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The Dendrological Atlas

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The Dendrological Atlas: A Legacy in the MakingAn interview with Hungarian botanist Zsolt Debreczy on his life’s work - aproposed fourteen-volume manual of trees and shrubs.If one were to take literally the adage "one pic-ture is worth a thousand words," then the Den-drological Atlas project, with its proposed3,300 full-plate drawings and 20,000 photo-graphs, is going to be worth millions. Thismonumental project is the dream of Hungar-ian botanist Zsolt Debreczy of the Museumof Natural History in Budapest, who has beenworking on it since 1971. Upon completion,the Atlas is projected to cover 6,500 speciesand 7,200 cultivars of cold-hardy, woodyplants in fourteen volumes, with a grand totalof 12,000 pages.Working in collaboration with Debreczy ishis wife, Gyongyver Bir6, a microbiologist bytraining, who does the literature searches andhelps with the writing and field work.Botanist-photographer Istvan Racz has beenworking with Debreczy since 1976, produc-ing the photographic documentation for theproject. In addition, several illustrators,including the late Vera Csapody, have workedwith the team to produce pen and ink illus-trations based on Debreczy’s pencil sketches.The Dendrological Atlas team has traveledextensively throughout the temperate zonesincluding Asia, Europe, North America, andNorth Africa. They first came to the ArnoldArboretum for a brief visit in 1983, and in1988, as recipients of a Mercer Fellowshipfrom Harvard University, they were able toreturn.The goal of the Atlas project is to create acomprehensive, beautifully illustrated workthat includes all the trees and shrubs of thetemperate climate zones of the world. Thework builds upon the foundation laid by suchauthors as Alfred Rehder, W J. Bean, and GerdKrussmann but adds totally original illustra-tions, visually oriented keys, and in-depth tax-onomic descriptions.According to plans, the Atlas will consistof two parts: Gymnosperms (Volumes 1 to 3)and Angiosperms (Volumes 4 to 12). The for-mat of the work can be seen on the followingpages. Debreczy, Racz, and Biro hope to fin-ish the project by the year 2000, almost thirtyyears after the the first drawings were made.The following interview with ZsoltDebreczy addresses some of the questions fre-quently asked the Dendrological Atlas teamregarding this ongoing project.When did you start working on this project?I started it in 1971 with Dr. Vera Csapody, therenowned Hungarian plant illustrator, whohad published or illustrated almost 60 booksbefore I started to work with her. Her firstundertaking, with the great research botanistSandor Javorka, was on the Hungarian flora-with over 4,200 drawings of the plants nativeto the Carpatho-Pannonian region (historicalHungary), published in 1934. After I wrote asuccessful book on the winter-hardy ever-greens with Vera Csapody’s illustrations, westarted the Dendrological Atlas project in1971.Was the project originally planned to be aslarge-scale as it now is?Not at all! At first we planned simply to illus-trate Rehder’s Manual, the most widely usedreference book for identification of temperatetrees and shrubs. We started with small, two-22dimensional illustrations based mainly onherbarium specimens. Following my sketches,Vera Csapody immediately worked them outin black ink. As time went on, we used moreand more living specimens for making thedrawings and of course they looked differentfrom those made from pressed specimens. Itsoon became clear that a consistent style, a"single voice," was needed to bridge thisproblem. Vera Csapody was in her eightieswhen we switched our format to produce full-page, three-dimensional illustrations. Thishappened in 1975, and it marks the beginningof the project in its present format. We alsohad to solve the problem of consistency in thephotographs, which we resolved in 1976 whenIstvan Racz joined the team. Later my wifeGyongyver Biro and some younger illustratorsjoined the group, and the Atlas became amajor project of the Museum of Natural His-tory in Budapest.The collecting trips started in 1977. Iorganized them to cover most countries inEurope, North America, North Africa, theCaucasus, and Asia Minor. We worked in thebest living collections of Europe, includingmany English parks and arboreta, and westudied in the best herbaria as well. We soonrealized that if every major woody plant spe-cies in the temperate zones was to be illus-trated with two pages, this would require atleast five thousand pages of illustrations. Thatis when the Atlas became a whole series ofbooks. To date, almost three thousand linedrawings have been done, and our photoarchive now contains more than sixty thou-sand pictures from which the photo plateswill be assembled.The scope of the project seems to invite col-laboration. Are you working with scientistsin other parts of the world?We have already received tremendous helpfrom many institutions, colleagues, privatepersons, and even family members. Withouttheir help and generosity, our present statuscould never have been reached. In fact, thisproject is being supported by all those peoplewho maintain the herbaria and living collec-tions we use for study and for documentingspecimens.At first we worked with various Hungarianand Central European institutions andarboreta, and later with the excellent German,Dutch, Belgian, and English collections, suchas Bedgebury Pinetum and Kew Gardens. Andnow we are particularly pleased to be able towork at the Arnold Arboretum, built by suchgreats as Sargent, Wilson, and Rehder. Todaywe are cooperating with numerous researchfellows and scientists on a consulting basis,and we incorporate their comments and sug-gestions into our work.Your project is as much art as it is science.How do you see these two often conflictingelements fitting together in your work?Many of the illustrations may have artisticmerit. The illustrator and photographer arelimited by the accuracy requirements ofscience. The illustrations and photographshave to reflect the beauty of nature, but theydo not have the same kind of freedom that artdoes. In the Atlas, the text and the picturesshare the same pages; they transmit differentinformation in complementary ways. Weintend our work to be precise and correct interms of science, but much of this informa-tion may be out-of-date after a few years, ordecades. We believe the illustrations willretain their value long after some of the tax-onomy has been revised.In the same way, you try to fuse taxonomicbotany and practical


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