Flowers: How they changed the world

Do flowers really have the power to influence human activity?

Flowers: How they changed the world

Flowers: How they changed the world

Product details

Product name: Flowers: How they changed the world

Reviewer: Jenny Blackford

Author: William C Burger

Manufacturer: Prometheus Books

Price: $45.95

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Without flowers, our current human civilisation could not exist. The fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes that we consume, and the grasses and grains that our herds of animals and flocks of birds eat, are all produced by flowering plants.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, too, relied primarily on these plants and the animals that fed on them. Without them, human beings might never have evolved: earlier mammals ate mostly insects, and most insects rely on flowering plants for their sustenance – as flowering plants mostly rely on insects for their pollination.

Indeed, author William C. Burger sees human evolution as driven by our ancestors' climbing around in the treetops, searching for insects and fruits.

Burger, curator emeritus of the Department of Botany at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is boundlessly enthusiastic about flowering plants.

As well as explaining basic botany in an elegant, readable fashion, he shows us how animals, birds, insects and even bacteria interact with flowering plants in astonishing ways, such as the orchids which look so like flies that real flies try to mate with them.

Plants have evolved not only to please their pollinators but also to battle their enemies: grazing animals plus fungal, bacterial and viral diseases.

Interestingly, though, none of New Zealand's native plants or berries is poisonous to us. Before people took them there, New Zealand had no mammals, and the plants were under no selective pressure to develop nasty chemicals to deter herbivores.

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