“Plant: Exploring the Botanical World” Is A Time Capsule of Words and Images

In a world where cactus-lovers and farmers market-goers reign supreme, Plant: Exploring the Botanical World will educate, illuminate, and grip even the most abstinent of plant lovers following its release on September 26th, 2016. As the latest botanical release by Phaidon Press, Plant is geared at articulating a question that humans have grappled with since what feels like the beginning of time: What is the history of our human fascination with plants, and why is that relationship so compelling?

By deconstructing human beings’ relationship with color, shape, and the documentation of flowers– a practice that dates back 5,000 years— Plant reflects on culture and our own present understanding of all that surrounds the human race in nature. “At the heart of all botanical art is the intention to document a plant’s appearance: to immortalize it by reproducing its essential characteristics,” Dr. James Compton, botanist and plant collector, writes in the book’s introduction. “The way in which artists set out to achieve this common purpose, however, has varied widely in both form and approach.”

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Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, Phaidon 2016

As we are ushered through millennias via 300 pioneering botanical images (including those from a time when plants were seen as a gift from the gods), Plant recounts the eras when olive leaves graced the heads of Olympians, botany was seen as the only form of medicine, and tulips caused the first stock-market bubble in Europe– all the while depicting the (metaphorical) landscape of plants throughout history in a moving, accessible homage of words and pictures.

“By deconstructing human beings’ relationship with color, shape, and the documentation of flowers, Plant reflects on culture and our own present understanding of all that surrounds the human race in nature.”

Iwasaki Tsunemasa’s “heavily stylized opium poppy flowers” comes from a famous Japanese encyclopedia of plants called Honzō zufu, while Charles Darwin’s orchid and Steven N. Meyers x-ray photograph of foxglove flowers in a “diaphanously clad miniature corps de ballet swing in unison”, are among some of the more impressive images. While the book’s photographs are not displayed chronologically, often layering an ancient piece of art next to one that’s borne of modern day science, Plant feels like a cohesive (and endlessly compelling) read. (There’s even a glossary dating from 9,500 BC to 2011, for the reader’s viewing pleasure.)


To find out more about the origins of botanical art and the botanical world— including facts like Brazil being named after brazilwood— the book also addresses the Age of Reason, including meditations on “natural philosophers”, modern science, innovative developments, and artists whose work is on the forefront of the movement to understand botany as a cultural and aesthetic phenomenon. Plant: Exploring the Botanical World is a time capsule of thought-provoking words and images by the creators of international bestsellers like The Gardener’s Garden and Map: Exploring The World. Below, check out an excerpt from the forthcoming release:                                                       

“Botanical art remains at heart, however, concerned with the process of identification and preservation that has long been its central purpose. In May 2016 scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew published the first study of the status of world flora. They estimated that 369,400 flowering plants were known to science, of which a fifth were in danger of extinction from habitat loss, climate change and other factors. 

Yet they also noted that plants continue to be discovered at a remarkable rate, mainly in China, Brazil and Australia: 2,034 in 2015 alone, including ninety new species of Begonia and one of the humble onion. With discovery continuing at such a rate, botanical art – whether in the form of illustrations or as digital images on tablets and smartphones – remains an essential global conduit for our shifting knowledge of the natural world and a platform for things to come.

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