The extraordinary palm: diverse and prolific, symbolic and often sacred, essential and exotic (and at times erotic), exploited and controversial. The signature greenery of the tropics and subtropics, these record-breaking plants produce the world's biggest and heaviest seed, the longest leaf, and the longest stem. In the superbly illustrated, similarly extraordinary Palm, Fred Gray portrays the immense cultural and historical significance of these iconic and controversial plants, unfurling a tale as long and beguiling as their bladed fronds.
As Gray shows, palms sustained rainforest communities for thousands of years, contributing to the development of ancient civilizations across the globe. But as palms gained mystical and religious significance, they also became a plant of abstractions and fantasies, a contradictory symbol of leisure and luxury, of escaping civilization and getting closer to nature – and at times to danger and devastation. In the era of industry and empire, the palm and its myriad meanings were exported to far colder climes. Palms were shown off as exceptional performers in iconic greenhouses and used to clothe, romanticize, and glamorize an astonishing diversity of new places far from their natural homelands. And today, as millions of people worldwide consume palm oil daily, the plant remains embedded in consumer society – and mired in environmental controversy.