Win the awesome book Flora Mirabilis


Flora Mirabilis cover UPDATE:  Our winner is John, who grows all these plants from seed, among other feats of plant-geekdom.  Congrats!

Great news! The folks at the National Geographic have teamed up with world-famous Missouri Botanic Garden and published a treasure for plant lovers of all types.  It's Flora Mirabilis: An Illustrated Time Line of Botanical Exploration, Discovery & Delight.  It covers "plant explorations and botanical passions
have shaped human history and culture" and has 200+ gorgeous illustration, too!  (Take that, Botany of Desire!) 

The book's available directly from the National Geographic or in regular bookstores.

It's Botany of  Desire on steroids

If you thought Michael Pollan's exploration of four (that's all?) plants was interesting, wait til you see this gorgeous and info-packed journey through all of history with Pollan's four plants plus lots more. 

Just to whet our appetites the author has compiled her "Top 10 Plants that Shaped the World":

Black pepper – Demand for this flavoring
set in motion the great voyages of discovery.

Sugarcane – Its sweetness began a shameful trade in human beings
and the plantation system of agriculture.
Corn – The world's third largest plant food source, behind wheat
and rice, corn is now an all-too-common ingredient in human and animal food
Rubber – Its special
properties forever changed the face of transportation, industry, and everyday
life (even though synthetics are now in wide use).
Cotton – Native to both Asia and the Americas, its
seedpods yield a fiber that has clothed the entire world.
Tobacco – Once regarded as a medicinal panacea,
tobacco's highly addictive chemicals have hooked hundreds of millions over the
Opium poppy – Benefit
and bane derive from its flowers, the source of both morphine and heroin.
Potato – This versatile, nutritious food
plan originated in the Americas, but beguiled the Irish; widespread blight led
to mass starvation and flight- and emigration to America.
Cacao – Source of chocolate, from genus Theobroma,
"food of the gods"- need we say more?
Coffee – Roasted beans yield a beverage long at the center of urban
social life, from the London coffeehouses of the 18th century to the Paris cafes
of the 20th and the Starbucks of the 21st.

To Win a Copy

Just leave a comment telling us your plant-geek credentials – not just the resume-stuffers but incidents from your plant-obsessed life, or your aspirations to, with the help of this exact book, be the biggest plant nerd in your tri-county area.  Your deadline is 9 pm Eastern tomorrow night, 11/3.  The one I like the best (no claims of objectivity here!) wins.  Retails for $35, but priceless if you ask me.


  1. Plant books are like potato chips — you can’t eat/read just one. No one can really be considered a plant geek unless he/she is constantly adding to apersonal reference library. A perennial book here, a vegetable guide there, bulb encyclopedia, plants for shade, plants for sun, plants for zone 5…stop me before I read again…just ONE more, please?

  2. My plant geek credentials?

    My plan this winter is to cross-reference Thomas Orgen’s low allergy plant list with Douglas Tallamy’s list of the best plants for you ecological buck.

    You know, for fun.

  3. My bookshelves overfloweth from the shelves, to the dining room table, to the space next to my bed, to the bathroom windowsill. And yet, there is always more to read. This book sounds fascinating and I’d love to read the history of these plants.

  4. My plant geekedness?

    Utopiensis authoritania var LeTroll

    A politically non invasive hybrid with no environmental footprint, does not succumb to drought, flood, blight or single payer health care initiative, nor the opinions of anyone, anywhere

    The TROLL

  5. When my kids were little, we foraged for some of our food. (Think, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons.) I thought it was a fun and educational way to supplement our diets. Years later the adult offspring tell tales to anyone who’ll listen of how we made them eat catbriar and milkweed and how they had to catch squid and gather snails before eating them. They ask, “Do you know how many beach rose petals it takes to actually make jelly?” But when they reveal that most of these adventures took place on Martha’s Vineyard, no one feels sorry for them.

  6. katy : That actually does sound like fun !

    Mine is similar – I’ve spent hours compiling my own list of native plants for the landscape, pulling the data from catalogs & books on the subject. It’s now a massive spreadsheet with columns for Latin & common names, type, color & size ( naturally ), edible/inedible, light & soil requirements, attractions, online retailers … I check it now & then to be sure I’ve included certain varieties. Why do I do this ? Hoping, hoping, hoping I’ll soon be able to re-do our yard in nothing but natives and edibles.

