Named a Best Book of the Year for the Know-It-All by The Globe and Mail
In this richly illustrated volume, a leading neurobiologist presents fascinating stories of plant migration that reveal unexpected connections between nature and culture.
When we talk about migrations, we should study plants to understand that these phenomena are unstoppable. In the many different ways plants move, we can see the incessant action and drive to spread life that has led plants to colonize every possible environment on earth. The history of this relentless expansion is unknown to most people, but we can begin our exploration with these surprising tales, engagingly told by Stefano Mancuso.
Generation after generation, using spores, seeds, or any other means available, plants move in the world to conquer new spaces. They release huge quantities of spores that can be transported thousands of miles. The number and variety of tools through which seeds spread is astonishing: we have seeds dispersed by wind, by rolling on the ground, by animals, by water, or by a simple fall from the plant, which can happen thanks to propulsive mechanisms, the swaying of the mother plant, the drying of the fruit, and much more.
In this accessible, absorbing overview, Mancuso considers how plants convince animals to transport them around the world, and how some plants need particular animals to spread; how they have been able to grow in places so inaccessible and inhospitable as to remain isolated; how they resisted the atomic bomb and the Chernobyl disaster; how they are able to bring life to sterile islands; how they can travel through the ages, as they sail around the world.
Mancuso (The Revolutionary Genius of Plants), a plant neurobiologist and professor at the University of Florence, pays homage to the "legendary conquests" of plants in this elegant and charmingly illustrated survey. Relating some of the more remarkable feats performed by flora in their struggle to survive, Manusco describes Bahrain's solitary Tree of Life, whose long tap root enables its survival in the desert, and travels to Hiroshima to visit the Hibakujumoku, or "trees that have suffered an atomic explosion." The topics of human intervention and plant evolution are gracefully intertwined in discussions of coconut trees, date palms, and bristlecone pines, including one 4850-year-old Californian specimen. Especially fond of culinary topics, Mancuso bemoans the seedless avocado, which appeared in British supermarkets in 2017, and highlights the "multi-colored experience" of the pale South American tomato on its journey to becoming the "lustily red" center of Italian cuisine, and basil's 2000-year old transformation, since Alexander the Great brought it to Europe from inner India, from purported cause of madness to cherished herb. Some ecologists, however, may balk at his embracing invasive plants as "the native flora of the future." Nonetheless, naturalists and the culinary-inclined will cherish this collection of botanical vignettes. With illus. by Grisha Fischer.