, he has been a leading figure among the botanists interested in these unique plants. He served as president of the International Organization for Succulent Plant Study for several years, and among many awards he was honored with the Cactus d'Or in 1998. When Ted took the position of senior research botanist at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1992, he could finally devote his studies almost exclusively to his favorite plants. The apotheosis of a lifetime of professional study is now published, the long-awaited monumental reference work on the cactus family.
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Barthlott
Botanisches Institut und Botanischer Garten RheinischeFriedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat Bonn, Germany
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