  7. This book would come in SUPER handy in teh one I’m editing and sending out to publishers, entitled Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden. While gardening with ym mom over the years, I slowly dicover her history of childhood abuse, and this leads me to wonder if the answer to ending violence towards ourselves is the same answer to ending the viil;ence toward the planet. I look at various religons’ views on nature, science, garden history, culture, poetry to probe the issue.

  8. My plant geek credentials. Well, I studied for the Massachusetts arborist exam by exploring the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum and the streets of Boston.

    I took a very short course about mycology held at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. During the first class (of 3?), we learned about “chicken of the woods” among other ‘shrooms. This mushroom stuck with me. While out on inspections for my job, I came across a large specimen which I picked, placed in a paper bag (luckily, I had one in the car), and cooked it in olive oil and s&p for dinner that night. Delicious! (My dinner mate was skeptical but the amazing aroma convinced him to try it.)

  9. They actually mailed you the book? I was asked to review it, and they sent me a food book.

    Which I will review, but it was a disappointment, when I was salivating for this book.

    Maybe when I’ve been good and reviewed the book I’ve been given, I’ll get desert?


  10. Being the “biggest plant nerd in your tri-county area” ain’t gonna happen for me. I live and garden exactly in between Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery (Plant Nerd Guru and Plant Geek Nirvana) and the JC Raulston Arboretum (a close second). JC was one of the original plant nerds, he may be gone but the facility is staffed by a never ending crop of geeks that just get nerdier every day. I try but I am no where near their level.

    To toot my own horn. I have grown or am now growing just about everything on the list! From seed no less! Ornamental cotton being one of the prettiest plants in the garden and pepper being one of the most difficult (though not as hard as vanilla). The coffee tree comes from a seed picked up while hiking through Mexico and the chocolate comes from a seed someone gave me. I am the nerdiest about seeds from food I eat and love to shop at the nearby Asian food store. And to add a layer of geekiness to whatever image you have of my backyard – the coffee bush produces a decent crop of beans and the chocolate is about 7 feet tall. This nerd can grow a crop.

  11. I’m sure that there will be far more creative comments than mine, but I cannot resist sharing what I have often told others:
    I would do nearly anything to obtain a plant I “need”. Would even sell my body, if it had not passed its sell by date many moons ago!!

    I knew, from a very young age, that I could not live in a land inhospitable to plants. And so I moved 2000+ miles from family, friends and job security just so I could live surrounded by plants–and spend my life learning as much as I can about them.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this book…one way or the other. Just learned this morning that they aren’t offering review copies to us lowly newspaper columnists/bloggers. Maybe I just haven’t asked the right person yet?

  12. Well, I am the founder of the Institute for Gardenics Research and Other Works (iGROW) where we are attempting to prove that entwined around the DNA of every plant nerd/geek, there is a tiny strand of ivy. We are using my own DNA as the sample. Plus, when I get scraped by a rose thorn, I bleed chlorophyll.

  13. You want plant geekery? I’ll give you plant geekery.

    I’ve written a three-part, 10,000 word series on whether plants have feelings (one word suffices: no.).

    I’ve invented my own personal difficulty scale for houseplants, and have just spent the better part of my last eight waking hours going back over it again just to see if I still agree with myself. (Partly I did.)

    I make pie charts for the causes of death for my plants.

    I am typing this from a 10’x11′ room which contains 123 plants (1.1 plants/square foot). And that’s not even the room with the highest plants-to-square-footage ratio.

    I know it’s 123 because I have a spreadsheet for plant-watering, in which the plants are sorted by room of residence.

    I know what a periclinal chimera is, and can explain it to others. (And will do so with very little provocation or encouragement. You have been warned.) And I almost understand transposons. Seriously. This close.

    I also know not only the botanical name of one of my plants, I know the Latin binomial of the South American beetle that pollinates it.

    And I can almost never find enough plant-related reading material.

  14. It seems that whenever I go anywhere plant parts will attach themselves to me. Seeds, cuttings, bare root things that fall out of the ground when I am around. They all want to come home with me and live in a garden I tend.

  15. I’m a historian and gardener. Someone thinks it’s good to pay me for these loves. My co-workers know Civil War history down to the last canteen cup and shoe lace. When they talk it sometimes sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Does it sound that way to them when I talk about the history of the potato?

  16. AH! I got home tonight to an email reply to my query that verified that it was a mail mixup and I’ll be getting my review copy soon!


