by Bill Laws
From the publisher: Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History is a beautifully presented guide to the plants that have had the greatest impact on human civilization. Entries feature a description of the plant, its botanical name, its native range and its primary functions–edible, medicinal, commercial or practical. Concise text is highlighted by elegant botanical drawings, paintings and photographs as well as insightful quotes.
Many of the plants are well known, such as rice, tea, cotton, rubber, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, wine grapes and corn. However, there are also many whose stories are less known. These history-changing plants include:
- Agave, used to make sisal, poison arrows, bullets, tequila and surgical thread
- Pineapple, which influenced the construction of greenhouses
- Hemp, used for hangman’s rope, sustainable plastics, the Declaration of Independence and Levi’s jeans
- Coconut, used for coir fiber, soap, margarine, cream, sterile IV drips and coagulants
- Eucalyptus, used in mouthwash, diuretics, vitamins, honey, underwear and fire-resistant uniforms
- Sweet pea, which Gregor Mendel used in his research on genetics
- White mulberry, used to feed the caterpillars that make silk
- English oak, used for fire-resistant structures, dyes, leather tanning, charcoal, casks and ships
- White willow, used in the manufacture of aspirin, cricket bats, hot-air balloon baskets and coffins.
This attractive reference provides an innovative perspective on both botanical and human history.
Bill Laws is a social historian and the author of 10 books. He has contributed to such publications as the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and BBC History magazine. He lives in England.
Firefly books, 2015