New Narcissus botanical monograph

SALMON, Michael. A survey of the genus narcissus.
Somerton Printery Ltd, Canvin Court, Somerton Business Park, Somerton, Somerset TA11 6SB (telephone 01458 272368). ISBN 978-1-5272-0587-1. 2017. (£50.00)

This is the first botanical monograph devoted exclusively to the genus Narcissus to be published since Narcissus: A guide to wild daffodils (John Blanchard AGS 1990).

The author is a retired nurseryman who specialized in growing and collecting bulbous and tuberous rooted plants for 50 years. No date of publication is given but publication seems to have occurred in September or October 2017.
The 345 large pages are very clearly printed and the book is extensively illustrated with attractive botanical paintings done by the author. There are also many maps showing where the author has seen the plant being discussed or is aware of others who have done so. A nine page introductory text is followed by a seven page classification of the genus Narcissus. Except for a one page Glossary (of botanical terms) and an eleven page index and list of synonyms the remainder of the text is devoted to a mostly formal discussion of each plant under consideration.
The introductory text does not place the authors proposed classification of the genus in the context of earlier attempts by other botanists, does not quote the source of the academic research on which an estimate of the age of the genus is based and includes some potentially interesting speculation as to why particular morphological characteristics of the genus developed. A strong feature of the book is the most extensive coverage of wild hybrids that I have seen in print. The extensive discussion of each section of the botanical classification of Narcissus found in John Blanchard’s book is not provided. Unfortunately, whilst the introductory material is easy to read, though arguably disappointing in terms of matters not covered, or arguments for which the supporting literature is not quoted, the core of the book follows a rigid layout with minimal discussion, making it text to dip into rather than read from cover to cover.

On the inside of the front cover the author says:
‘This work is an up-to- date account of the classification, nomenclature and biology of the species and naturally occurring hybrids. It is a personal view, the product of over 50 years collecting and cultivation’
‘Many will not agree with my presentation and conclusions. There are already more naturally occurring hybrids named than there are species and these are from Europe alone. For those who wish to name even more, then North Africa is a golden opportunity to add to the already weighty index’.
The second quotation above hints at the key problem with this book. The author has come up with a lot of new plant names that may create considerable confusion for enthusiasts of a genus that has already suffered greatly from too many names in use for the same wild plant. Whilst it is easy to be critical about this, it is important to recognize the considerable practical work put into the project over the author’s working lifetime. The daunting task for both botanists and enthusiasts will be to find the important new insights that may well be buried somewhere in this monograph.

Malcolm Bradbury

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