  17. Vicki – feel free to use a line I often utter when talking about plants I want or need. “I put the “whore” in Horticulture!”

  18. I was going to promote my own credentials – I just like to grow, eat and hang out with plants that have a rich relationship with humans! But after reviewing the others’, am convinced that John – the guy who grew all the top 10 plants – should receive the prize. Reading, writing, quoting, book collecting, cataloging and cross referencing may be plenty nerdy but poor substitutes for real, try-growing-everything, dirt-nerd enthusiasm! Go John!

  19. In college I carted all my houseplants over 2,000 miles round trip four separate times, including my 4-foot-tall night-blooming cereus. It made a lovely traveling companion in the front seat. I had a two-door Saturn, so needless to say the plants took up most of the car. But when I traveled between school and home those few times, what else was I supposed to do with them? Trust someone else to take care of them? Yeah right.

    Beyond that, I’m a history geek as much as a plant geek, hence the interest in this book. I read Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” for fun.

  20. Plant geek credentials? Well, I have a copy of Swink & Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region sitting on my coffee table and I call tell you the Swink number for my latest native plant discovery without even peeking at the book (Gentiana andrewsii, Bottle Gentian, appeared in my prairie restoration this year and is an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10). When my husband asked me in mid-summer exactly how many planted containers I had on the deck, porch, etc. and I told him there were about thirty, he laughed and told me he had stopped counting at 100 earlier that day. I am experienced in packing plants in suitcases and can tell you that the TSA agents do not search your carry-on bags when they see they are full of coleus cuttings. And I have Dan Heims’ cell phone number on my cell. Stop me before I Heuchera again!

  21. I bow down to Mr Subjunctive on this one. I mean…once you start migrating to the pie chart to explain your gardening success, well, then you’d be the kind of person we’d welcome in the Microbial Lab any day of the week. We know a deserving geek when we see one! We’re professionals.

  22. PGCs: I am a developmental neuroscientist and plant geek who is performing DNA phylogeny on all 90 native California grass species that I’m propagating as a volunteer at the SF Botanical Garden (don’t tell my granting agencies).

    I drew a scale model of my previous garden on Canvas and left a copy with explicit watering instructions (DO NOT EVER WATER THE FREMONTODENDRON) to the tenants who succeeded me at that house.

    I love your blog and just downloaded Amy’s book onto Kindle for the iPhone.


  23. Although a self described plant nerd, I now realize that I’ve been woefully aggrandizing myself. I can’t compete. Not with half the people above.

    But I love plants anyway. I grew up gardening beside my mother and learned a deep passion for the earth and everything that grows. Today, I’m 25, a recent grad with no money, and 800 miles away from my mother’s extensive library. It’s about time I started my own library and catch up on the literature so that I can once again declare myself a plant nerd with confidence. May this be my first book?

  24. Biggest gardennerd in the tri-county era? Not a chance. But my fiance has, in slightly over two years, gone from “Okay, you go ahead and garden, but don’t expect any help from me except maybe transportation” to “Hey, I think I want to grow corn” to “You’re gonna bring all the gardening stuff with you when we get married, right? Right?!” to “Next year I think I want to grow this and this and this… And what do you think about this…” and “Well *of course* we can have chickens!”.
    My fiance who, when I first met him, saw his entire front lawn as dirt that needed to be mowed once every two months whether it needed it or not. My enthusiasm and constant puttering, plus home-grown veggies that tasted enough better than store-bought that even he noticed the difference, plus being able to explain all sorts of things about how some of the plants grow and how some of them do and don’t work together, and being able to answer bunches of his questions, helped him go from “whatever” to “holy cow, wow!” about gardening. I’m convinced that the entirety of human experience can be taught through gardening and cooking: economics & politics, biology & botany, geography and geology, sociology, chemistry & physics, entertainment and sociology.
    Please help me keep up my Miracle Worker status with him by helping me stay a step or two ahead of his questions, and award me this book!

  25. Almost 37 years ago, I married a sailor who had grown up on a farm – he got out on Friday, on Monday we were married during an Oklahoma ice storm. That spring he double dug a small vegetable garden and I kinda thought – ugh!

    Seventeen years ago we went from backyard plant freaks to full grown professional herb plant marketers. Our greenhouse contains 3 bay trees, grown from seed and each divided from the original with the tallest over 10 feet. We have a 100 gallon split leaf philodendron that was brought home 36 years ago less 5 months – my daughter was three months old when Freddie became a pet plant. Jade trees stand with 7 inch diameter bases and the Agave Americana has a 18 inch base and blades 6 feet long – not that astonishing except my greenhouse is only 35 feet wide and 24 feet deep.

