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A Tree Guide

Bharati Jagannathan

By Pradip Krishen
Dorling Kindersley, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 360, Rs. 799.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 2 February 2007

Having been a tree-spotter for over a dozen years, this reviewer was growing increasingly frustrated as every new book on trees-and a fair number of glossies have been published on the subject in the last five or six years-did nothing better than re¬chronicle the semals, gulmohars and kachnars that catch every laypersons' eye, with some cassias and acacias thrown in for good measure. More erudite encyclopaedias reclining sagely in the reference sections of libraries tended to speak only to professors of Botany. Their line drawings of leaves and flowers with careful detailing of seed dispersal methods and the usual geographical range of particular tree species were no more useful as a field guide than the coffee table books with spectacular full-page spreads of golden amaltas against summer-blue skies. Trees not only have a disconcerting habit of appearing well beyond their natural habitats and ranges, they have a far worse tendency to disappear from where they do, or did belong. Needless to say that while they manage some-though not all--of the former activity on their own, human beings are largely responsible for the latter.   One great merit of Trees of Delhi is that the beginner, or even someone entirely unfamiliar with the fauna of northern India, can find a way to begin identifying Delhi's trees with this handy guide. Having tried, with varying success over the years, to identify trees with the help of a variety of books and 'Tree Atlases', I can confidently say that the methodology adopted here is very nearly foolproof. And certainly the best. Instead of laying out the trees according to family and genus, or proceeding alphabetically, as many learned tomes do (forgetting that readers are not necessarily learned!), or relying on seasonal characteristics like flowers and fruit, Krishen has made ten neat categories based on leaf shape, and sub-categories within each broad one. Each leaf-picture is accompanied by short legends regarding its size and texture, and other prominent characteristics. Besides, the whole book is colour-coded along the right margin¬you can reach the leaf shape you wish to find by just flipping through. A great advantage of this book is that we are told exactly where we can find all but the commonest species. A diligent tree-spotter coming across an unfamiliar tree can always make verify the species by making a pilgrimage to the place where Krishen tells us we may see a specimen. ...

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