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Gentianaceae: Systematics and Natural History

Gentianaceae: Systematics and Natural History
Lena Struwe and Victor A. Albert (editors)
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 652 p., $130

Species of Gentianaceae are widespread (87 genera and more than 1,600 species) and increasingly drawing attention due to disappearing habitats and dwindling populations. In Illinois, for example, two species are on the endangered list, Bartonia paniculata, also known as screwstem, and Sabatia campestris, commonly called the prairie rose gentian. This work is a welcome addition to the literature, bringing together a diverse group of experts to define and explain this amazing group of plants. Their work, as expressed in six chapters in this book, provides a new classification of gentians, which, as the editors point out, has been a "natural grab-bag" for decades.

To say that this classification is overdue is an understatement. This family has not been studied globally since 1895! Lena Struwe and others set the tone with a definitive cladistic analysis covering roughly one-third of the book; this analysis, based on trnL, intron, mat, and internal transcribed spacer sequence data, yields a new tribal and subtribal organization for Gentianaceae.

Sandor Meszaros and his colleagues follow this chapter with another cladistic analysis, this time based on 84 phenotypic characters. Their effort does not yield such elegant results as Dr. Struwe's, but this may be due to some characters being poorly understood. S. Nilsson then examines data on fossil plant spores, which was the basis for the last overall examination of the family in 1895 by E. Gilg. He concludes that Dr. Gilg's division of Gentianaceae "cannot be duly confirmed" (p. 478). Ferry Bouman and others conclude this work with an examination of the seeds of Gentianaceae followed by Soren Rosendal Jensen and Jan Schripsema's description of the chemotaxonomy of this family.

This outstanding work will be the standard reference work on Gentianaceae and a model for all future classification efforts at this taxonomic level. We can only hope that Gentianaceae will not have to wait another 108 years for their next global survey!

— Edward J. Valauskas, Manager, Library and Plant Information Office, Chicago Botanic Garden