"Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty"

"Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty"

By Catherine Herbert Howell

(National Geographic Books, 2009, $35)

Right there on the cover of "Flora Mirabilis," we read that this is an illustrated timeline, which it is indeed. It is also an elegantly written tracing of the history of botany, from prehistory to the present, and a thoughtful exploration of the power of plants in our lives. The profiles of 27 plants considered "most critical to human history" — from date palm to maize to tobacco to cotton — weave history and cultural commentary into fine narrative tales.

Those are but a swatch of this fine-woven tapestry, a treatise on plants through all of time. The book also contains more than 200 rare botanical prints, clear-thinking charts, with listings of significant advances, discoveries and trends by date and continent.

— Chicago Tribune