A Garden of Marvels: The Discovery that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work
“. . . the author unravels the secrets of how plants grow in her quest to understand the fundamentals of botany and transform herself into a better gardener in the process.”
In a mammal biased world, it’s no small challenge to make plants sexy.
But award winning science and history writer Ruth Kassinger does just that in her latest work A Garden of Marvels, The Discovery that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of the Way Plants Work. In this impressive new work, the author unravels the secrets of how plants grow in her quest to understand the fundamentals of botany and transform herself into a better gardener in the process.
Following in the footsteps of early naturalists who discovered that flowers have sex, roots choose their food, leaves eat air, and hormones make morning glories climb fence posts, Kassinger successfully transfers her newfound knowledge to her own gardening practices both indoors and outdoors.
A Garden of Marvels is easy to navigate with sections divided up into easy to comprehend sections: Inside a Plant, Roots, Leaves, and Flowers. Kassinger’s illuminating chapters such as The Way of All Water, The Tenacity of Trees, and Who Needs Romeo? These topics entertain, inspire, and educate at every turn. Sex in the Garden (a personal favorite) elucidates for those of us who cut biology class in high school that, flowers of all kinds—white daisies, ivory Queen Anne’s lace and lavender lupines are actually just simply “all about sex.”
“Their pretty petals and delicate scents are the come hither signal to insects, an invitation to sample the sweet rewards inside” describes Kassinger eloquently; in Cheap Sex Kassinger details Darwin’s lesser known studies of botany following his famous publication of On the Origin of Species. Dispersed throughout each chapter are lovely black and white illustrations of mythical plants, a chloroplast, the Venus flytrap and experimentations in botany as an added bonus (and aimed at the more visual reader no doubt).
Delving into mysteries such as how plants gather food from soil, Kassinger takes the reader on a mental journey across time periods ranging from prehistoric times, the downfall of ancient Mesopotamia, Greek, Roman, Mayan, and Incan Empires to present day American grasslands, from Asia to Europe in her chapters on the history of botany.
A Garden of Marvels offers a fascinating look at the biology of plants, trees, and flowers while allowing the reader an educational experience and escape into the otherworldly realm of science and history. Kassinger physically travels across the United States, visiting modern gardens, farms, and labs to discover the science behind extraordinary plants, a truly black petunia, a biofuel grass that grows 12 feet tall, prize-winning giant pumpkins and the world’s only photosynthesizing animal. She relevantly compares the benefits of perennial crops to annuals in her visit to the Land Institute in Kansas and the death of suburban trees.
Throughout Kassinger’s prose is fast moving and appropriate to a variety of readers of all educational backgrounds and tastes, appealing effortlessly to the armchair naturalist, the adventure inclined, and many a nonfiction enthusiast. The book will no doubt be highly engaging for nature and gardening enthusiasts.
Though rich in informational value, A Garden of Marvels is just plain humorous and filled with personal details and anecdotes. A self-described humanities person, Kassinger’s new passion for botany is contagious. She states eloquently “I encountered nothing more interesting than the series of discoveries that revealed the elegant workings of photosynthesis, the engine of nearly all terrestrial life. And by the way, photosynthesis.”
A Garden of Marvels imparts a simple truth: that plants in all their glory impact every aspect of our everyday lives—through food, clean air, vaccinations (think smallpox) and the mental boost their beauty provides all who gaze upon them.