Top 2016 Botany Books

These are my top twenty botany books published in 2016. It’s a very varied list, covering such diverse topics as pharmaceutical plants, cultural histories, plant evolution, and much more. YMMV, and they are not ranked in any way. Included is the text blurb; personal review available on request!

Want more book recommendations? Check out the other top 2016 book lists: Zoology; Invertebrates; Arthropods; Vertebrates; Humans and Primates; Phylogenetics; Evolution; Ecology; Geology; Historical Geology; Palaeontology; Environmental; Climate Change; History; Philosophy.


  • This book presents visual plant defenses (camouflage, mimicry and aposematism via coloration, morphology and even movement) against herbivores. It is mainly an ideological monograph, a manifesto representing my current understanding on defensive plant coloration and related issues. The book is not the final word in anything, but rather the beginning of many things. It aims to establish visual anti-herbivory defense as an integral organ of botany, or plant science as it is commonly called today. I think that like in animals, many types of plant coloration can be explained by selection associated with the sensory/cognitive systems of herbivores and predators to reduce herbivory. It is intended to intrigue and stimulate students of botany/plant science and plant/animal interactions for a very long time. This book is tailored to a readership of biologists and naturalists of all kinds and levels, and more specifically for botanists, ecologists, evolutionists and to those interested in plant/animal interactions. It is written from the point of view of a naturalist, ecologist and evolutionary biologist that I hold, considering natural selection as the main although not the only drive for evolution. According to this perspective, factors such as chance, founder effects, genetic drift and various stochastic processes that may and do influence characters found in specific genotypes, are not comparable in their power and influence to the common outcomes of natural selection, especially manifested when very many species belonging to different plant families, with very different and separate evolutionary histories, arrive at the same adaptation, something that characterizes many of the visual patterns and proposed adaptations described and discussed in this book. Many of the discussed visual defensive mechanisms are aimed at operating before the plants are damaged, i.e., to be their first line of defense. In this respect, I think that the name of the book by Ruxton et al. (2004) “Avoiding Attack” is an excellent phrase for the assembly of the best types of defensive tactics. While discussing anti-herbivory, I do remember, study and teach physiological/developmental aspects of some of the discussed coloration patterns, and I am fully aware of the simultaneous and diverse functions of many plant characters in addition to defense.


  • As the shortcomings of purely synthetic approaches to biochemical discovery and development are becoming more apparent, a renaissance of interest in the chemistry of natural products as sources for new compounds is occurring. A unique approach to natural products chemistry, Botanical Miracles: Chemistry of Plants That Changed the World relates applications of plant extracts to the historical progress of civilization. It focuses on selected plants from around the world, connecting their stories and properties to the development of modern marvels such as medicinal compounds, nutrition products, beverages, perfumes and organic pigments. Each chapter describes a particular group of plant extracts from various perspectives, including their chemistry, interest and value to man and historical background. The ends of the chapters pose challenging questions.


  • Floral Mimicry

    by Steven D. Johnson [Oxford University Press, Paperback]
    Price: $36.63 £27.31 EUR 37,00 EUR 38,98 EUR 36,08 EUR 39,36 CDN$ 44.95

  • This first definitive book on floral mimicry discusses the functions of visual, olfactory, and tactile signals, integrating them into a broader theory of organismal mimicry that will help guide future research in the field. It addresses the fundamental question of whether the evolutionary and ecological principles that were developed for protective mimicry in animals can also be applied to floral mimicry in plants. The book also deals with the functions of floral rewardlessness, a condition which often serves as a precursor to the evolution of mimicry in plant lineages. The authors pay particular attention to the increasing body of research on chemical cues: their molecular basis, their role in cognitive misclassification of flowers by pollinators, and their implications for plant speciation.


  • This beautifully illustrated oversized book gives the humble wall chart its due, reproducing more than two hundred of them in dazzling full color. Each wall chart is accompanied by captions that offer accessible information about the species featured, the scientists and botanical illustrators who created it, and any particularly interesting or innovative features the chart displays. And gardeners will be pleased to discover useful information about plant anatomy and morphology and species differences. We see lilies and tulips, gourds, aquatic plants, legumes, poisonous plants, and carnivorous plants, all presented in exquisite, larger-than-life detail.


  • Biological diversity, the variety of living organisms on Earth, is traditionally viewed as the diversity of taxa, and species in particular. However, other facets of diversity also need to be considered for a comprehensive understanding of evolutionary and ecological processes. This novel book demonstrates the advantages of adopting a functional approach to diversity in order to improve our understanding of the functioning of ecological systems and their components. The focus is on plants, which are major components of these systems, and for which the functional approach has led to major scientific advances over the last 20 years.


