When Plants Took Over the Planet

When Plants Took Over the Planet
Chris Thorogood, illustrated by Amy Grimes

Reputed botanist and field guide writer, Chris Thorogood presents a clear, concise evolutionary history of plants from the very earliest green alga called a charophyte that first appeared around 500 million years ago.

From those minute algae, plants moved onto land some 30 million years later, the first being mosses, liverworts and hornworts.Readers can then follow that land journey through various historic periods (a time line is given).

It’s amazing to think that some of the plants found millions of years ago in prehistoric forests are still found today some equisetum species for instance, one of which I frequently see on walks in the part of Gloucestershire where I currently live. Who’d have thought they’re now what’s termed ‘living fossils’.

Every spread is full of fascinating information on various plant groups and species; we discover when seed plants emerged – those that forever transformed the planet – and again some of these gymnosperms are still around today, the ginkgo (or maidenhair tree) being one. I was astonished to read that such forms existed well before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

There’s an explanation of the difference between moncots

and dicots (as I was taught to call them) but now referred to as eudicots; a look at powerful medicinal plants that can heal ailments, boost health and flavour food and drinks, and some examples of carnivorous plants.

Most people know that plants are crucial to our existence but nonetheless many species are in danger of extinction and the author gives a timely warning about the effects of human damage. It’s still not too late and the final spread offers some ways everybody can play a part in preserving the rich diversity of plant life.

With Amy Grimes’ bold, bright illustrations thoughtfully arranged around the detailed factual information, this is a superbly presented book as well as a fascinating and exciting one for individuals or class collections.

Perfectly Peculiar Plants

Perfectly Peculiar Plants
Chris Thorogood and Catell Ronca
Words & Pictures

Books about animals seem to drop into my post box in relatively large numbers, not so ones featuring plants. It’s fantastic then, to see botanist Chris Thorogood’s title, superbly illustrated in vibrant style by Catell Ronca, which goes just a small way towards redressing the balance.

After all, without plants, where would we animals be? Despite the fact that some of those featured herein actually devour creatures from the animal kingdom we’re dependent on plants for oxygen and need them for food.

In addition to insectivorous plants, some species appearing here make use of insects in ingenious ways, often for pollination or seed dispersal, while others steal their food from the roots or stems of other plants. Still others – the Queen of the Night Cactus being one – absorb nutrients from bird poo.

Another poo feeder (animal faeces in this instance) is the tree shrew toilet pitcher found in Borneo.

I was amazed to learn that Entada gigas, the sea bean has large brown seeds that can sometimes travel across oceans for thousands of miles before they reach a place to germinate.

Between the pages featuring the astonishing plants themselves are more general spreads introduced by questions such as ‘How do plants get energy?’ and ‘Can plants move?’ Each of these sets the scene for the showcasing of individual species; and it’s great to see the final ‘Protecting plants’ spread though perhaps some information could have been included for how those motivated by the author’s ‘they all deserve a place on planet Earth’, might help towards protecting threatened habitats or species.