Plants are truly remarkable: through their ability to harness the energy of the sun they are at the basis of many food chains, and even with our modern technological prowess they still feed us, clothe us, shelter us, help transport us, and can both intoxicate and cure us. From basic food staples to the most exotic and enchanting blooms, plants play a fundamental role in our lives; they are sources of great wealth and pleasure and are essential for the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet.
We guide you through the intriguing histories, significance and uses of over 80 key plants, revealing our complex relationship with them, both utilitarian and aesthetic. Rich in cultural, historical, botanical and symbolic associations, the individual plants presented here, from every corner of the globe and both familiar and bizarre, all have fascinating stories to tell. Organized thematically, eight sections cover every aspect of our interaction with plants — starting with those crops that laid the foundations for the development of civilizations, such as wheat, rice and maize, and those that enliven our lives, such as saffron and the humble brassica. Other sections look at plants that have helped to create our material world, including bamboo and the mighty oak, or crops that have made people rich, notably tea, coffee and sugar cane. Throughout human history many plants have been used medicinally, from willow to the Madagascar periwinkle, and others, for instance mangroves or giant redwoods, have come to epitomize entire landscapes.
Certain plants are also the objects of obsession or are revered, including the tulip, the rose and the lotus, and there are some that are distinctly strange, such as the world’s largest flower, rafflesia, which smells of rotting flesh. For anyone interested in the extraordinary beauty and diversity of flora around us, this covetable book, illustrated with botanical drawings, paintings and artworks from the collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will be an inspiration and a delight.