The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination

The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0393239977

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"Highly entertaining…Without being sentimental about it, Mr. Mabey gets us to look at life from the plants' point of view. His science is sound, he's witty, and his language is engaging." ―Constance Casey, New York Times

The Cabaret of Plants is a masterful, globe-trotting exploration of the relationship between humans and the kingdom of plants by the renowned naturalist Richard Mabey.

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.

Writing in a celebrated style that the Economist calls “delightful and casually learned,” Mabey takes readers from the Himalayas to Madagascar to the Amazon to our own backyards. He ranges through the work of writers, artists, and scientists such as da Vinci, Keats, Darwin, and van Gogh and across nearly 40,000 years of human history: Ice Age images of plant life in ancient cave art and the earliest representations of the Garden of Eden; Newton’s apple and gravity, Priestley’s sprig of mint and photosynthesis, and Wordsworth’s daffodils; the history of cultivated plants such as maize, ginseng, and cotton; and the ways the sturdy oak became the symbol of British nationhood and the giant sequoia came to epitomize the spirit of America.

Complemented by dozens of full-color illustrations, The Cabaret of Plants is the magnum opus of a great naturalist and an extraordinary exploration of the deeply interwined history of humans and the natural world.

35 color illustrations

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two pollen masses hanging from the roof of the tunnel, which, on contact, instantly disengage from the orchid and become attached to the bee. It will be hours or days after the hapless bee and his backpack have emerged before he is attracted by another bucket orchid flower – and will then go through precisely the same ordeal, the insect equivalent of Theseus’s trials in the Minotaur’s maze. Except that this time the stigma – which lie in front of the pollen sacs in the escape tunnel – snatch the

pollen backpack, the orchid is fertilised, and the male bee, once dried out and sober, is able to use the aphrodisiac perfume attached to his legs as part of his elaborate display flight. The South American Catasetum denticulatum doesn’t even bother with nectarous come-ons. When a bee lands on the lip, it fires a small, winged, cupid’s dart from overhead, a pollen arrow, which sticks to the bee’s back with a quick-drying glue and remains there until the bee visits another flower. The

with flowers as frilly as barn-dance frocks, hoedowned in throngs in the sedge fens. One day in late June I went to a favourite and orchid-rich haunt in the Little Ouse floodplain. Market Weston Fen displays itself like a spontaneous wild version of the ‘garden rooms’ template. You walk over a pasture towards a narrow gap in a row of willows and gradually, as you approach the reed-fringed bridge, the fen opens out in front of you. The right-hand section is usually the richest, with half a dozen

discovered magical ‘fluid’ – was involved. John Freke, an English surgeon-scientist, assumed that ‘the nature of the sensitive plant is to have more of this fluid in it than there is in any other plants or thing’. He thought that the plant was charged with static electricity, and that touching the leaves earthed and discharged it, causing the leaves to hang ‘in a languid state’. ‘Emma Hamilton [Admiral Nelson’s mistress] in an attitude towards a mimosa plant, causing it to demonstrate

Calif.: Left Coast Press, 2010. p. 133  ‘So too are the group of stories’: Claude Lévi-Strauss, From Honey to Ashes, 1966, trans. John George and Doreen Weightman, London: Cape, 1973. For more maize origin myths see also his The Raw and the Cooked, 1964, trans. John George and Doreen Weightman, first UK edn London: Cape, 1970. p. 136  ‘These early maize ears’: Maize evolution: see Stoller et al., Histories of Maize, op. cit.; Anderson, Plants, Man and Life, op cit. See also Oliver Sacks, Oaxaca

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