Plants: From Roots to Riches

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This companion to the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name delves into Kew’s archive, knowledge and world-class collections to explore our obsession with plants.

Taking a journey through the scientific life of a unique British institution, this book explores how the last 250 years have transformed our relationship with plants for good.

Kathy Willis, Kew’s Director of Science and presenter of the Radio 4 series, and Carolyn Fry, the acclaimed science writer, take the reader through 25 vivid chapters from the birth of modern botany right through to the modern day.

Delving into Kew’s archive and world-class collections, they begin with Carl Linnaeus and his invention of the universal language to name plants, through Joseph Banks’ exotic discoveries and how Charles Darwin’s fascination with orchids helped persuade doubters about evolution. As the British Empire painted the atlas red, explorers, adventurers and scientists risked their lives to bring the most interesting plant specimens and information back to London, and to Kew. From the lucrative races to control rubber, quinine and coffee to understanding the causes of the potato famine, the science of plants has taught us fascinating and enormously valuable lessons.

Full of amazing images from the archives, (some never reproduced before) and packed with history, science, memorable tales of adventure and discovery, politics and conflict, changing economic and social preoccupations. Each chapter tells a unique and fascinating story, but, gathered together, a great picture unfolds, of the development of a most remarkable science, the magic and beauty of plants and ultimately our dependency on them.

'This sumptuously detailed and unique book, an off-shoot of the successful Radio 4 series, maps world history from the 1700s through the prism of botany. This book offers something for everyone - drama, adventure, history, science and innovation.' Dr Phil Gates, BBC Countryfile, November 2014

'Vivid, immersive and fascinating, this book takes the reader on a global voyage of discovery, travelling through time and tide to chart the incredible stories behind myriad plants.' Sarah Feeley, The English Garden, October 2014

About the authors

Kathy Willis is Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. She is also Professor of Biodiversity and a Fellow of Merton College, both at Oxford University. Winner of several awards, she has spent over twenty-five years researching and teaching biodiversity and conservation at Oxford and Cambridge.

Carolyn Fry is a freelance science writer. She has written seven successful books, including The Plant Hunters, winner of the European Garden Book Prize. Formerly Editor of the Royal Geographical Society’s magazine, Geographical, her work has been published in New Scientist, BBC Online, Telegraph, Guardian, The Times and Independent on Sunday.

Type: Books

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