The names of plants that are so familiar to us – Magnolia, Bougainvillea, Sequoia may just be names, but behind the names lie stories of espionage and heroism, rivalry and mystery and inspiration.
In this lush and lively book, celebrated botanist Sandra Knapp explores the people whose names have been immortalized in plant genera, presenting little known stories about both the featured plants and their famous eponyms alongside photographs and botanical drawings from the unmatched collections of London's Natural History Museum.
In this series of essays, Sandra Knapp reveals some of the extraordinary people whose lives and endeavours are entwined with the plants named after them. Knapp's subjects include many pioneering explorers, collectors and naturalists, and range from Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus (Darwinia), to the American Founding Fathers George Washington (Washingtonia) and Benjamin Franklin (Franklinia).
Many of them have made enduring contributions to the field of botany, such as the explorer Alice Eastwood (Eastwoodia elegans) – who saved the California Academy of Science's priceless plant collection from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake – to Pierre Magnol (Magnolia) the legendary French botanist who was the first to conceptualise the idea of plant families. Contemporary figures include the pop star and actress Lady Gaga, whose green heartshaped Grammy Awards outfit looked like a fern gametophyte, and whose work inspired the fern Gaga, and Sir David Attenborough, perhaps the greatest living advocate for the planet, who is honoured by the ingeniously named Sirdavidia.
Sandra Knapp is senior research botanist at the Natural History Museum in London, as well as the current President of the Linnean Society (2018-2022). She has spent many years collecting plants in tropical Central and South America and is an expert on the plant family Solanaceae, which includes such economically important species as the potato and tomato, as well as mandrakes and henbanes. She is the author of several books including Flora and Extraordinary Orchids.