INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS Review- Tales of Plants and Humanity

Get ready for lyrical story telling at its best.  Impassioned neurobiologist, University of Florence professor, author and TED Talk speaker, Stefano Mancuso, leads the reader through chapters with titles such as Fugitives and Conquerors, Captains Courageous, and Time Travelers. You will learn why avocados have large seeds and how they evolved with mastodons.  You might weep at learning that a solitary acacia, the last of its kind dating back 600 years in one of the hottest and driest deserts on the planet was killed by a drunk driver. This writer especially enjoyed the varied solutions posed to rid New Orleans’ waterways of Hyacinths.  Importing hippopotami?  You will be bemused by the story of the German nudist and cult leader that only ate Divine coconut. You too will be fascinated by scientists’ and explorers’ plant obsessions and a foolhardy governor’s planting of a short-lived forest. Can seeds frozen in the Arctic tundra or buried for thousands of years in desert sands germinate? Some stories read like swashbuckler tales and others are tender and poignant as when the author recalls visiting the plants that survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

The author jars Western European preconceptions about plants being simpler organisms than animals, as many have been taught to think. Instead, he advocates that plants are complex, have diffused organs and are multicentric. They often adapt enlisting animals, the wind or the sea to disperse their seeds.  They grow in inhospitable terrain and even survive atomic bombs. Incredibly varied, plants have been influencing human society and cultures from the beginning of humans’ existence. We find that the anthropomorphic characteristics are both descriptive and help us understand similarities between plant and animal organisms.

Should the reader want to learn more about plants described in the text, the full classification index for key plants begins each chapter including type species, domain, kingdom, division, class, etc., until ending with when it first appeared in Europe. This writer felt compelled to consult the Internet often to see images of the plants described. Even though they are fairly common plants, you too may find some unfamiliar and discover a thirst to know more about their structures.

Mancuso Stefano © Courtesy Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Photo by Alessandro Moggi

Wistful Watercolors Illustrate THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

Appealing to home gardeners, historians, biologists, botanists, and everyone with a fondness for stories, this small 158-page tome is not only wonderful to read, but illustrated unconventionally with creative watercolors by Grisha Fischer.  The paper in the hardback print is heavy and textural, and lends itself to these beautiful, wistful paintings. The reader will not find the typical botany pen-and-ink-labeled, anatomically correct pictures of the plants described.  Instead you will see continents in the shape of leaves, tomatoes floating across oceans, and cities, bays, and rivers named after your favorite flowers.

One warning for some: this writer found objectionable some examples of sexism and colonialism in the text. For example, this book compared positively plants to cowboys in the Wild West without any discussion of the Native Americans’ cultures they forever changed. That said, if the reader can go beyond these, as this writer did, this compact book will offer a fascinating read and may provoke some questions such as what is an indigenous plant? Is it ethical or healthy to change the flora of our landscapes? Readers might find curious why humans seem to prefer red fruit and vegetables over yellow ones. They might feel hope at the prospects of plants found to absorb dangerous gene changing radioactivity in the forests near Chernobyl. Expect Stefano Mancuso’s love and awe of plants to captivate you.

Highly Recommended

For more information and to purchase a copy visit the Other Press webpage about THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS.

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Caryn Hoffmann
Caryn Hoffmann

About Caryn Hoffman

Ms. Hoffman has a degree in art and her life’s work has been environmentally and  politically focused. After community organizing on both coasts, she had a career as an educator in Southern California. Now, semi-retired, Ms. Hoffman leads an active, outdoor lifestyle, continues to advocate for the environment and travels. She is especially fond of art, film, cultural events and is an ardent, live music fan. She loves adventure travel including camping, hiking, kayaking, rafting and road biking.

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