    We continue to fill the greenhouse with 15 varieties of basil, Park’s Whoppers and purple Islander peppers.

    I’ve walked through greenhouses and had plants pull me to them in distress telling others to water them. I have ethics but once, just once I stole a small sprig of rosemary from a Dallas garden – dubbing it Texas Stolen as I have no other name for it. I bought a bonsai for my husband only finding out it was my friend’s husband who had admired it – both men drive a blue Dodge Ram truck – which suckered me into the purchase. That plant has been dubbed Bob the Bonsai and when we die – Bob will inhereit(sp) it.

    I filled my front flower bed this year with Black Pearl Peppers and Holy Basil – both garlic and onion chives decorated the ends and sprigs of society garlic, tiny Salt Peppers and Black Tarot added color.

    We have U-Pick thornless Triple Crown blackberries filling the front field and the state just qualified us for a grant to add bees to the farm. Ten hives will serve our farm, add honey and help pay for the best beekeeper I could have wished for. Gourds hung from a trellis that is really a tent base you can buy from FarmTek – 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and with a 9 foot peak. Temperate banana trees, castor beans, and huge blooms of datura dot our property and we leave much of our natives to grow with poke salad, epazote, snake button root and white yarrow working along side these tropical beauties.

    Our land is lush with greenery – organically grown but I didn’t say that since I am not certified. I’ve been to the Botanical Gardens in Missouri – what a wonder. And I am watching the Tulsa Botanical Garden struggle with funding with nothing more than a small building and mowed paths in the grass and woodlands north of the city. My desire is to donate my monsters to this entity – because several years ago we donated a few Monstera Deliciousa to the zoo and it is fun to watch the Anaconda lay on our former babies.

    Am I a plant geek – if that means breathing and living it, looking at lawns and trees and everything as renewable, mulchable, edible, huggable – then that’s me.

  26. Just what is an extraordinary plant? Every success I have with propagation or cultivation is because I have learned a little more about the needs of each plant. I think I have finally stopped trying to grow “hostas” outside a deer fence or any vegetables in my shady garden. (I do succeed with various herbs. My bouquets smell good) Right now I am completely controlled by tree peonies, epipactus and podophyllum seeds,the last of the tricyrtis and the continuing camellia gavotte. Each one has many stories, personal and epic. Thank you for sharing another way to appreciate and learn about my charges.

  27. When I sit on the pot and need something to read to pass the time I read the ingredients on the “herbal all natural whathaveyou” type shampoo bottles. Helianthus annuus, Prunus dulcis, Lavendula augustifolia etcetc on and on roll off the tongue so prettily you want to linger on the throne.

    You’ve all done it; I’m just admitting it.

  28. I was watching TV with my husband last week…we were watching a very dramatic chase scene from some action movie. As the hero was about to tackle the bad guy I noticed the tree in the background of the shot. “That’s a sweetgum tree” I said as the characters’ fists flew. “Liquidambar styraciflua” and my husband just rolled his eyes.

  29. While taking Botany 101 at the community college, I was chastised by my 9-year old for lecturing. “No botany before breakfast!” was her decree.

    My birthday gift to myself each year is a day at the Botanic Garden, all alone, all day. I prescribe 20 minutes in the orchid room to anyone feeling down.

    I am not a botanist, though, merely a gardener and writer. My botanical aspirations have inspired my writing even more than my gardening. In the adventure stories I tell my children (and publish on-line) I created my alter ego, Edwardian botanist extraordinaire, Madame vonHedwig.

    Madame vonHedwig, along with her mad scientist husband and dangerously clever children, travels the world in their zepplin, seeking adventure. (Because really, who doesn’t want a zepplin?) She has already discovered the Acrimonious Ampelopsis aconitifolia. (Pruning it requires skill closer to fencing than gardening.) What more might she discover if I had a resource like the Flora Mirabilis?

    So, not only will I improve my garden and bore my children with this book, but I shall create a world as yet undiscovered! I write science fiction, and my science is botany.

  30. Potted Plant Person above – who reads the labels – I think that makes you an “Imasillyassis” – a name told to me when a dear friend would forget the scientific name of some lovely plant.

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