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Cactus and Succulent Beginner's Guides

The Best

A Close Second

Beginner's Guides are ideal for the collector who is just starting out and would like a good guide book with ample horticultural information. Many such books also provide tips on arranging and selecting plants for displays and gardens. One drawback of a guide book is that only a few species are shown for any given genus. Indeed, the emphasis is usually on showing different genera rather than plant species. This cannot be helped, since you cannot have everything in a book and expect it to be sold at a competitive price.

Mr. Anderson's book is the most popular and the best beginner's guide. If you are going to buy only one guide book, get his. On the other hand, if you cannot resist collecting C&S books, get one of each!

Miles Anderson
The Ultimate Book of Cacti and Succulents
Lorenz Books: 1998 (256 pages)
ISBN 1859674607

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Note: One copy pops up here and there every once in a while in bookstores around KL, Malaysia.

Mr Anderson's book can be considered an updated version of Mr. Hewitt's book. Indeed, Mr Hewitt acts as a consultant on this volume. This book contains pictures of over 400 species. One important advantage this book has over The Complete Book of C&S (see below) is that the plant families are more up-to-date, reflecting more recent changes. However, you may find that most nurseries and people are still using names of obsolete genera.

In many ways, the style and presentation of the book is identical to that of The Complete Book. Still, they are really two different books, and the pictures are all different. If you can afford it, get 'em both!

Each entry in the catalogue is accompanied by a short passage. I found them rather useful. In most cases, Mr Anderson offers advice on how to best grow a particular species. The succulent catalogue is much more comprehensive than the one in The Complete Book. It cannot really be used as a comprehensive reference, but one can learn to identify plants by their genus quite easily with this book.

There are some really nice large pictures in the book, including one full page picture of epiphytic cacti in bloom which is simply awesome. The section on care and cultivation is the best that I've seen in a practical C&S guide book. Mr Anderson is widely known to be The Guru of Grafting. In this book, he demonstrates in pictures just how he graft both cacti and succulents. Truly, this book contains the definitive guide on C&S grafting.

If you don't mind it being a wee bit more expensive than The Complete Book, this is the one to go for.

Terry Hewitt
The Complete Book of Cacti and Succulents
DK Publishing: 1997 (176 pages)
ISBN 0789416573

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Note: Was available in bookstores around KL, now very, very seldom seen.

Mr Hewitt's book was probably the first really popular practical guide book for cacti and succulents, a standard-setting trailblazer. Like most DK books, it is highly readable, being written in an easily digestable form. With Mr Anderson's book, these two practical guide books are probably the most commonly recommended first book for budding collectors.

The book contains most of the common cacti and succulent genera. You will find descriptions and photos of many common or familiar species. A guide book such as this one which has plant families laid out clearly is indispensible for a beginner who's starting to learn all those Latin names. The photographic catalogue contains photos of over 300 species. The rest of the book is also peppered with lots of beautiful pictures. There is also a plant selection list. Each entry is accompanied by a short passage which frequently includes growing tips for that particular species.

However, since it is only possible to devote about two pages to each genus, it cannot really be called a comprehensive reference. Thus, it is a good idea to get both a practical guide book and a reference book.

There are two sections in this book that I don't find in most other C&S books. One is a section on the history of C&S collection and discovery. The other is a section on the uses of C&S. The sections on propagation and pests and diseases contain numerous pictures and easy-to-understand prose. This include step-by-step pictures and description on planting, repotting, grafting, sowing, pollination, etc.

In short, this is an excellent book both for beginners and non-beginners. It's almost on par with Mr Anderson's book. Since it appeared much earlier, The Ultimate Book has a more up-to-date catalogue of plants, but Mr Hewitt packs more into each page.

Hans Hecht
Cacti & Succulents
Sterling Publications: 1997 (160 pages)
ISBN 0806905492

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Note: One copy pops up here and there every once in a while in bookstores around KL, Malaysia.

I like Mr. Hecht's book very much, and it is almost as good as the two books shown above. One teeny weeny problem with this book is that each genera is covered in anything between one-third to two pages per genera. Thus, lots of genera is covered but there are few examples where there are more than one picture shown for a genus. Mr. Hecht frequently lists a few recommended species, but there is no space for pictures. I find the book very useful when I use an illustrated reference book to look up pictures corresponding to the listed species.

The pictures in Mr. Hecht's book are all very good. One plus is the inclusion of tips on certain species and genus of cacti and succulents, which I found to be absolutely fascinating and very useful. Horticultural information is also of very high quality.

The book might be thinner than The Ultimate Guide or The Complete Book, but it is very compact and is packed with lots of goodies. Overall, a very good book to complement your other guide books.

Tony Mace & Suzanne Mace
Cactus & Succulents (A Care Manual)
Laurel Glen: 1998 (128 pages)
ISBN 1571456198

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Note: This book can be found at MPH Mid Valley, KL, Malaysia as of June 2002.

I have not seen the contents of this book. I believe that Miles Anderson and Terry Hewitt's books are still the benchmarks for beginner's books, since they are more popular and more readily available in many countries. If you collect C&S books, this would by all means be a good addition to your collection. It might make a good present too.

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  Last modified: 2002-08-26  Copyright © 1997-2002.  Kein-Hong Man.  all rights reserved