Friday, February 17, 2012

Challenge Your Perception Of Plants

There are some very interesting books out there about plants and our interactions with them.  Joe and I have been trying to keep up a good reading list on this theme and I wanted to share some books we think would be of interest to people with a limited background in the sciences but with an interest in the subject.  Here are a few selections if you have the curiosity and a mind open to perceiving plants in new ways:

Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire is a great read for just about anyone interested in reading about interesting things, though it just so happens to deal with relationships between plants and people.  In a very accessible writing style, Pollan explores the reciprocal relationship between people and four notable domesticated plants: the apple, tulip, potato, and marijuana.  He posits that these four plants have been domesticated to satisfy four basic human desires: sweetness, beauty, control, and intoxication, respectively.  He emphasizes the fact that although we most often view ourselves as using plants for our own benefit, we could easily flip things around to consider if and how plants, through their attractive characteristics, have domesticated us and "use" us for their survival and benefit.  Pollan weaves extremely interesting history and anecdotes throughout the book, making it as entertaining as it is fascinating.  One of my favorite books in any subject area.

Matthew Hall's Plants as Persons is, as the subtitle indicates, a work exploring "philosophical botany."  It has the feel of a textbook more than a novel, so you have to be really interested in the subject to make it through all the pages.  Hall delves into historical aspects of philosophy to argue why plants are considered by most people to be non-sentient organisms, then presents reasons we should not be too hasty in dismissing the possibility that plants are sentient.  The book will certainly make you re-evaluate your relationship with the plants around you, challenging you to see them as individuals who have interactions and relationships with the world around them much like other organisms, only in different ways.

Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird's The Secret Life of Plants is a seemingly earth-shattering work.  I can remember reading this book for fun back in my early years at college and I felt like the natural world as I knew it was being turned upside-down.  Tompkins and Bird present plants as being extremely advanced in terms of sensory perception, emotion and spirituality (and even more advanced than humans in areas like ESP).  If you had to classify this book, it would probably fall under "metaphysical botany."  You have to take this book with a few grains of salt and know that many of the experiments in the book have not been replicated with enough consistency to be considered scientifically valid (there is even a Mythbusters episode devoted to the advanced plant perception described in the book - see Wikipedia's entry on paranormal plant perception).  STILL, the book is incredibly fascinating and it leaves you thinking that plants just might have some incredible capacities we have yet to uncover or fully appreciate, and that the people discussed in this book might have found clues to some of these capacities.  A very enthralling, thought-provoking work that will no doubt lead you to do some of your own research into the subjects and experiments discussed in the book.

All three of these books are available in our gift shop just in case you want to do some ethnobotanical reading whilst in our ethnobotanical gardens during your stay!  If you do end up reading one of these books, either at Kona Kai or at home, I would love to hear what you think.  Several of these topics are also covered in my tour, especially for guests who have already taken the first, "introductory" tour.  Even if you are just passing through and can't stay overnight, tours are open to the public as well, by appointment - just call Tracey or Denise on the front desk at (305) 852-7200 to reserve a spot.

Hope to see you soon!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director