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Books for those into plants. Very diverse master list, so the top 5 reflect my own interests: palaeobotany, physiology,and ethnobotany. Check out the runners up for more specific books on clades.
A readable exploration of the utility of eighty plant species, this book will give you a new appreciation for just how fundamental plants are to civilisation. Peppered (no pun intended) with curious stories, it’s a great read for anyone interested in the multifold uses that plants have.
As a student, I was subscribed to my university library’s RSS feed, so I could grab the newest books as soon as they came in. The first edition of Understanding Flowers and Flowering was the victim one week. I had never had any interest in anything botanical… until I finished this book. Learning about how intricate flowering mechanisms are and how many factors influence the whole process was eye-opening, and it sparked a deep interest in plant physiology that I nurture to this day. Anecdote aside, the book explains all the latest we know about the physiology and genetics of flowering. If you’ve never wondered about this stuff, I really recommend giving this book a shot. It changed my outlook on things,and I’m sure it will do the same for you.
I also highlighted this book in the Palaeontology listing, so you know where it’s coming from. I may have a great interest in plant physiology, but I am first and foremost a palaeontologist, and this book goes through everything you need to know about the evolution of plants.
Besides palaeobotany and physiology, my third major interest in plants is ethnobotany, the traditional uses of plants by local tribes and cultures, most often for food and medical reasons. This book explores the medical uses of eight African plants, and how these plants became embroiled in pharmaceutical research and development. Interesting from a historical perspective, and for those interested in how science interacts with political policies.
To tie up a theme common to half the top 5 books here, one of the reasons why plants are so useful is because they’ve evolved to produce large amounts of secondary chemical products. Much like we look at animal toxins as potential sources for drugs, plant chemicals are also biologically-active and thus potentially useful. Ethnobotanists discover what plants were used by traditional tribes for medicine, allowing pharmaceutical scientists to search for the active chemical with the healing properties. This book is a one-stop reference for plant secondary compounds, from biosynthesis to utilities and biotechnology. Most useful as a coursebook.
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