Ghillean T Prance
The New York Botanical Garden Press, £69.99
The Amazon rainforest is vital for the continued existence of life on Earth. In common with other great rainforests, the steppes, the oceans and the ice caps, it exerts a huge influence on our atmosphere and consequently our climate worldwide.
Ghillean Prance recounts his experiences in the forest over several decades in this lively, enthralling and well-illustrated account. He has travelled the length and breadth of Amazonia since 1963, studying the plants and, latterly, the indigenous people. Understanding their use of these plants is another strand of his work, alongside that of the natural ecosystem services of Amazonia. Building and propagating an appreciation of Amazonia's significance is the key purpose of this book, because mankind is still losing many plant species of which it has no knowledge. In Prance's words, "extinction is for ever" and ignorance is self-destruction.
Long term ecological studies on this scale are vital, but they are fearfully few and far between. They require a botanist's love and knowledge of natural history, supplemented with diplomatic skills needed for building human relationships. Networks of friendship and collaboration within the forest, and with a wide range of individuals and organisations outside it, are essential for success.
All aspiring botanists and horticulturists will gain from dipping into this book. Those looking for direction posts towards a botanical career will find it especially informative.