the natural world
Egret, the oldest independent
U.S. journal of nature
Egret, Vol. 75, #1
recent nature writing,
natural history and guidebooks with Book
to the best of the environmental
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by the Outrider
The yew which trumps them all, perhaps the most celebrated and
provocative tree in all Europe, is the Great Yew at Fortingall in
Perthshire, located by the Victorian church in this tiny village. The
faithful believe it has been growing here for at least 5,000 years. If
so, it was flourishing before the making of Stonehenge and the digging
of the Neolithic burial chamber at Maeshowe in the Orkneys..
of form is the most remarkable feature of baobabs; they are shape
shifters. They can swell, shrink, curl, explode, creep about. They can
begin their lives as Palladian columns, be blown down, set on fire, and
then regenerate from the wreckage as a coil of snakes or a lava stream
or a cave mouth. Human strangers who have witnessed their protean
powers have been inspired to protean dreams.
Forty Thousand Years
of Plant Life and the Human Imagination
by Richard Mabey
University of North Texas Press, 2015
Arranged as a series of connected essays inspired by plants, this
book makes a botanical survey of the world looking for human
relationships rooted among the foliage and blossoms, such as the
history of a plant’s name or the trade that sprouted from
species like tobacco and cotton.
While much of this British nature writer's attention is focused on
what's growing in cultivated fields and gardens of his homeland, many
of the forty species profiled are found overseas in continental Europe,
the Americas, Asia and Australia.
"Everywhere I have travelled plants have surprised me by their dogged loyalty to place, even to the point of defining the genius loci, and then by their capricious abandonment of home comforts to become vagrants, opportunists, libertines," Richard Mabey notes.
Similarly, Mabey is a thoroughly British naturalist whose writing
career began with a chance acquaintance with the marine cactus known as
samphire on the North Norfolk coast, which led to a book on foraging
titled Food for Free, followed by a long career of peripatetic journalism and publishing.
to The Nature Pages
Despite Britain’s belief in a special relationship with the tree,
as the nation’s “heart of oak”, the oaks’
botanical heartland is Mexico, where there are 160 species, 109 of
which grow nowhere else.
It looks unprepossessing, a bunch of floppy green strings, a spine-free
marine cactus with its succulent segments sporting barely visible
scales in place of conventional leaves.