Monday, May 27, 2024
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The Incredible Journey of Plants

The Incredible Journey of Plants. Courtesy Other Press.

You may never look at plants the same after you read Stefano Mancuso‘s new book, The Incredible Journey of Plants. The University of Florence professor is one of the world’s leading authorities in plant neurobiology, which explores signaling and communication at all levels of biological organization.

If you think about it, plants are everywhere, but how did they get there? Do they communicate, and how? Do they have a social life? Are they immobile, as we generally perceive them to be?

Mancuso presents fascinating stories of plant migration that reveal unexpected connections between nature and culture. He does this via a series of well-written tales centered around specific cases.

My favorite is the story of the coconut palm tree and its mysterious journey from its native Asia to far flung places around the Earth. Did it get an assist from humans? Did the seeds fall into the ocean and somehow navigate themselves to distant shores? Did it even originate in Asia, or does it really come from the Americas? We don’t know.

Mancuso weaves in engaging sidebars that had me chuckling. Keeping with the coconut theme, he reveals that there was a community of coconut aficionados so enamored with the tropical nut that they thought eating only coconuts would make them immortal. Sadly, the nutritional deficiences provided by a coconut-ony diet weakened and killed their cult leader, ending the 18-year glorious run of the world’s only coconutarian following.

In other chapters, Mancuso focuses on how plants convince animals to transport them around the world, and how some plants need particular animals to spread; how they have been able to grow in places so inaccessible and inhospitable as to remain isolated; how they resisted the atomic bomb and the Chernobyl disaster; how they are able to bring life to sterile islands; how they can travel through the ages, as they sail around the world.

It’s a romp through time from a plant’s perspective, as much a history lesson as it is a biology lesson, and it leaves the reader with a greater appreciation for the humble vegetable species and its impact on, and interconnectedness with, our own.

More about The Incredible Journey of Plants at

More about Stefano Mancuso at

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