THE PLANT MESSIAH by Carlos Magdalena


Adventures in Search of the World's Rarest Species
Email this review


The Tropical Senior Botanical Horticulturist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, records with enthusiasm his attempts to rescue as many plants as possible from extinction.

Raised in rural Spain by a gardening-obsessed mother who taught him the names of hundreds of plants, Magdalena moved to England in his 20s, initially working as a waiter and sommelier. Fascinated by the gardens at Kew, he talked himself into an internship there and then was accepted into their rigorous three-year Diploma in Horticulture program, after which he was offered a job at the gardens. In his first book, Magdalena details his trips to many parts of the world and the rare plants he helped the locals preserve or brought back to the gardens to attempt to propagate. In Australia, he lurched through mud, avoiding crocodiles, to get a desirable specimen. In Peru, he chewed more coca leaves than was perhaps advisable and bounced “from rock to rock and plant to plant, jabbering with delight.” The author is clearly as excited about playing in dirt or water back in England as he is about dodging predators in exotic locales, and he effectively communicates the thrill of figuring out how to get an especially recalcitrant plant to reproduce. Magdalena has a particular passion for waterlilies, and his tales of procuring species for the huge ponds at Kew ring with delight. Illustrations would have been useful, since, though the author describes the key features of the plants, most of them will be unfamiliar to general readers. If the details of the plants don't come through vividly, Magdalena's mission certainly does, and the glossary is helpful. “I will not tolerate extinction,” he writes, nor “thuggish invasive species…bullying” native plants into submission.

Magdalena's excitement about plants and their propagation is contagious, and even those lacking green thumbs should be fascinated by his travels and adventures in science.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-385-54361-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2018


NonfictionLAB GIRL by Hope Jahren
by Hope Jahren
NonfictionTHE BIG, BAD BOOK OF BOTANY by Michael Largo
by Michael Largo
NonfictionTHE FOOD EXPLORER by Daniel Stone
by Daniel Stone