  • The oldest rose fossil was found in Colorado and dates to 35 million years ago. Marigolds, infamous for their ability to self-seed, are named for an Etruscan god who sprang from a ploughed field. And daffodils—an icon of spring—were introduced to Britain by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Every garden plant has an origination story, and Garden Flora, by noted garden designer Noel Kingsbury, shares them in a beautifully compelling way. This lushly illustrated survey of 133 of the most commonly grown plants explains where each plant came from and the journey it took into home gardens. Kingsbury tells intriguing tales of the most important plant hunters, breeders, and gardeners throughout history, and explores the unexpected ways plants have been used. Richly illustrated with an eclectic mix of new and historical photos, botanical art, and vintage seed packets and catalogs, Garden Flora is a must-have reference for every gardener and plant lover.


  • In Evolution Made to Order, Helen Anne Curry traces the history of America’s pursuit of tools that could speed up evolution. It is an immersive journey through the scientific and social worlds of midcentury genetics and plant breeding and a compelling exploration of American cultures of innovation. As Curry reveals, the creation of genetic technologies was deeply entangled with other areas of technological innovation—from electromechanical to chemical to nuclear. An important study of biological research and innovation in America, Evolution Made to Order provides vital historical context for current worldwide ethical and policy debates over genetic engineering.


  • Pollination Power

    by Heather Angel [University Of Chicago Press, Hardcover]
    Price: $24.89 £21.99 EUR 32,33 EUR 32,42 EUR 32,31 EUR 34,20 CDN$ 45.23

  • In stunning full-color images, employing the latest photographic techniques, esteemed photographer Heather Angel has captures the intimate interactions of plants with their floral pollinators. The plants come not only from Angel’s Surrey backyard and the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, but from twenty countries where Angel has travelled—from the rich floral kingdoms of the Cape of South Africa to the diversity of China and the Americas. The photos illustrate the varied techniques that flowers use to communicate with their pollinators. Some, for example, change color when the flower no longer has rewards to offer. Others control precisely when pollinators enter or leave by timing when they open and close their petals or when they emit a scent. This fascinating array of pollination repertoires crossfertilizes Angel’s photos with a descriptive text.


  • This book critically reviews advances in our understanding of the biology of vascular epiphytes since Andreas Schimper’s 1888 seminal work. It addresses all aspects of their biology, from anatomy and physiology to ecology and evolution, in the context of general biological principles. By comparing epiphytes with non-epiphytes throughout, it offers a valuable resource for researchers in plant sciences and related disciplines. A particular strength is the identification of research areas that have not received the attention they deserve, with conservation being a case in point. Scientists have tended to study pristine systems, but global developments call for information on epiphytes in human-disturbed systems and the response of epiphytes to global climate change.


  • Seeds: A Natural History

    by Carolyn Fry [University Of Chicago Press, Hardcover]
    Price: $21.24 £19.01 EUR 31,52 EUR 26,85 EUR 25,29 EUR 31,11 CDN$ 36.11

  • With Seeds, Carolyn Fry offers a celebration of these vital but unassuming packages of life. She begins with a sweeping tour through human history, designed to help us understand why we should appreciate and respect these floral parcels. Wheat, corn, and rice, she reminds us, supply the foundations of meals eaten by people around the world. Countless medicines, oils, clothing materials, and building supplies are available only because of the versatility and variety of seed-bearing plants. Fry then provides a comprehensive history of the evolution of seeds, explaining the myriad ways that they have adapted, survived, and thrived across the globe. Delving deeper into the science of seeds, she reveals the fascinating processes of dormancy, reproduction, germination, and dispersal, and showcases the estimable work conservationists are doing today to gather and bank seeds in order to prevent species from going extinct.


  • Plant Variation and Evolution

    by Dr David Briggs [Cambridge University Press, Paperback]
    Price: $45.01 £31.18 EUR 48,46 EUR 44,90 EUR 42,12 EUR 41,76 CDN$ 59.91

  • We are in the midst of a biological revolution. Molecular tools are now providing new means of critically testing hypotheses and models of microevolution in populations of wild, cultivated, weedy and feral plants. They are also offering the opportunity for significant progress in the investigation of long-term evolution of flowering plants, as part of molecular phylogenetic studies of the Tree of Life. This long-awaited fourth edition, fully revised by David Briggs, reflects new insights provided by molecular investigations and advances in computer science. Briggs considers the implications of these for our understanding of the evolution of flowering plants, as well as the potential for future advances. Numerous new sections on important topics such as the evolutionary impact of human activities, taxonomic challenges, gene flow and distribution, hybridisation, speciation and extinction, conservation and the molecular genetic basis of breeding systems will ensure that this remains a classic text for both undergraduate and graduate students in the field.


