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Diary of the Database


You can tell I don't work on this page too often. There has been no shortage of activity on the rest of this site, though. Updates continue to occur all over the place in response to new literature and information that people send me. The level of science going on around conifers has risen exponentially since the site went online and it's difficult just to keep up with all the taxonomic changes, let alone in other subjects. Several significant new publications have appeared recently, including the first comprehensive reviews of conifers to appear since the early 1990's: first Eckenwalder (2009) published one heavy volume called Conifers of the World which contains many name changes (some debatable, others less so) and much else of interest; and then Farjon (2010) published two even heavier tomes under the title A Handbook of the World's Conifers. You better have two hands free for one of these books! Farjon's work adopts fewer name changes and is withal more conservative, summarizing as it does the life's work of one of the most productive and respected conifer taxonimists in the world. Both books necessarily focus on genera and higher groups, according a single paragraph to most species descriptions (though Farjon gives much more detailed species accounts). Both are well-illustrated, finely bound, and are destined to remain useful in the conifer literature for decades to come.

Meanwhile, I have been industriously working on an effort to bring the whole web site into the 21st century by recoding the whole thing using CSS and PHP templates. When this is done, the whole site will finally have a uniform and manageable appearance, and most of the trickery will be server-side, although there are a couple of javascript routines (used to display thousands of images and citations) that are just about impossible to get rid of. I'm also involved in a book project and an e-commerce project, and you can also look for an increased emphasis on conifer conservation and action.


Once again it's hard to keep up with things. This February saw a month-long trip to Mexico that has been written up for the Topics page, but it will be quite awhile before all the species pages have been revised. As a matter of fact I still haven't worked through all the material from the 2003 New Zealand or 2005 Mexico trip either, to say nothing of many trips in North America in that time. Have also given short shrift to experiences climbing tall trees and doing other sorts of field science. However website work has been proceeding; the site looks cleaner, there are many interesting new links, and the Mexico species treatments are finally looking pretty good. Many thanks to all those who have sent in photos, and more thanks to those who have sent in information.


It's been a busy two years. Treatments of Australia, New Zealand, and Japanese species kept me busy in 2004, and in fall 2004 a trip to North Carolina also led to updates of many of that state's species. In February 2005 I took a trip to central Mexico that yielded a wealth of data I'm still working through, and in July 2005 I experienced a week of total immersion in Sequoiadendron ecology, climbing several trees over 90 m tall to collect tree-ring and ecophysiological data in the company of some high-powered academic friends; I intend to post the account of that adventure in the Topics section. Also, 2005 saw the publications of a massive treatise on the Cupressaceae by Aljos Farjon (available through the Bookstore), which is now the largest and heaviest tree book in my library, and which I will be years in assimilating to the Database. I also finally met Aljos, showed him around some of our Cascades high country, and enjoyed many thought-provoking discussions that will also get woven into the Database. Finally, late in the year I migrated the Database to a new server where I have the support, storage and bandwidth to support a site that now has over 1,300 different pages.


Well, the New Zealand trip was a smashing success. Click HERE for links to the many pages updated as a result of that effort. Apart from that, it has been a slow year. I got married, work has been exceedingly busy, and generally gymnosperms have had to take a back seat to the rest of my life. Fear not. The rains have again come to Seattle, and the winter should see lots of revisions, especially with regard to species of New Zealand (I'm still working through those updates) and New Caledonia (this year I will finally assimilate de Laubenfels' Flora of New Caledonia, after 31 years still the only comprehensive source for that wonderful island). Thanks to the many correspondents who send me info and updates, and point out the site's errors. I try to reply to all e-mails. If you get bounced out by my anti-spam software, please persist, I do want to hear from you. But spam levels are up to about 150 e-mails a day, so I need the filters.


You might have been wondering - over 3 years without an update! It just shows that there are some parts of the site that I don't look at very often. In the past 3 years the site gained a URL, so you can now find it at That is not a static IP address, so I suggest that you instead access the site at The good people in Bonn—the Department of Botany, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Germany—have provided me with server space at an academic institution, and the Database now occupies about 50MB of disk space. I have added a search engine, and I suggest that you make good use of it. It allows you to find taxa by synonyms, and by searching for a date in the format "Nov-2002" (for example), you can see what I've been working on recently. Most recently, I have been adding information on rare and endangered taxa; take a look at Cupressus vietnamensis for an example. In the future, I hope to develop a lot more emphasis on the importance of saving rare conifers from extinction, a fate that threatens about 70 species in the near future, and over 200 species in the foreseeable future. Finally, I'm preparing for a prolonged field trip to New Zealand in 2003, which will probably give me lots of information to post on the site.


