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Plantology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Plants

Michael Elsohn Ross
Chicago Review Press
116 pp.
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Go outside and look around. Unless your surroundings are buried in snow, you will likely see green leaves, budding flowers, and tough weeds. But have you ever stopped to compare leaf shapes, count the number of petals, or see if a taproot is hidden underground? Such activities are just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce!) when it comes to the experiments and observations suggested in Plantology.

Starting with the simple question “what is a plant?” this book delves into the vast and often surprising diversity of the kingdom Plantae. Each chapter covers an aspect of plant structure and function, laying out general principles but also offering surprising examples of when things get weird. Did you know that some orchids trap bees inside their flowers in order to glue pollen to them? Or that some plants do not have leaves at all and instead extract energy from fungi through their roots? These facts collectively emphasize that every plant is worth a careful look, as millions of years of adaptation have left nearly every evolutionary route explored and few rules unbroken.

Aside from the information conveyed in the diagrams and (quite complex) descriptions and anecdotes, this book offers a simple imperative for budding naturalists: Go outside and document everything you see. Colored pencils, a nature journal, and a hand lens would make great accompaniments for this book, as they are needed for many of the activities. Most of the exercises require little more than this equipment, time, and attention, although there are a few ideas for those with access to a garden plot and a kitchen. The final chapter offers a brief introduction to how humans use plants as crops and, if young readers are hooked on plants by then, some career advice.

About the author

The reviewer is an associate editor at Science.