Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium

Image of Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium
Release Date: 
July 27, 2017
Oxford University Press
Reviewed by: 

Walter S. Judd, professor emeritus from the University of Florida's Biology Department, would rescue us from being "plant blind." Dr. Judd and his illustrator son, Graham, virtually move mountains to stave off this condition. 

Two familiar works by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, serve as catalysts for the mission. In exacting fashion, the Judds comb through Tolkien's Middle-Earth "legendarium," the imaginary setting for Tolkien's epics.

The majority of the writing and illustrations dwell in the terrain between fact and fancy. From buttercups to mugwort, to grapes to varying roses to dandelions—141 species in total—the Judds squire us around Tolkien's turf. 

One species, "tea," is an example of the Judd/Tolkien treatment. Tea plants are featured in The Hobbit. This, as Dr. Judd points out, is an anachronism, given that Tolkien set his stories in antiquity, vastly pre-dating actual tea's 17th century arrival in England. Tolkien and subsequent editors had a chance to update the reference to tea. They chose to keep it as is.

Entwined among the descriptions of actual plants, in addition to etymology, is reference to plant lore that sprang from Tolkien's own fertile imagination. (Such fare are labeled "Unique to J. R. R. Tolkien's Legendarium.")

Walter Judd lifts lovely passages from Tolkien's prose to elucidate on different plant species. There is helpful basic botany to further offset "plant blindness." There are occasional offshoots from the Judd format. An example is an interesting construct of logic, demonstrating that there is no conflict between evolution and religious belief. 

The book, it must be said, is a virtual thicket of annotations. Therefore, it's advisable to keep both Tolkien books at hand.

Graham Judd's rich, black and white illustrations are intriguing combinations or botanical likenesses and psychological commentary.

Walter Judd's conclusion to the book is elemental. "Tolkien's writings help us to regain a clear view of the natural world—including its green plants.