  • Harsh environments found around the world harbor unique organisms adapted to extreme ranges in climatic, edaphic, and other environmental variables. Whether they occur in extreme climates such as alpine summits or inland deserts, in habitats frequently disturbed by fire or floods, or on edaphic islands created by unique geologies or anthropogenic contamination, the adaptations demonstrated by organisms found in such environments shed light on basic and applied aspects of ecology and evolution. This volume brings together current research on plants, fungi and microbes from harsh environments to reveal underlying patterns and common themes of these especially challenging habitats.Topics include the role of bedrock geochemistry and soil evolutionary processes in generating extreme habitats; the biology, ecology, and evolution of non-vascular and vascular plants, lichens, herbivores and pathogens, mycorrhizal fungi, and other beneficial microbes found in extreme environments. Habitats discussed in the book include alpine and arctic settings, fire-prone Mediterranean climates, serpentine outcrops, gypsum soils, metal-rich mine tailings, and saline soils. In addition to summarizing current research, we highlight new tools and emerging techniques in high-throughput phenotyping, genomics, and phylogenetics that are being used to develop our understanding of evolution in harsh environments. We also emphasize results gained from classical ecological approaches which have allowed us to examine adaptation to and evolution in harsh environments. In addition to discussing basic research, we cover applied work focusing on the threats posed by climate change and other anthropogenic impacts as well as efforts to restore and protect extreme habitats and the unique organisms they harbor. Finally, we discuss the uses of plant species found in extreme environments for agriculture and biotechnology, including the relatively new fields of phytoremediation and phytomining. The work highlighted in this volume demonstrates what these species and their environments have taught us about ecological and evolutionary theory, conservation, and restoration: knowledge that can be applied well beyond the habitats and species described in this book.


  • This treasury features a full-color exploration of our most important and interesting plants; facsimiles of rarely seen letters, maps, and journals from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and forty beautifully reproduced, frameable prints. Together they offer a fascinating look at the world of plant hunting and the cultivation of our knowledge about the plant world.


  • The Western Mediterranean is home to more than 10,000 plant species, which makes it one of the most important regions in the world for biodiversity. This book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date guide to Western Mediterranean wildflowers, covering southern Europe from the Portuguese Algarve to Italy, and Morocco to Tunisia in North Africa, along with all the islands in between. It features 2,500 plants, and its more than 800 line drawings and color photographs make it the ideal companion for field identification.


  • R. Ford Denison shows how both biotechnology and traditional plant breeding can use Darwinian insights to identify promising routes for crop genetic improvement and avoid costly dead ends. Denison explains why plant traits that have been genetically optimized by individual selection–such as photosynthesis and drought tolerance–are bad candidates for genetic improvement. Traits like plant height and leaf angle, which determine the collective performance of plant communities, offer more room for improvement. Agriculturalists can also benefit from more sophisticated comparisons among natural communities and from the study of wild species in the landscapes where they evolved.


  • A rich, sweeping, and wonderfully readable work of botanical history, The Cabaret of Plants explores dozens of plant species that for millennia have challenged our imaginations, awoken our wonder, and upturned our ideas about history, science, beauty, and belief. Going back to the beginnings of human history, Mabey shows how flowers, trees, and plants have been central to human experience not just as sources of food and medicine but as objects of worship, actors in creation myths, and symbols of war and peace, life and death.


  • Tapping such wide-ranging topics as genetics, gene regulatory networks, phenotype mapping, and multicellularity, as well as paleobotany, Karl J. Niklas’s Plant Evolution offers fresh insight into these differences. Following up on his landmark book The Evolutionary Biology of Plants—in which he drew on cutting-edge computer simulations that used plants as models to illuminate key evolutionary theories—Niklas incorporates data from more than a decade of new research in the flourishing field of molecular biology, conveying not only why the study of evolution is so important, but also why the study of plants is essential to our understanding of evolutionary processes. Niklas shows us that investigating the intricacies of plant development, the diversification of early vascular land plants, and larger patterns in plant evolution is not just a botanical pursuit: it is vital to our comprehension of the history of all life on this green planet.