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Botany

The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops

Genetic engineering has a wide range of cultural, economic, and ethical implications, yet it has become almost an article of faith that regulatory decisions about biotechnology be based only on evidence of specific quantifiable risks; to consider anything else is said to “politicize” regulation. In this study of social protest against genetically engineered food, Abby Kinchy turns the conventional argument on its head. Rather than consider politicization of the regulatory system, she takes a close look at the scientization of public debate about the “contamination” of crops resulting from pollen drift and seed mixing. Advocates of alternative agriculture confront the scientization of this debate by calling on international experts, carrying out their own research, questioning regulatory science in court, building alternative markets, and demanding that their governments consider the social and economic impacts of the new technologies.

Kinchy focuses on social conflicts over canola in Canada and maize in Mexico, drawing out their linkages to the global food system and international environmental governance. The book ultimately demonstrates the shortcomings of dominant models of scientific risk governance, which marginalize alternative visions of rural livelihoods and sustainable food production.

Modern-Day Arks

All life depends on plants, but we often take them for granted in our everyday lives. It is easy to ignore the fact that we are facing a crisis: scientists estimate that one third of all flowering plant species are threatened with extinction. This lavishly illustrated volume considers the essential conservation role of botanic gardens, telling the story of how a global network is working to save our botanical heritage. Chapters feature gardens from countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Uganda, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and China.

Comments and photographs from the gardeners involved give the book a personal touch, revealing the human side of the important work that goes on behind the scenes of these spectacular gardens. Author Sara Oldfield shows us how botanic gardens are truly "modern-day arks," safeguarding species and saving resources on which we may someday depend.

The Metamorphosis of Plants, published in 1790, was Goethe’s first major attempt to describe what he called in a letter to a friend “the truth about the how of the organism.” Inspired by the diversity of flora he found on a journey to Italy, Goethe sought a unity of form in diverse structures. He came to see in the leaf the germ of a plant’s metamorphosis--“the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms”--from the root and stem leaves to the calyx and corolla, to pistil and stamens. With this short book--123 numbered paragraphs, in the manner of the great botanist Linnaeus--Goethe aimed to tell the story of botanical forms in process, to present, in effect, a motion picture of the metamorphosis of plants. This MIT Press edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants illustrates Goethe’s text (in an English translation by Douglas Miller) with a series of stunning and starkly beautiful color photographs as well as numerous line drawings. It is the most completely and colorfully illustrated edition of Goethe’s book ever published. It demonstrates vividly Goethe’s ideas of transformation and interdependence, as well as the systematic use of imagination in scientific research---which influenced thinkers ranging from Darwin to Thoreau and has much to teach us today about our relationship with nature.

Plant Drugs That Alter Mind, Brain, and Behavior

Virtually all cultures consume drugs from psychoactive plants. Caffeine, for example, is probably the most common stimulant in the world, and many modern medicines, such as morphine and codeine, are derived from plant sources. In these cases, scientific research has revealed the composition of the plants and how they interact with the nervous system. There are also many herbal medications with reputed therapeutic value that have not yet gained acceptance into mainstream medicine, partly because there has not been enough research to support their usefulness. Instead they are regarded as "alternative medicines." This is an active research area, however, and many current studies are focusing on identifying the active components, pharmacological properties, physiological effects, and clinical efficacy of herbal medicines. This book compiles and integrates the most up-to-date information on the major psychoactive herbal medicines—that is, herbal medicines that alter mind, brain, and behavior. It focuses particularly on the effects on various areas of cognition, including attention, learning, and memory. The book covers all major classes of psychoactive drugs, including stimulants, cognitive enhancers, sedatives and anxiolytics, psychotherapeutic herbs, analgesics and anesthetic plants, hallucinogens, and cannabis.

Plants that catch and feed upon animals exert a strange fascination of their own. The mobile tentacles of the Sundews, the snapping lobes of the Venus Fly Trap and the slippery, baited pitfalls of the Pitcher Plants provide the stuff of which science fiction is made. Yet far from being fantasy, these extraordinary organisms are fact, and this book explores in depth the astonishingly subtle manner in which each type of trap entices, catches, and digests its prey.

The author focuses on some fifty species, using photographs, line drawings, and diagrams to illustrate their peculiarities. He takes us from his own climate to the mountains of Borneo, through the bushlands of Australia, to the swamps of the Amazon forest. We find plants whose traps catch only microscopic animals, and others that may trap small reptiles, mammals and even birds.

In addition to its spectacular photographs, other important features are the book's world-wide coverage of carnivorous plants and its comprehensive chapters on cultivation of the various groups.

Carnivorous Plants will appeal to botanists and zoologists and to the numerous enthusiasts who will find a good many of these intriguing plants easy to grow indoors.