The best books on the amazing world of plants

Who am I?

During two decades as a gardening columnist for the Toronto Star, I wrote about hundreds of different plants. I also penned, for various publishers, over half a dozen books with titles ranging from Incredible Edibles: 40 Fun Things to Grow in the City and The Untamed Garden: A Revealing Look at our Love Affair with Plants. And in doing so, I got hooked. Even if you aren’t interested in gardening, the botanical world is chock-a-block with terrific stories. My new novel, for instance, published in 2022, begins with an extraordinary tale about a plant called The Corpse Flower which bloomed for the first time in 70 years at Brooklyn Botanical Garden.


I wrote...

The Mexico Lunch Party -- A Sisters of the Soil Novel. With Recipes

By Sonia Day,

Book cover of The Mexico Lunch Party -- A Sisters of the Soil Novel. With Recipes

What is my book about?

Four older women, all passionate gardeners from Great Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Colombia, meet up in Mexico for fun times and good food. They plan a spectacular meal together with each of them contributing an unusual dish. But things get off to an awkward start when the sex-mad younger sister of one of the women insists on tagging along. They get even crazier after a strange, unwelcome guest shows up for the party. The consequences are a shock to them all.

This is a lighthearted read with -I hope -strong, believable characters and lots of fascinating stuff about plants thrown in. Also some yummy recipes.

The books I picked & why

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The Orchid Thief

By Susan Orlean,

Book cover of The Orchid Thief

Why this book?

A good book provides me with information, but it must also be entertaining and free of annoying jargon. This one became a bestseller after it appeared back in 1998, with good reason. In fact, I’ve read it three times (a rarity for me) and I always get a chuckle or two. Susan Orlean crafts a fascinating tale about the wonderful subculture of orchid fanciers in Florida. The writing is vivid, the characters she meets are off the wall, and I learned a lot about these weird, sometimes creepy flowers.


Oaxaca Journal

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of Oaxaca Journal

Why this book?

A modest little paperback which is charming because Sacks writes so well about anything and everything. When he wasn’t delving into our grey matter, the famous New York neurologist (who died recently) happened to be an amateur botanist, with a particular passion for ferns. In this book, he visits the Mexican city of Oaxaca, travels the surrounding countryside with a like-minded group and records in a diary his thoughts about the plants and people he encounters. The vignettes are well told, colourful and a delight to read. 


Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran

By Lytton John Musselman,

Book cover of Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran

Why this book?

Devout Christian Garrison Keillor jokes in the foreword to this book that reading it gave him a jolt because Musselman insists that Eve couldn’t possibly have given an apple to Adam. “Apples didn’t grow in the Middle East back then. It was more likely an apricot,” claims Musselman, a celebrated botanist based at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. True or not, he’s assembled years of research in the Holy Land into a thought-provoking book that’s both a reference guide and very readable. With some good photographs.


The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe

By Glynis Ridley,

Book cover of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe

Why this book?

Another engrossing book that I’ve read several times, by a professor of English at the University of Louisville. Ridley relates the amazing true – but little knownstory of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to sail around the world. She did it disguised as a man in order to accompany her lover, a botanist called Philibert Commerson on a plant collecting expedition back in the 18th century. When they got to Brazil, Baret discovered the vine bougainvillea, which the pair named after the expedition leader, Count de Bougainville (with Commerson, of course, taking all the credit) and she endured incredible hardships keeping her identity secret from the male crew during the arduous voyage. Dried specimens of her finds can still be seen today at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.


The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved Plants and Changed the World

By Luke Keogh,

Book cover of The Wardian Case: How a Simple Box Moved Plants and Changed the World

Why this book?

This book is fairly new, by an Aussie environmental historian. I got hooked from the first page because, once again, it’s well written and I learned stuff about plants that I didn’t know already. The Wardian Case was a kind of travelling greenhouse designed by an English amateur naturalist named Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in Victorian times. His simple invention made it possible to send plants around the world on the decks of sailing ships -and resulted in the huge array of species for sale in garden centres today. Beautiful plants that we now take for granted  -like roses, rhododendrons, magnolias, wisteria, countless ferns, and more—travelled thousands of miles from their countries of origin in these unpretentious but surprisingly efficient boxes. A great story, with good photos.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in circumnavigation, flora, and Florida?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about circumnavigation, flora, and Florida.

Circumnavigation Explore 14 books about circumnavigation
Flora Explore 19 books about flora
Florida Explore 69 books about Florida

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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