David Lee has travelled the world on botanical expeditions like a latter-day Victorian plant hunter
Nature’s palette. The science of plant color
Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press 2007 | 409pp | ?19.00 (HB) ISBN 9780226470528
Reviewed by Michael Prater
David Lee has travelled the world on botanical expeditions like a latter-day Victorian plant hunter and this book brings together his career exploring the significance of plant colours.
After an introduction on the physics, chemistry and biology of light, vision and colour, Lee shows how plants use colour in their leaves throughout the seasons to control their biochemistry, in their flowers to attract insects, and in their fruits and seeds to attract the seed-scattering attentions of birds and other animals.
As might be expected of a botanist, Lee’s favourite colour is green - he terms himself a chlorophiliac - but he delights the reader with his exploration of other colours, from the bright yellows, reds and blues of flowers to the more subtle browns of roots, wood and bark. I wonder whether Lee’s choice of the orchid variety Blc. ’Hillary Rodham Clinton’ as his principal example flower was a political one! For chemists there a lot to read about the biosynthesis of plant pigments and how structure and function are related to each other.
This beautifully illustrated book (in colour of course) mixes scientific content and personal anecdotes with some art, history and sociology to show how plant colour has enriched the lives of men and women down through the ages. It should appeal to a broad readership.