Gardens Illustrated

Around the World in 80 Plants - Book Review

Published: June 4, 2021 at 12:32 pm

An enlightening introduction to the human relationship with 80 important plants, delivered in an entertaining and accessible manner. Reviewer Matthew Biggs is a Kew-trained gardener.

by Jonathan Drori, Illustrations by Lucille Clerc
Laurence King Publishing, £20
ISBN 978-1786272300

Everything ancient has an interesting ‘back story’ and when it comes to the relationship between plants and people, the story goes back millennia. This personal selection of 80 significant wild and cultivated plants from around the world explores that ongoing association. Some, such as nettles are familiar, others, such as kuki, or candlenut tree, are less so, but as the text hops between countries and skips between climates and cultures, the overall message is resoundingly clear: the past and future of plants and humankind are inextricably entwined.

The book is lively, entertaining and educational and the author’s personal comments and witty asides, often made me laugh out loud. It is a credit to his skill and dedication that every fact-filled sentence is rich in information about each chosen plant, be it ethnobotanical, economic, folklore, myth, history, religion, culinary or etymology – not a word is wasted. There are numerous interesting factoids; we learn how bamboo was
an important element in Edison’s light-bulb moment, the lotus leaf has inspired the manufacture of modern materials, plus more sinister uses of plants, such as in the interrogation methods used by Mussolini’s fascists. At the conclusion you will be armed with enough interesting information to initiate conversation at a thousand dinner parties.

Lucille Clerc’s astonishingly beautiful, vibrantly coloured illustrations are an absolute delight, summing up the key points about each plant perfectly – you will find humour in these, too.

This book has a broad appeal, especially to a lover of art and plants. It would make a fabulous gift, yet contains enough facts to be of benefit to students of plant sciences, it is also a must have for anyone who guides at a public garden or has an interest in the relationship between plants and people in the past, present and future.


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