Country Life

How to be a Bad Botanist

- Simon Barnes

(Simon & Schuster, £16.99)

THOSE who are serious about botany know all about the appearance and internal workings of plants and the relationsh­ips between different types, taking pleasure in reeling off astonishin­g lists of exotic-sounding names. All this is obscure and intimidati­ng to the person who simply wonders what that plant along the lane is, the pretty one that flowers pink in April. This book is aimed at that person, who wants to know a few basic things and can’t be bothered to wade through illustrate­d guides densely populated with arcane abbreviati­ons that leave the novice reader none the wiser.

Simon Barnes is exactly the man for the job. He sits on a stony shingle beach gazing at that wondrous thing, the horned poppy, and this sets a train of ideas running in his mind. His style is ideal, that of the experience­d journalist who writes in that pithy style in which a knowing directness keeps the reader’s attention. Excursive detail is kept to a minimum, but anyone who wants to know more is provided with well-chosen references to the best comprehens­ive sources, mentioned within the text rather than tucked away in footnotes or bibliograp­hy—a sprat to catch a mackerel, as you might say.

All the key points are here for the reader whose curiosity has the potential to progress from the name of that plant to comparing it with others flowering at the same or other seasons, in that colour range, in that kind of habitat (verge, woodland, beach, moor). There is plenty, but no excess, on key points, such as flower shape, climbing or scrambling, methods of pollinatio­n; and the origins of plant life are discussed, so we don’t overlook the mosses and ferns and their friends and relations. We meet, fleetingly, some of the big names, including Linnaeus, Darwin and Mendel, on nodding terms for now, but who knows where it might lead?

I can’t think of a better introducti­on for an intelligen­t reader who has never given much attention to the plant world, but is naturally curious about it. Just as we (like the author) wonder what that unfamiliar bird seen through the window might be, so this book directs us without pretence or obscurity to simple ways of naming that plant. The excellent illustrati­ons and telling quotations are an enhancemen­t to a book whose time has come. Steven Desmond

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 ?? ?? Exquisite illustrati­ons adorn How to be a Bad Botanist
Exquisite illustrati­ons adorn How to be a Bad Botanist

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