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Cacti of the Trans-Pecos

If you enjoy lively debates on cactus taxonomy, this book is for you.

By E. Dan Klepper

Over half of the 132 species and varieties of cacti that occur in Texas can be found in the 16 counties that comprise and surround the state’s western Trans-Pecos. For years, Texans have had to take a piecemeal approach to identifying these West Texas cacti, relying on a collection of generic cacti reference books to access the entire list of Trans-Pecos species. But thanks to biologists A. Michael Powell and James F. Weedin, identifying West Texas cacti now requires only one publicationCacti of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas. First released several years ago by Texas Tech University Press, the book has steadily become the principal textbook for the region’s cacti enthusiasts.

Professors Powell and Weedin have provided a one-stop reference manual filled with distribution maps, couplet keys, identifying characters, specifics on flowering (called phenology), a glossary and an adequate set of color photographs to assist the botanically minded in identifying and understanding the cacti of West Texas.

Precision cacti identification can be somewhat difficult due to ongoing debate about the relationships between certain species and subspecies. Thus, for those who love the world of cacti for the lively discourse inspired by its unsettled taxonomy, the authors have included a thorough parsing of each species and variety with their detailed biosystematics. Dig a bit deeper into the book, cacti enthusiasts, and you will find debate-ready morsels such as:

“There is little question that previous taxonomic treatments asserting close relationship between Coryphantha tuberculosa, C. sneedii, and C. dasyacantha were based upon superficially similar spine and habit features, at a time when reproductive characters were not well known or appreciated by the authors concerned. Actually, the practiced observer can easily distinguish field or pressed specimens of C. tuberculosa.”

Take that, C. tuberculosa nonbelievers!

Cacti of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas shouldn’t be mistaken as a field guide, unless lugging around a 500-page tome sounds like fun. But keeping one handy in camp enables the hiker to call out the day’s desert botanical discoveries in Latin, a performance that always manages to inspire loud accusations of geekness followed by a silent (and satisfying) envy. Pick up a copy at online bookstores or from the publisher’s Web site at <www.ttup.ttu.edu>.

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