Recent activity has focused on the Pinaceae, thanks in large part to numerous contributions I have received from Michael Frankis, a dedicated British conifer taxonomist. I have also received help and encouragement from a wide variety of other scientists interested (almost exclusively) in the conifers -- few people seem interested in the 'oddities' of Ephedra, Gnetum and Welwitschia, while cycad lovers are a breed apart, dominated almost exclusively by collectors and breeders. The Cycad Pages, a site rather similar to the Gymnosperm Database, is now available online. It is dedicated exclusively to cycads and is run by Ken Hill, one of the premier cycad taxonomists. For this reason I have put very little effort into further developing the cycad portion of the site.

Another theme on the site has been making it 'legal'. In the past, I posted printed information protected by copyrights. This is a widespread practice on the Net and is largely ignored by the Authorities as long as the information is not being used for commercial purposes. However, the long-term trend is toward enforcement of copyright regulations. In response, I have gradually been removing all copyrighted material and replacing it with material written by myself or by contributors, and I have been seeking permission for use of particularly good images.


Much has happened in the last four months. The database has been moving to an actual database format, resulting in much greater standardization. There have been extensive revisions in the Pinaceae, including all of Larix, most of the smaller genera, and sizable chunks of the larger ones. I have particularly focussed on the genus Pinus, thanks largely to my acquisition of Farjon & Styles 1997 and Richardson 1998. I have also just finished a pretty complete revision of Dacrydium, and there have been extensive additions in all genera of the Araucariaceae. Conversely, the Gnetales and Cycads continue to receive short shrift, in the former case due to a paucity of data (though I have just acquired some promising material on wood anatomy) and in the latter simply because I'm swamped with trying to rough out the Conifers.

Also, the database has become sufficiently popular that I am continually being distracted by new and interesting ideas being sent my way. Lately, this has included information on Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii), Pinus krempfii, and a bunch of big trees, notably the Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. Thanks to all contributors.


The Gymnosperm database is now in its third home. It started at and for some reason bits and pieces of it are still present at that site, and that site is still coming up in search engines. I left that site when went bankrupt and the service became extremely spotty. Then the database was briefly ported to but the problem there was, only 6 MB allowed for web pages, and that required removing a lot of the graphics on this site. So, I have most recently moved here, to, where I have 25 MB of web space and thus room for expansion -- for at least a few more months. Enjoy!


In the near future, look for a list of threatened and endangered gymnosperm taxa and the completion of the taxonomic revision of Pinaceae. After that, I expect to move over to Cupressaceae of Africa (again drawing heavily on the work of Farjon and his colleagues), and that will probably get me through the summer.

The site continues to be graphics-poor, partly because of my server space problems but also because preparing text for the Web is considerably less time-consuming than preparing graphics, which typically require quite a lot of image optimization. The priority at this time is developing a fairly current taxonomic structure in place and providing descriptions and range information on all genera and species.


Since getting a scanner, there has been a sustained period of copying illustrations and descriptions. It's getting to the point where most of the database consists of verbatim quotes from various sources. This is rather useful when taxonomic ambiguities arise because it links a description to a clearly identified taxon. See Pinus luchuensis for an example.

I've also recently added some new features. Theres a list of genera that may help you find your taxon of interest until such time as I make the Database searchable. Incidentally, I'm making slow progress on the search feature and hope to have it online within a month or so. Finally, I've added a list of Topical essays that potentially pertain to a wide variety of taxa, such as a piece on determining tree ages.

The basic structure is in place for all taxa. Most taxa are represented by rather little text and no graphics. The most complete presentations can be found for species native to the U.S. and Canada. Less coverage is in place for Australasian species, the Cycadales, and much of the Cupressaceae. Lately, I've added a bunch of stuff on Asian conifers and assembled a relatively coherent picture of Podocarpaceae taxonomy (thanks mostly to the scholarship of David de Laubenfels. Would love to receive a copy of his 1982 article in Flora de Venezuela. If anyone would care to send data on the more obscure taxa (things like New Caledonian species, anything in Gnetum, monotypic Cupressaceae genera, central Asian species...), such information would be very welcome.


People sometimes write and say, "Who supports the database?" The answer is, I do. I have put the whole thing together, typing, scanning, or grabbing stuff off the Web; I don't get paid for this and I do pay for the disk space to store it all. Well, I now want to make it perfectly clear than any assistance is welcome. Here's a wish list:

Last Modified 2011-11-23