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The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants

Words by
February 21, 2017
If we were to ever be so naive as to judge a book by its cover, there’s no doubt this one would top the charts. The title is catchy and the vibrant images of we’re-not-quite-sure-what are set off from the stark black background, leaving any bookshelf browser intrigued. Even so, published in 2009 (softcover in 2012), it has taken awhile for this title to end up on our desks, despite being the serious plant lovers that we are.

In fact, the shocking images and engaging title are a carefully planned ploy from authors Wolfgang Stuppy, Madeline Harley and Rob Kesseler who know full well that the minute details of plant life are sometimes too tedious to attract the average reader. The two scientists and artist (respectively) previously collaborated on the creation of three books focusing on the details of plant life and their reproduction through pollen, seeds and fruits. The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants is a visually driven compilation that takes the best of those detailed books and puts them into a single edition in an attempt to encourage engagement with a wider public audience.
The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants
What’s inside the mysterious cover? Pollen, seeds, and fruit: down to the very last detail. Using scanning electron microscopy to produce precise images of plants, Kesseler enhances what would be black and white stills with surreal colours, creating a microscopic world of wonder. In the introduction, the authors point out that the “mesmerising images lie somewhere between science and symbolism, sensual markers inviting further contact with unseen miracles of the natural world.”

While the graphics dazzle, delight and sometimes haunt (seeing scary pollinators like bats and rodents up close isn’t the most appealing), the text is dry and informational. Stuppy, a seed morphologist, and Harley, a palynologist (go ahead and Google it), both work for the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. While they do their best to make the intricate details of plant survival accessible to the average reader, there’s a certain amount of concentration required to digest all the knowledge packed into this book.
What could pass as just a beautiful coffee table book is actually filled with information on how plants have survived and evolved over the past six hundred million years and the reproductive capacities that allow them to prosper without moving their roots.
What could pass as just a beautiful coffee table book is actually filled with information on how plants have survived and evolved over the past six hundred million years and the reproductive capacities that allow them to prosper without moving their roots. When all is said and done, the details of pollen, seeds and fruit come down to plant sex. “Perhaps without realizing what is going on, we enjoy watching some of the ways in which plants conduct their most private affairs: flowers are pleasing to the eye and often to the nose as well, and the fruits that follow bring pleasure to our palate,” point out the authors. Afterall, like most things in nature, plants are just trying to stay alive.

A quick skim will stimulate the imagination and provide a treasure trove of information on the tactics plants take to evolve and survive. The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants reminds us that there are no accidents in nature, every form is functional.
The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants
Publisher: Firefly Books (2012)
Authors: Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler, Madeline Harley
Language: English
Published in: Canada