We know that plants are important. They maintain the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. They nourish other living organisms and supply psychological benefits to humans as well, improving our moods and beautifying the landscape around us. But plants don’t just passively provide. They also take action.
Beronda L. Montgomery explores the vigorous, creative lives of organisms often treated as static and predictable. In fact, plants are masters of adaptation. They “know” what or who they are, and they use this knowledge to make a way in the world. Plants experience a kind of sensation that does not require eyes or ears. They distinguish kin, friend, and foe, and they are able to respond to ecological competition despite lacking the capacity of fight-or-flight. Plants are even capable of transformative behaviours that allow them to maximize their chances of survival in a dynamic and sometimes unfriendly environment.
Lessons from Plants enters into the depth of botanic experience and shows how we might improve human society by better appreciating not just what plants give us but also how they achieve their own purposes. What would it mean to learn from these organisms, to become more aware of our environments and to adapt to our own worlds by calling on perception and awareness rather than reason? Montgomery’s meditative study puts before us a question with the power to reframe the way we live: What would a plant do?
Introduction: A Sense of Self
1. A Changing Environment
2. Friend or Foe
3. Risk to Win
5. A Diverse Community
6. A Plan for Success
Beronda L. Montgomery is MSU Foundation Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. A Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, she was named one of Cell’s 100 Inspiring Black Scientists in America.
"[Montgomery's] knowledge and enthusiasm will have readers looking at plants in a new light."
– Publishers Weekly
"An invitation to awareness, awe, and curiosity. Beronda Montgomery takes us deep into the sophisticated and life-giving behaviors and community lives of plants, giving us evergreen lessons about resilience and diversity along the way."
– David George Haskell, author of Pulitzer finalist The Forest Unseen and Burroughs Medalist for The Songs of Trees
"Lessons from Plants is an astonishing and luminously written work. By drawing surprising connections between the largely hidden world of plant behavior and the deep problems of human existence, Montgomery vividly illustrates the importance of paying close attention to the intentional behavior of stems, branches, and roots that often escapes our awareness. At once moving, accessible, and edifying, Lessons from Plants is a tour de force of science communication and a profound meditation on the nature of being."
– Crystal M. Fleming, author of How to Be Less Stupid About Race
"A wonderful portrait of life as a plant. In an accessible style and fluid prose, Montgomery teaches us modern plant biology interwoven with personal stories and philosophy, and ultimately, how to live meaningful, sense-filled lives."
– Jo Handelsman, Director, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and HHMI Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin–Madison
"Whether you are a budding plant biologist, interested in the scientific process, or excited about learning more about the natural world, Lessons from Plants is a must-read."
– Pamela Ronald, co-author of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food
"Lessons from Plants brilliantly highlights principles of plant self-recognition, growth, resources, and adaptations to gift us a newfound level of awareness. These insights illuminate how we might help those around us thrive – I plan to put key lessons into practice."
– Prachee Avasthi, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
"Beronda Montgomery studies the secret life of plants, and her findings might surprise us. Plants have communities and can identify and favor their genetic kin. They adapt to complicated conditions in their environments. They are also more productive in a diverse ecosystem. In a beguiling set of observations, Montgomery notes how humans are similar creatures – this book is a call not only to plant awareness, but to self-awareness."
– Teresa A. Sullivan, author of Census 2020: Understanding the Issues
"A love letter to the natural world. This extraordinary, brave, and thoughtful meditation considers the connection between plants and mentoring, a link I'd never before contemplated. Through gorgeous storytelling and scholarship, Lessons from Plants will speak to scientists, naturalists, and everyone who has experienced the evocative relationship between a mentor and mentee."
– Mary Deane Sorcinelli, coauthor of Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence