Log in

Editor's Picks

Michael Eason hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to observe Washingtonia filifera in situ
Currently at San Antonio Botanic Garden, Michael's work has...
Amy Byrne | Feb 15, 2023
An exhibition that beautifully depicts and locates oaks
Roderick Cameron | Feb 09, 2023
Burke Oak Collection at New York Botanical Garden
The Coleman and Susan Burke Oak Collection at The New York...
Todd Forrest | Feb 08, 2023

Plant Focus

Quercus xjackiana acorns
The hybrid of Q. alba and Q. bicolor

Book Review: Illustrated Flora of Fagaceae Trees of the World

Illustrated Flora of Fagaceae of the World
Illustrated Flora of Fagaceae Trees of the World
Keiko Tokunaga
Heibonsha, 2020
191 pages

When my copy of Keiko Tokunaga’s recently published book arrived, my first reaction was of great regret that I am unable to read Japanese (the book is in Japanese, but with indexed Latin species names, so you are never lost). However, such regret was immediately forgotten, as the book is a visual feast! The subtitle reads "Beech, Oak and Chestnut", but whilst there are five species of beech (Fagus) and two of chestnut (Castanea) within the book—and, don’t worry, many, many oaks, considerably outnumbering all the rest!—the subtitle conceals that there are marvelous studies of genera which have no widely-known English common names: such as 26 species of Lithocarpus showing the amazing variety of "cupules" in the genus, sometimes compounded to form thick defensive armor; 11 species of Castanopsis, where instead spiky cupules can go on the offensive; not to mention Chrysolepis, Nothofagus, Notholithocarpus and Trigonobalanus. The latter genus is in this book split into three genera of one species each: Trigonobalanus verticillata; and two genera usually considered synonymous with Trigonobalanus: Colombobalanus (excelsa) and Formanodendron (doichangensis), the latter once placed in Quercus by oak monographer Aimée Camus, and all three being tropical or subtropical trees which I imagine many of us, me certainly included, have never seen. Dr. Hara Masatoshi, an expert on the Fagaceae based at the Natural History Museum in Chiba, Japan, has provided species descriptions and some general text; Keiko has added notes relating to her own observations and experience, and of course all the paintings are hers.

The IOS has now covered Keiko’s work twice on the website, firstly with ‘Why I Draw Oaks’, and then this book. As those web articles reveal, the illustrations are a labor of love for Keiko, as it takes two to three weeks to paint just one species, and her endeavors are necessarily limited to the fruiting season; they explain also how much traveling she has done with her husband Susumu in pursuit of her goals (by my count they have visited 21 countries in addition to Japan!). Thus it is no surprise that 16 years elapsed between her first book and this one. You can see sample spreads from the recent book in the web post, included amongst which are a special feature of many of the illustrations: that of the iceberg-like root-to-shoot ratio of seedlings of many species. I don’t think I have ever seen this shown elsewhere, and in the book sometimes three stages of a seedling’s development are intricately displayed. You can see examples of these roots on the paintings of Quercus alnifolia and Chrysolepis chrysophylla var. minor; on the second one, Trigonobalanus (Colombobalanus) excelsa, complete with insect damage, humorously spills over the page divide! Also seen in the web article is Castanopsis paucispina from Borneo, but in the book itself there are additional illustrations of this species, including photographs of a mature tree and also a seed in the hand which shows more clearly the impressive size of the fruit.

Colombalanus excelsa (syn. Trigonobalanus excelsa) spills over the page, despite insect damage

To move to species not shown in the web article, I had previously noted with disappointment that when the multi-volume photographic guide ‘Woody Plants of Japan’ was compiled, the publishers were evidently unable to find an illustration of the acorns of the rare Q. hondae. Step up Keiko: that lack is now rectified by her book, and she also managed to track down acorns of the subtropical Japanese endemic Q. miyagii, something we signally failed to do on the IOS tour of Japan in 2007. She also includes the little-known Q. serrata subsp. mongolicoides, with its curious acorns which have an almost square side profile. Professor Hideaki Ohba intimated during our tour that it might in due course attain species rank (it looks like a mongolica-series oak, but is genetically closer to Q. serrata), and promotion finally came in 2017: Q. mongolicoides (H. Ohba) Hiroki. Every Japanese species is of course illustrated, but beyond that Keiko has been free to choose a fascinating cross-section of the family Fagaceae, and she goes in relentless pursuit of those species chosen. The book is divided into three sections: Asia; Europe (including Asian Turkey); and the Americas. For me personally, the Asian section is the most captivating, because not only is the material illustrated extremely varied, but also largely unfamiliar to most of us in Europe and the Americas.

Quercus insignis
Quercus insignis © Keiko Tokunaga

Unfortunately, there is no immediate prospect of the book being published in English (although perhaps in Chinese), but I am delighted to have it on my bookshelf both for the beauty of the illustrations and the introduction to plants I have never seen before. Should you wish to purchase a copy, please contact Keiko directly (click here).

Covid-19 has at present curtailed Keiko’s travels, but let us hope that once the pandemic is over it will take less than 16 years before book number three is published!

Quercus miyagii
Quercus miyagii © Keiko Tokunaga