the little book that could: ‘botany for gardeners’
COULD IT BE? TWENTY YEARS? WITH MY VINTAGE REVIEW still the lead blurb on the opening page? And 200,000+ copies in print? Yup, yup, and yup: Brian Capon’s masterpiece, “Botany for Gardeners,” was reissued recently, and my glowing praise (written when I was garden editor at “Newsday” newspaper) still applies: “Here is a magical little book for anyone wanting to know the why of gardening’s many miracles.” I believe that this is an essential reference for every gardener—and every young person who otherwise won’t learn the botanical sciences and miss out on a whole lot of life–so I’m offering you a chance to win one of two copies I’m giving away:
The English-born Capon, a doctor of botany from the University of Chicago who went on to be a professor at California State University, Los Angeles for 30 years, has since retired, leaving time for the revamping of “Botany for Gardeners,” the bestselling title for its publisher, Timber Press, in the U.S. and England.
Not only did Capon write it; he illustrated it, too, and even took the plant photographs that further bring the text to life. Capon is also a lifelong gardener, though images of his own place never appear in the pages.
“Botany for Gardeners” was born as a textbook out of lecture notes for a botany class Capon taught for many years to non-science students, so it’s thorough—but not the kind of dense, full-fledged botany text that will scare you away.
In fact (even 20 years later), it just keeps drawing me back in, especially for tidbits like these. Did you know:
- That litmus, the dye used to indicate acidity and alkalinity, is extracted from a lichen? (And another lichen fact: A lichen is a symbiotic reaction between fungus and algae. Who knew?)
- That the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), North America’s tallest cactus species, can live 150 years?
- That the branch of a tree is buried deep in the tree’s trunk—not some appendage stuck on merely from the bark outward. Knots in lumber are actually slices through the bases of a branch.
- That there are about 400,000 species of plants—and of those about 150,000 don’t flower.
- That camouflage isn’t just for animals, or the military: Even seeds use it. The color, size and thickness of the covering of many seeds serves to protect them from predation (read: eating by a bird or mouse, for instance). I just never thought of a seed needing to remain safe from predation but yes, of course.
- What the word is for the oozing that happens from the stump when a herbaceous stem is severed, or that you sometimes see exuding from leaf margins? It’s called guttation, and is caused by root pressure. (I just love this word, now that I know it.)
- That the tallest tree, at 379.1 feet, is a California coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens?
Of course, “Botany for Gardeners” is far more than mere fun tidbits like those. Capon thoroughly covers the bigger picture of how plants work, starting from the cellular level and moving all the way through subjects as complex as reproduction and genetics—each in an understandable manner.
For this gardener, the “why’s” that I’ve been gleaning from Capon all these years certainly have made looking out the window or working in the yard even more miraculous that the mere sight and scents alone ever could have. I highly recommend jumping into botany for gardeners, Capon-style.
The Giveaway Details:
To win one of two copies of “Botany for Gardeners” that I bought to share with you:
Simply comment below by telling us something you think of as a botanical miracle, whether you know the “why” behind it or not. I’ll pick two random winners on Friday, July 30, at noon, when entries will close.