The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination
In Richard Mabey's characteristically lyrical and informative tone, The Cabaret of Plants explores plant species which have challenged our imaginations, awoken that cliched but real human emotion of wonder, and upturned our ideas about history, science, beauty and belief.
Picked from every walk of life, they encompass crops, weeds, medicines, religious gathering-places and a water lily named after a queen. Beginning with pagan cults and creation myths, the cultural significance of plants has burst upwards, sprouting into forms as diverse as the panacea (the cure-all plant ginseng, a single root of which can cost up to $10,000), Newton's apple, the African 'vegetable elephant' or boabab, whose swollen trunks store thousands of litres of water - and the mystical, night-flowering Amazonian cactus, the moonflower.
From Ice Age artists, to the Romantic poets, via colonialism and the nineteenth century botanical mania of empire, Mabey concludes his magnum opus with the latest revelations of possible 'plant intelligence' in this extraordinary collection of encounters between plants and people.
A Mabey magnum opus:'Mabey's finest, an eclectic world-roaming collection of stories ... lacing colour, intimacy and emotional texture around the scaffold of hard facts.' (Spectator)
Enraptured, visionary, witty and erudite Daily Telegraph His language is as rich as the flora he describes ... he makes his case utterly convincingly Times A happy tangle of beautiful stories and studies from a career that has stepped between science and poetry ... We are lucky to have him. Observer One of this century's most influential passages of natural history writing ... meticulously detailed and rhapsodically narrated ... a magnificent book. -- Mark Griffiths Country Life A treat not to miss ... the prose is so gorgeous it makes you want to clap -- Dominic Couzens BBC Countryfile The finest current flowering of a great British tradition ... it makes you feel that your home is much bigger and stranger than you ever imagined and it makes you glad -- no, astounded -- to be alive. The Sunday Times Mr Mabey is the kind of person you wish you had with you on every country walk, identifying, explaining, deducing, drawing on deep knowledge lightly worn. Country Life Wonderfully thought-provoking... of all his 30-plus books this is surely among his finest, an eclectic world-roaming collection of stories... lacing colour, intimacy and emotional texture around the scaffold of hard facts. The Spectator Mabey is on eloquent form in this portrayal of plants not as dully functional components of natural capital -- a "biological proletariat" -- but as unruly, autonomous and endlessly fascinating. This engaging scientific and cultural tour takes in ice-age engravings of plant forms; ancients and giants such as bristlecone pines and baobabs; the vast biodiversity of maize (corn); and, as touched on by plant scientist Ian Baldwin (Nature 522, 282-283; 2015), Erasmus Darwin's discovery of "irritability" in Mimosa pudica more than 200 years ago. -- Andrew Jermy Nature Microbiology