Jean-Philippe Beau-Douëzy, Michel Cambornac, Eric Sampers:

NEBLINA - Of Mists and Scents

NEBLINA - Of Mists and Scents

Text:Jean-Philippe Beau-Douëzy
Michel Cambornac
Photos:Eric Sampers

1999, Éditions de La Martinière, Paris
English, hardcover, 143 pages,
112 col. und 4 b/w photos,
drawings and maps.

In the North of the Amazon Basin, strange mountains over 200 million years old rise up and through the clouds. 3,014 meters at it's highest point, Pico da Neblina is the most impregnable of these fortresses of stone and vegetation. The natural obstacles and climatic conditions that reign around this mythical mountain have made it a unique environment in which animals and plants continue their slow evolution.

In 1998 a Franco-American expedition set out to explore the region's biodiversity and bring back the scents given off by the totally unknown flowers, mosses and plants that grow there. From this voyage to another world, the authors have brought back a unique testimony to the strange and striking beauty of this natural sanctuary, and a commitment to defend these endangered treasures.

(original blurb)

The text of the French original edition is from expedition leader and founder of the nature organisation "Ecoguide International" Jean-Philippe Beau-Douëzy and the ethnobotanic Michel Cambornac, the pictures were taken by the professional photographer Eric Sampers. The translation of this English edition was done by Jenny Pickman.

The dimensions of the hardcover are 29x25cm (HxW), it was published in 1999 from Éditions de La Martinière in Paris. It has 143 pages and besides 5 drawings, 10 maps and diagrams and 4 b/w portraits of early explorers it features a total of 112 breathtaking colour photos of which 29 are full-page and 19 more even double-sized (29x50cm!). The nature pictures are very impressing.

One of the aims of the 1998 Franco-American science expedition was to document the natural wonders of this region and to demonstrate the need for protection and preservation to the public. On the other hand the cooperation with joint-venture partners Yves Rocher and IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.) made it possible to use a patented method to "record" the fragrances of newly discovered plants without having to damage them or even take them from their place of growth.

The book begins with prefaces and introduction and the main part is divided into three parts:

Part 1: THE LOST WORLD (pp. 20-51)

This part begins with a short historical summary about the origins of the exploration of South America and particularly of the region "Guyana Shield", i.e. the geological territory where the massive and widely undiscovered Tepuis are found. From the early conquerors from Spain and Portugal to the first scientific expeditions around end of 18th century in this inaccessible region. The table mountain "(Pico da) Neblina" for instance wasn't recorded in maps until the mid-20th-century (1953 to be precise)!

It continues with the earth-historical origins of the South American continent and the explanation for the formation of the Tepuis from geological perspective. This is followed by exact and interesting descriptions of geomorphology and structure of these landscapes in present times, the mineral and water occurrences and a detailed outline of the climate conditions of the region.

Part 2: ABOVE THE CLOUD FOREST (pp. 52-103)

The biggest block describes the lifeforms in direkt neighbourhood and on top of the summit plateau of the table mountains. Extreme environmental conditions, complete isolation and very limited amounts of nutrients helped to preserve a premeval world, but also led to evolution of totally unknown forms in plants and animals. A great number of species found on Tepuis are "endemic", i.e. in this form the exist only in this region (in case only on this summit) worldwide.

After another short survey about the history of botanical pioneers the vegetation zones and their special adaptations are represented. What follows is a description of the mainly occurring plant families and their genera (with pictures, of course) and a subchapter about carnivorous plants (7 pages, 5 col. photos and 5 col. drawings) which deals with Brocchinia, Heliamphora, Genlisea, Utricularia and Drosera.

A short block describes difficulties of paleontology and palynology (research into signs of life of past epochs and pollen research) in this region. After that it goes on with fauna -- frogs and other amphibians and investigation of their acoustic communication, insects, reptiles and bird as well as a small number of mammals.

Many of the shown animal species are still unknown to science!


The reader gets an insight into the mysterious and interesting work of a modern perfumer and "scent scientist". A part of the team was trying to track down new and so far unknown fragrances using a sophisticated method called "Living Flower Technology" which doesn't hurt or affect the plant or object "sniffed on" by the instrument. Perfumers, chemists and botanists complement one another in teamwork to determine the volatile substances and their compounds.

Today science knows that plants do not only use odours to defend against hungry enemies or to attract pollinators but also to have a form of communication among each other. We are only just beginning to understand some of these mechanisms so that it is expected to see important discoveries from this research branch.

Finally attention is directed to "preservation of biodiversity" and it's immense importance for our life. The Tepuis and the surrounding rain forests do not only offer living space and protection for the native animals and plants but also to threatened indian tribes. As a huge ecosystem this region and also any other oasis of biodiversity has extensive influence on animal and plant populations worldwide, on research into natural healing substances and not least on climate development.

APPENDIX (pp. 132-143)

The individual team members are introduced with their profession and their funktion in the expedition, followed by the partners Jaques Rocher (general director of Yves Rocher) and Martine Fougeron (International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.).

After a short glossar of technical terms a detailed bibliography for the region is given. The book ends with acknowledgements of the many persons involved and the helpers.

(personal review by Stefan P. Wolf)

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