Vascular Plant Taxonomy (7th edition), by Drs. Zack E. Murrell and Emily L. Gillespie is at once recognizable as an effective learning tool for both beginning and advanced students in plant science. The expertise of the authors, both accomplished professionals in plant evolutionary biology and systematics, is clearly reflected throughout this outstanding overview of not only the major groups of vascular plants, but also the history of plant taxonomy and contemporary systematics theory. The book, the seventh edition in the series, begins by immersing the reader in the importance of taxonomic methods and their applications, along with providing the foundational background for students to understand the state of modern plant taxonomy. Importantly, there are easily digestible chapters focusing on phylogenetic reconstruction and intra- and interspecies variation that give context to the predominating molecular and phylogenetic systems used today. Other topics covered include plant keys/floras, species identification, traditional classification systems, species concepts, and reproductive and vegetative variation. A new chapter, not seen in previous editions, is focused on molecular variation. The presentation of these topics is geared toward teaching the fundamentals of plant taxonomy, with emphasis on training “a new generation of biologists with a solid foundation in the understanding of biodiversity and evolution.” These initial chapters lead into the heart of the book (pp. 203–523): an overview of the major groups of vascular plants, covering reproductive life cycles and current taxonomic placements, and providing family descriptions and a bounty of morphological illustrations depicting diagnostic vegetative and reproductive morphology. For each of the over 400 families covered, estimates are given of the number of accepted genera and species, as well as a description of the geographic distribution. Special emphasis is placed on temperate families and “evolutionarily important” families (~70 in total); these are treated in relatively greater depth, with more thorough description and full-page discussion of morphology and economic importance, as well as detailed illustration of floral and leaf characteristics. Like the fifth and sixth editions, plant groups are organized according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) system of classification, which incorporates the most recent phylogenetic evidence on vascular plants. Coverage is also given to previous familial classifications of selected groups that have undergone major reorganizations (e.g., Apocynaceae and Malvaceae), which is helpful for cross-referencing with older literature. The appendix provides a succinct key to the major families of vascular plants, which both students and professionals will find useful.
The textbook is notable for its comprehensibility to beginning students of botany and for the feasibility of its material to be taught within the course of a single semester. The end of every chapter contains exercises that inspire critical thinking and/or reinforce material, which professors will find useful for supplementing their curricula. Although, when compared to my own undergraduate companion, Guide to Flowering Plant Families by Wendy Zomlefer, some illustrations are less detailed, this textbook excels in its up-to-date focus on current methods and applications in plant systematics, and its broader coverage of the diversity of the world’s vascular plants. It is easy to picture a reader bookmarking their favorite plant groups and important concepts, as well as venturing into the relevant bibliography throughout. In short, this text is an exemplary contribution to the advancement of botanical education and will prove itself as a worthy asset in classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries for the foreseeable future. – Juan C. Angulo, New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10458-5126, USA.