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Abstract

A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula.

Abstract

The first edition of this masterly dictionary was produced in 1935. During the past 30 years I have used it more than any other single work of reference in the tropics of Africa, the Far East and the New World. Although it is entitled "The Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula", its use is not confined to this area, as many of the crops and other plants dealt with are to be found throughout the tropics. It has been out-of-print for nearly 20 years; second-hand copies have been very difficult to obtain and then only at very high prices. The Governments of Malaysia and Singapore are to be congratulated on bringing out this second edition so that it may be available for new generations of agriculturists, botanists, foresters, ethnologists and others working in the tropics, and those of the older generations who were unfortunate enough not to have access to a copy.
It is a work of great scholarship by one of the world's leading ethnobotanists and is a masterpiece of condensation of a vast fund of knowledge and experience, together with a wealth of information obtained by a meticulous search of the available literature published prior to 1935. It has been described by R. E. Holttum (Nature, 1965, 206: 871) as "the most important single work of the present century on useful tropical plants". The only comparable work is Sir George Watt's "Dictionary of the Economic Products of India" (1884-1893), which inspired it.
Isaac Henry Burkill was Watt's assistant in India from 1902 to 1912, when he succeeded H. N. Ridley as Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In Singapore and Malaya he collected information for the Dictionary and, after his retirement in 1925, he spent the next ten years, working mainly at Kew, in compiling his great work. He died in 1965 in his 95th year. Plants occupy 94% of the text, all of which was written by Burkill. The remainder, on animal products, fishes and minerals, was contributed by contemporaries. The plants are given alphabetically under their generic and specific names. Information is provided on their origins, history of human exploitation, chemistry, medicinal uses, etc., and we find here the largest and most critical collection of Malay plant names ever recorded. The marginal headings assist in quick reference.
This new edition has a preface by Burkill's son Humphrey, now Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is a reprint of the original edition, incorporating minor revisions made by the author up to 1962. Unfortunately, no attempt has been made to bring the taxonomic names up to date. Anyone interested in tropical plants, wherever he may be, will find a vast wealth of information easily accessible. The volumes are well printed, well bound and creditably free of misprints. I consider this an essential work of reference for all who have to deal with tropical economic plants. They are fortunate indeed that it is again available. J.W.P.