World of Plants – Stories of Survival by Alexandra Davey – A wonderful book of one hundred very special plants from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

World of Plants  – Stories of Survival by Alexandra Davey

This stunning book is produced by The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and is actually a guide to one hundred plants that are threatened in the wild to varying degrees. Each plant has its own story of survival in a world where forty percent of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction. The list of reasons why these and other species are at risk is staggering: climate change, the destruction of habitats, the careless introduction of pathogens and pests, the extinction of seed distributing species, disease and of course human activity. 

It is the story of the discovery and conserving of plants ranging from mosses to the largest tree, the largest living thing on earth. It gives stories of essential biodiversity, where plants contribute to a delicate ecosystem that is of benefit to humanity as well as representing the balance of species across the world. 

The book represents the collection of the four gardens in Scotland, in that it identifies where the plants are kept in each of the establishments. As the climate and other conditions range from the very warm (thanks to the gulf stream) to the more challenging temperature range, the location of the plants is carefully considered; indeed some were present when the gardens were acquired. The growth of the rare species is therefore facilitated and encouraged in the pure form which is important when hybrids have emerged in the wild. It means that the plants can be studied for their exact biology, conserved, and that seeds and cuttings can be transferred to other locations. The author has pointed out how individuals, communities and organisations and even governments have worked together to make this scheme possible, to pull species back from the brink of extinction. Not everything has been straightforward, some specimens have been lost which makes those that survive extra precious. 

This book is a very beautiful collection of photographs of a number of special plants. The hundred selected have been chosen for their resilience and survival story; they range from the tropical to those local to Scotland. While these exact species are rare, even the non-expert can see the type of plants they represent, as the photographs are simply wonderful close-ups of the most significant parts of each plant. Indeed in the Acknowledgements section mentions “Lynsey Wilson for her many wonderful photographs  and patience with our demands for even better ones”. They are simply wonderful renditions of each specimen. Each entry shows symbols detailing how endangered they are, ranging from vulnerable to extinct in the wild. It deals the places where they are still present in the wild, the attempts to conserve them and increase the population, and the holdings in the botanical gardens. It points out which garden they are present in, and where it might be possible to see them, including looking over a bridge! The information also includes where they are important to humans, as the basis of coffee, medicines, traditional ritualistic practices and so on. 

This book is an impressive artifact in its own right, with incredibly high production values in its hardback format and high definition pictures. Even for a non expert it is very approachable and written in a lively fashion.There is an index to the scientific names to permit further studies, and is generally a book to treasure. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who is interested in the wide variety of plants in our world, and all the impressive attempts to preserve them, as well as a lovely addition to one’s own collection of plant studies. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book. #AD