Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Book Review: "Fifty Plants..."
It is not an exaggeration to say that plants changed the course of human history. Indeed, plants are the basis for life. Without them, we would not exist as a species nor would most others. Plants are the basis of our food supply: yes, even meat eaters need to thank plants for creating all the consumable flesh in the first place. Plants do more then feed up: they house us (wood frame homes), fuel us (petroleum and coal are ancient, decomposed plant matter), clothe us (linen, cotton, ramie, even wool, secondarily as the sheep eats grass to produce it, and silk, as the silk caterpillars need white mulberry leaves), provide medicines (digitalis for heart failure, vinca for cancer treatment, caffeine...well I view it as a medicine!), dyes and pigments.... Plants can also harm us, poison us (neurotoxic mushrooms, poison ivy....), or cause mental confusion and addiction (marijuana, coca, opium).
This is an interesting little book. I took it a camping trip with my nephews and niece and it made for interesting conversation as we all tried to identify the 50 plants and explain why (they did a great job). It is not a gardening books per se, though has some interesting factoids for gardeners (hops is related to cannibis, Anglo-Saxon warriors dyed their skin blue using woad, sunflower seeds can be used to make blue, black, purple and red dyes). I liked the book because it it increased my general store of knowledge of the history and cultural significance of plants.
The one disadvantage of the book is its brevity. At about 217 small-format pages of text with lots of illustrations (many of them quite nice), it does not have the space to get into much depth on each plant (it reminded me of one of those DK books: visually lovely, but a bit shallow). But it does provide interesting info and whet one's appetite for more. A good book to borrow from a local library or buy as a gift for a plant-loving friend.