World Economic Plants: A Standard Reference. Wiersema, John H. and Blanca León. 1999. ISBN 0-8493-2119-0 (cloth US$125) 749 pp + 35 introductory pp. CRC Press LLC P.O. Box 31225, Tampa, FL 33631-3225.- There are a number of sources one can consult to find names, and limited information on economic plants. There are the dictionaries like Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants (U. P. Hedrick, ed., 1919), Uphof's Dictionary of Economic Plants ((J.C.T. Uphof, 1968), Howe's A Dictionary of Useful and Everyday Plants and Their Common Names(F. N. Howes, 1974, that includes the information left out of the sixth edition of J.C. Willis' Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns from 1966), and the Willis/Howes successor, D. J. Mabberly's The Plant-Book(1987), A Checklist of Names for 3,000 Vascular Plants of Economic Importance (by E. Terrell, S. R. Hill, J. Wiersema and W. E. Rice, 1986, USDA), Smartt and Simmonds' Evolution of Crop Plants (J. Smartt and N. W. Simmonds, 1995), and the more restricted, but still encyclopaedic, three volumes from Purseglove primarily on tropical crops (Tropical Crops: Dicotyledons and Monocotyledons from 1968 by J. W. Purseglove). For more focused economic botany interests, one can also consult the more encyclopaedic text books like A. F. Hill (Economic Botany, 1952 ), R. W. Schery (Plants for Man, 1972) and most recently B. B. Simpson and M. C. Orgorzaly (Economic Botany, 1995). Now, there is a new book to add to this list, one hopefully, and perhaps appropriately, subtitled, 'A Standard Reference.'
This is a reference book -with some 13,000 scientific names and synonyms and almost 20,000 common names - there is a great deal to refer to. Given the care with which it has been prepared, partly via consultation with nearly 150 taxonomic or agricultural experts, it will likely achieve the 'standard' goal as well. The data derive originally from Dr. Edward E. Terrell's earlier work to produce the '...3,000 Vascular Plans of Economic Importance' checklist cited above. This book goes much beyond that having benefited dramatically from the computer age allowing assemblage of information from the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) of the USDA-ARS (GRIN has information on tens of thousands of names and hundreds of thousands of germplasm accessions - with much of the information available also via the web at www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/tax). There are so many more species included because the authors include '...plants or plant products that are traded, regulated, or are otherwise directly or indirectly important to international commerce.' This includes, in addition to the crop plants/edible plants and medicinals one usually expects in such a book, animal foods, fuels, vertebrate and non-vertebrate poisons, plants with 'environmental' uses, gene sources, weeds, and others. Again, making excellent use of the computer lists on which the book was built, are tables listing the number of species in various use categories, and from various geographical regions.
The main body of this tome is organized alphabetically by genus and within the genera by species epithet. In addition to the scientific name and author accepted by the experts consulted, synonyms are listed. Furthermore common name, uses and distribution are given. Following the 536 pages of information organized by scientific name is a 200+ page index to common names. Everything my students and I looked up - including fairly obscure Nicaraguan common names, was there. My only comment is personal; the authors, or authority selected on the Solanaceae, declined to use the most recent treatments of tomatoes and tree tomatoes (as part of the genus Solanum). However, one can still find these options through analysis of the synonyms.
This is a very fine book that I am glad to have on my shelf and I know I will consult it regularly. The only impediment, as it is for some other of the fine CRC reference books, is the price, but one does get a lot of book for the money with this standard reference. The authors are to be congratulated-and thanked-for this monumental effort. óGregory J. Anderson, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut