PLANT AND PLANET by Anthony Huxley


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Anthony Huxley, son of Julian and great-grandson of Thomas Henry, has produced a useful roundup of what you may have forgotten from college botany. Former editor of a British gardening magazine, Huxley approaches his subject with affection as well as broad knowledge. Among the topics covered are the broad evolutionary features of plant metabolism and morphology, pollination and germination, symbiotic and parasitic relationships, pests and diseases, specialized environmental adaptations (some of them quite bizarre, like the scent and appearance of the bee orchid which attracts amorous bees, or the yard-wide flowers of the parasitic Rafflesia). Perhaps the material of broadest interest will be Huxley's summary of the problems surrounding man-plant relationships: soil use, planting and grafting to increase crop yields, and (more recently) application of chemical and genetic knowledge with varying degrees of wisdom. Huxley takes a middle-of-the-road stand on technological management of crops through chemical fertilizers and insecticides. He isn't optimistic about the future: ""It has been calculated that one in ten flowering plants is in danger of extinction within the next century"" and he also points out the ecological danger of overstandardizing agricultural species rather than leaving a broad spectrum of genetic possibilities. Still, he suggests that some halfway solutions may be found through a combination of biological and technological means--e.g., using algae or bacteria to break down industrial wastes, or applying pesticides in reduced dosages after genetically weakening insect populations. Huxley's writing, though lucid, makes few concessions to the dabbler: a book to be read slowly and carefully, for the sake of information rather than charm.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Viking