Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites

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Marietta Loehrlein Western Illinois University Macomb, IL

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Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries, and Miracles of My Garden Favorites. Ken Druse. 2008. Clarkson/Potter Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. 288 pages, with illustrations, $50.00, hardcover. ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-9783-8.

It was the title of the book, Planthropology, that caught my attention first. At the time, I had been searching for books that examined the interface between plants and humans. The description of this book mentioned plant explorers and the “secret stories of plants since ancient times.” This content sounded like just what I was looking for. I have other books about plant explorers, plant introductions, common names of plants, and plant uses that range from culinary to medicinal to ornamental. This book addresses all of those areas and touches on many other topics, such as pressing flowers, fragrance, native pollinators, ink from oak galls, and orchid reproduction, to name only a few. I am not suggesting that this book should replace those other books. It is not comprehensive in its treatment of its subjects. Yet, it covers a vast amount of information, and in a manner that is particularly accessible to plant lovers regardless of their background or scientific training. The author uses correct botanical terminology in explaining terms, such as interspecific and intergeneric hybrids.

Mr. Druse is not new to the business of writing. He is an avid gardener, a garden writer and speaker. His previous book, The Passion for Gardening, earned “Best Book of the Year” from the American Horticultural Society, and “Award of the Year” from the Garden Writers Association of America. This book has four sections: Discovery, Attractions, Elegant Design, and Growing Forward. The author takes his readers on a tour from Arisaema to Wardian cases. He discusses plant explorers like Joseph Banks, David Douglas, and Dr. Philipp von Siebold. He shares stories about plant names and the naming of plants, adding both history and purely modern references, such as a movie in which James Bond suffers from digitalis poisoning.

In the section titled Attractions, Mr. Druse begins by discussing bumblebees, with a natural progression into hybrids and a wonderful explanation of breeding efforts of Echinacea by James Ault of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Part Three, Elegant Design, explores the patterns of flowers, Fibonacci numbers, “The Golden Mean,” and then veers into coverage on flowers in art. Finally, in Part Four: Growing Forward, he discusses shrubs and climbers, including an intriguing discussion of deer and gardens, another on pruning hydrangeas, and yet another on growing trees from seed.

What this information all adds up to is a journey into the world of plants that is a delight to read, is broad in scope, and provides detailed explanations of many different topics. For an immense addition to its value, all of this text is accompanied by page after page of glossy color photographs. While the cost and format of the book suggest “coffee table book,” it should not be overlooked for its engaging text. It would serve well as a gift – to a friend or to one's self.

Marietta LoehrleinWestern Illinois University Macomb, IL

Marietta Loehrlein Western Illinois University Macomb, IL

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